In September, 4.4 million people quit their jobs in the United States, a record-breaking 3% of the workforce. The so-called Great Resignation is real, and among the CEOs I’ve talked to, talent retention is at the top of their list of concerns heading into 2022.  

At AlixPartners, I feel privileged to lead a firm where people feel that they can grow and develop their careers over the long term. But COVID is a shock that has led many employees to take a step back and reevaluate what matters most to them. I know that some people, including some at AlixPartners, are reflecting on their experiences over the past 18 months and considering what they want and need from their work.

These reevaluations are actually quite natural and healthy, and as leaders, we should embrace this opportunity to do some deep thinking of our own on the value we provide to our people beyond a paycheck. For example, what do we ask of our people, and what do we give them in return? Do we inspire, challenge, and empower them? How do we contribute to their professional growth? Are they fulfilled in their personal lives? Do we share their values?

Reflecting on these questions reminded me of when I first became CEO of AlixPartners. From the beginning, I was committed to accelerating our diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. Through internal diagnostics and conversations with people across the firm, I sought to understand the experiences of all of our employees to see where there were gaps that we needed to address.  

As we developed our D&I program, we led with inclusion, knowing that if someone did not feel a sense of belonging at our firm, did not feel like they could be their authentic self, and did not find meaning in their work, then they would move on to an organization that provided that environment. Employees who choose to leave their companies now are feeling a similar disconnect.

Inclusion is usually discussed in relation to improving diversity within an organization, but having an inclusive culture has always been a critical part of a firm’s overall talent retention strategy. The last two years have made this clear.

Leaders need to examine their organization’s culture and value proposition and listen to what their employees are telling them about their experiences to make sure we are giving them what they need. While no firm is immune to the impact COVID has had on retention, here is what I advise our clients focus on:  

  • Live your core values: Organizations need to know and communicate what they stand for, so your people find meaning and purpose in their work. Critically, your core values always need to guide your decision-making—with clients, within communities, and with your workforce.  
  • Be people-centric: Organizations need to know their people as individuals and understand their unique experiences in order to implement policies and programs that truly support their personal and professional growth. To accomplish this, companies need to maintain an open, two-way dialogue between leaders and their people, including by regularly soliciting and responding to feedback.  
  • Champion an entrepreneurial spirit: People want flexibility, autonomy, and ownership over their careers. Companies should foster meritocratic cultures where people are challenged to seek new experiences and opportunities and are supported when they do.
  • Adopt inclusive leadership traits: Leaders who are aware of how their actions, words, and behaviors will be interpreted by diverse stakeholders, are curious about different perspectives and experiences, and possess the ability to listen effectively and empathize with others help build trust throughout the organization.

The pandemic has been an acute crisis that impacted all industries across all geographies, but considering the pace of change today, it won’t be the last disruption to our people or to our ways of working. Companies that lead with inclusion, where everyone feels a sense of ownership, will better weather these disruptions both large and small and stand a better chance of retaining the talented people who make them what they are.