Malaysia is seeing a nationwide employee movement amid its economic recovery following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the 2021 Employee Movement and Retention report released by Employment Hero. The report shows that 61% of Malaysian workers plan to find a new job in 2022. Employees under 35 are the most prepared ones to move on from their current jobs the report further adds.

The survey, which polled 1,004 Malaysians, also unveiled how they perceive their current roles. A large plurality (45%) like what they are doing. 24% of them love their role. On the extreme end, 4% either dislike or hate their job. This suggests that the work itself is not the problem. Instead, the issue lies with the colleagues or the management. What can SMEs do to reduce the turnover among their workforce? Employ these strategies for employee retention. 

Enable fulfilment

Today’s employees are not only working purely to earn a living. They may have other intrinsic motivations. For instance, some yearn for new challenges pushing them to grow outside their comfort zone. Others may find fulfilment in their jobs as it operates in a fast-paced environment. Above all, many are looking to make a living based on what they love, their interests, their lifestyle, and their passion.

Given these factors, there are many approaches that an SME can consider adopting. Some employees work well within a work-life balance setting while others may prefer work-life integration. Some employees seek opportunities where they can express themselves through identity, beliefs, or values. They look for fulfilment in knowing that their contributions to the company – and society – are also supporting an altruistic goal. 

Whatever one’s reason to work is, loving what they do is a significant factor in employee engagement and job satisfaction. Marrying individual expectations and business objectives and goals is no easy feat. When SMEs attempt to strike that balance, it is essential for employees to feel appreciated – to see that their unique skills are valued and utilized.

Provide growth opportunities

Adaptability in the ever-changing market is among the painful lessons Malaysians and anyone across the globe had to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses were forced to digitalize their operations as governments imposed lockdowns and movement control orders. This led to corporate restructuring, furloughs, and layoffs. As employees attempt to get on their feet, they realize a lot of their skills and knowledge may be outdated by rapidly evolving technology. Even areas that seem familiar now require a new approach in which they were ill-equipped. Think of sales and marketing done digitally today. Learning from the last couple of years, employees are looking to find personal and professional growth opportunities in their careers. More so when they spend much of their waking hours at work.

Traditionally, promotions are regarded as the go-to growth opportunities. In that case, consider promoting an existing employee instead of hiring someone from outside the organization. An external hire will need time to familiarize themself with the business and its processes. The solutions they pitched during the interview stage may seem suitable, until when the rubber hits the road. An internal hire has that familiarity. But if the SME has plans to expand beyond what they are used to, it may be difficult.

Pivoting into a new area and specialization are now also on the table. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to retaining employees, this approach depends on the business goals of the respective SMEs. Promote or reward based on that goal. But understand that once your employee reaches the ceiling, the ball returns to their court: are they looking to grow further? Or is this where they see themselves for years, or decades, to come? 

Facilitate collaboration

During the pandemic, working from home became the go-to solution for many businesses – especially in the services industry. Come 1 September 2022, employees may request to work from home; should an employer reject the request, they are required by law to justify the rejection of that application. While somewhat convenient, working remotely leads many to neglect how important physical human connection can be. This interaction allows the development of a sense of camaraderie among colleagues and coworkers. Where conflicts arise, it is best resolved through in-person communication rather than one done behind the monitor – unless it is impossible to facilitate physical meetings. 

A business need not wait till conflicts arise. Incorporating collaborative and communication technology into the process would help enhance collaboration. Different suites like Google Workspace and Microsoft Teams allow seamless collaboration. When employed tactfully throughout the organization, technology enables collaboration between colleagues, improved communication, and engagement.

Support success through process and workflows

Your employees would want to know if their efforts align with the business goals and if they have accomplished milestones accurately and with timeliness. Businesses need to have clearly defined processes and workflows. These remove ambiguity and second-guessing. It sets a clear sequence of events for current and future employees. However, it should not come to a stage where processes become so rigid that it stifles success and growth. 

Clarity and consistency are communicated to all remove unnecessary reworks which, in turn, boosts employees’ confidence as they know they are doing the right thing in the correct order. Conversely, chaotic and confusing workflows which require constant correction or intervention result in frequent mistakes as well as loss of time. It creates the impression that the SME is unreliable in the eyes of the customers. For employees, this source of unnecessary headaches would lead to them losing confidence in the organization. 

Employers may realize that high turnover can be expensive. It costs them time and resources to find and train a replacement.  Besides that, the loss of talent can contribute to business stagnation; especially if the ones leaving are the best workers. Employees also need time to acclimatize themselves before they can start contributing to the company.

Rising inflation disrupted supply chains, and soft market demand is an external factor affecting the cost of doing business just as much as it is affecting one’s cost of living.  Remember that there are other non-monetary ways to retain employees. What fits some SMEs may not fit others. It goes back to where the business owners and managers want to take their respective entities. Blindly applying these measures could backfire – just as not applying them. Employees today do not see themselves as a biological apparatus in the corporate machinery. Similarly, the workplace is fast moving away from the cold setting which lacks human connection and empathy. It is created by a symbiotic relationship of parties who partner with each other – investing time, energy, and emotions – to achieve a common goal.