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Try this strategy for better employee retention

April 4, 2022   by Jason Contant

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One underrated way to keep employees on board is to give them the flexibility and resources they need to pursue their out-of-work passions, says a Harvard Business Review blog.

Besides important considerations such as remote work and autonomy, better pay and health coverage, the blog authors recommend creating “passion opportunities” for employees. This includes greater power for employees to craft work hours around their passions, financially supporting passion pursuits outside of work, and explicit management support for flexibility.

“Many employees may benefit from viewing their jobs as conduits to pursue their passion outside of work, and jobs that allow employees to do so may not only draw in talented employees, but can help them maintain their productivity and well-being over the long-term,” says the blog, To Retain Employees, Support Their Passions Outside Work.

The blog was written by Lauren C. Howe, an assistant professor in management at the University of Zurich, Jochen I. Menges, a professor of leadership and human resource management at the University of Zurich, as well as a lecturer of organizational behaviour at the University of Cambridge, and Jon M. Jachimowicz, an assistant professor of business administration in the organizational behaviour unit at Harvard Business School. The three authors recommend the following steps to create passion opportunities for employees.

Work with employees to create flexibility

Give employees greater power to define their work hours and set clear expectations that employees should craft work hours around their passions, the authors write. “Employees need to know they shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving work or have to wonder whether doing so will jeopardize performance reviews.”

For example, one dad always wanted to be a soccer coach for his daughter’s team, but the training was every Tuesday and Thursday at 5 p.m., and his working hours commonly lasted until at least 6 p.m. He asked his supervisor for support, “who not only enthusiastically committed to making sure he could leave early Tuesday and Thursdays in exchange for coming in earlier, but also encouraged other people on his team to similarly request planned time off to pursue non-work interests.”

Different companies offer other incentives. For example, Google started a fellowship program that allows employees to spend up to six months working for non-profits on special projects. “Even industries considered more traditional, like investment banking, have started adopting similar policies,” the blog says.

Lead by example

Beyond simply providing employees with the flexibility needed to pursue their passions, leaders need to make sure that employees feel comfortable actually using this flexibility.

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Employees may fear unorthodox work times will cause backlash and may be unwilling to take advantage of flexible work policies. Some research suggests employees do face stigma for taking advantage of the flexibility.

However, stigma against out-of-work passions is unfounded, the authors say. Leaders can normalize out-of-work passions by sharing their own passions with employees. “Explain how you see passions as fuel that re-energizes you to do your best — and critically, tell employees that they can, and should, make time for the same.”

Put your money where your mouth is

Financially support passion pursuits outside of work. “The expenses for these programs are easily offset through the additional motivation and commitment that employees subsequently bring to work,” the authors say.

Software company FullContact offers a practice called “paid paid vacation,” including a $7,500 stipend on top of paid vacation time that employees can use for whatever they want. One caveat: They must disconnect and do something completely non-work-related.

Leaders could also provide learning stipends, giving employees funds for self-development. Reddit provides employees with funds for personal and professional development that cover classes related to any interests, whether job related or not.

Encourage employees to share their passions with each other

Beyond sharing their own passions, leaders can take steps to establish norms among their employees that favour passion pursuit. Employees often pay more attention to what team members at the same level do, rather than look at higher-ranking leaders, the blog notes.

Leaders can create space for employees to share their passions with one another, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams channels dedicated to non-work passions. This can also strengthen social bonds among co-workers.

Companies can pay for interested employees to meet and attended a cooking class or learn a new language, for example. “When employees work out of the office, passion opportunities can create new shared experiences that generate positivity and help colleagues stay connected even when working in different [postal] codes and time zones.

“Flexibility is often cast as a solution for the ‘musts’ of life — parents who must pick up their children from daycare and thus use flexibility to shift some work from the afternoon into the evening, or employees who must live far away and thus use flexibility to avoid a long commute,” the authors write. “Instead, we suggest that flexibility should also allow for the ‘wants’ of life — it should give employees the space to pursue their passions and come to work invigorated from those experiences.

“Flexibility with support — both social and financial — to allow people to carve out a place for out-of-work passions in their lives can make your workplace more appealing to attract employees, and healthier to retain them.”


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