Finding and Retaining Top Talent in the WFH/WFA Environment

Don Reisinger

by Don Reisinger

5 min read
Finding and Retaining Top Talent in the WFH/WFA Environment
Managing Teams Careers Guides

Whether you’re an employee or a manager, and whether you work at a large organization or a smaller one, remote work is a key option—if not the option—at the center of the hiring process. Finding and retaining top talent is a critical component in any company’s success. And top talent now has a wider range of possibilities for negotiating work space, schedule, and salary. Although the coronavirus pandemic is driving much of the current situation, even after the virus abates, this new reality will not.

But there’s far more work for employers to do. Remote work is the default necessity, but companies need to offer more and do more to retain top talent. The information here speaks directly to employers who are trying to retain top talent as the remote work landscape continues to develop.

Top talent: Don’t tune out. Use this information to help you evaluate potential employers and their approach to hiring, retaining, and nurturing you.

Some Facts for Everyone: Hiring Is Expensive; Not Retaining Is More Expensive

A 2019 Society of Human Resources Management study notes that direct replacement costs to find and train new employees can rise as high as 60 percent of an employee’s salary. The more top talent you need to attract, the more the total cost. And the per-hire cost is highest for small companies.

Here’s one more stat to consider. A McKinsey study found:

  • 82 percent of companies don’t believe they’re effectively hiring highly talented people
  • 7 percent believe they’ll be able to retain the talented employees they do hire over the long term.

“These leaders aren’t being humble—most companies just aren’t good at this stuff,” McKinsey analysts Scott Keller and Mary Meaney said about hiring top talent. “And the scarcer top talent becomes, the more companies that aren’t on their game will find their best people cherry-picked by companies that are. In future, this will be even more likely, since millennials are far less loyal to their employers than their parents were.”

So What Do Employees Want? Glad You Asked!

In a word: the ability to work flexibly where they want, when they want.


A 2018 Harvard Business Review study asked nearly 1,600 US white-collar workers at companies of all sizes about job flexibility. Ninety-six percent of them said that they need flexibility in their jobs to accommodate family and personal responsibilities. But only 47 percent said that they actually have job flexibility. Just 34 percent of women said they have the flexibility they need in their jobs. If you’re responsible for hiring top talent, do pay attention to this article’s excellent discussions of exactly what “flexibility” means to the people you’re looking to hire. And if you’re someone in a position seeking more flexibility, be sure to tell your employer—they might just listen.

Owl Labs discovered in its 2019 State of Remote Work study that employees who can work remotely and with flexibility are happier in their jobs and more likely to stay at their positions than those who can’t. The researchers noted: “We learned that remote work or the ability to work remotely makes employees happier, feel more trusted, better able to achieve work-life balance, and more inclined to take a pay cut to benefit from added flexibility.”

Employees surveyed had a few more things to say:
• 13 percent more remote workers preferred staying in their current jobs compared to onsite employees
• 55 percent of remote workers would look for another job if they were forced to return onsite
• 60+ percent want a pay raise to return onsite

A “Great” McKinsey Game Plan for Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

McKinsey’s study on attracting top talent surveyed employees who were satisfied with their jobs; they noted four key “greats” of employers who successfully retain top talent.

  1. Great leaders:
    89 percent of those surveyed told McKinsey that they have “great leaders” who are “inspirational,” “empowering,” and “focused on development.”
  2. Great company:
    81 percent said they wanted to stay at their jobs because they worked at a “great company.”
  3. Great job:
    81 percent were inspired to stay because they had a “great job” with “opportunities for growth and advancement.”
  4. Great rewards:
    76 percent of employees who were satisfied in their positions said they wanted to stay there because of “great rewards” like strong wages and benefits.

A Little Listening Goes a Long Way

In a survey of more than 13,000 people for its 2020 Global Employee Experience Trends report, Qualtrics found that “highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their companies than their less engaged counterparts.”

So, how do you engage employees? Qualtrics found that surveying employees about important topics and soliciting their feedback is essential. It also found that talking with employees once a month boosts engagement more effectively than asking for feedback weekly, quarterly, or annually.

If you haven’t surveyed your top talent recently, you need to do that, and sooner rather than later. And be sure to focus on their concerns, not your agenda.

Listening to your employees may also give you some hints into what job seekers are really, well, seeking. Ask them why they chose your company and how they went about their job search before they ultimately chose you.

Check out hiring site Social Talent’s handy guide for staying on top of job search trends. The site recommends reading blogs, like The Savage Truth and Snark Attack, that shed light on HR trends. Also be ready to attend events and webinars about hiring and get your hands on as many industry reports as you can. This information really does make a difference.

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the value of talking with and listening to your employees about the opportunity to work from home.

Don’t Forget the Top Talent Waiting to Emerge from Within

When you think about attracting or retaining talent, you shouldn’t just be searching outside your company. A LinkedIn study found internal “recruiting” to be a useful—and underused—strategy.

“In helping employees find rewarding new roles inside your company, you boost morale and entice good people to stick around,” LinkedIn’s Mark Lobosco said. “The financial impact can be enormous. A 2018 Gartner study found the cost of employee turnover due to lack of career opportunities for an average-size company is $49 million per year.”

Focusing on internal recruiting improved retention in 81 percent of companies last year, according to LinkedIn. It also helped 69 percent of companies accelerate new hire productivity and 63 percent of companies fill vacant positions more quickly.

As you can see, hiring and retaining top talent has many facets, and there’s no absolute formula for success. But offering remote work, ensuring a strong corporate culture, engaging employees, and looking internally to find the right people for the job can go a long way in boosting your business.


The Future of Telehealth Is Now, Due to COVID-19

Your days of wasting time in doctors' waiting rooms may be over. That's one—maybe the only—thing we can thank COVID for.


These Are the Companies Sending Employees Back to the Office

Why some businesses simply can't—or won't—let their workers go fully remote.