Hold onto Talent in Tough Times

Many organizations are still dealing with the economic fallout of the pandemic. Customers may have moved on, and employees could be thinking of a change, too.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 13 September 2021
Hold onto Talent in Tough Times

But in tough times, you must fight hard to keep your top performers. Let’s explore ways to hold onto talent – through the good times and bad. 

1. Share your vision for the future 

If your organization is going through a difficult period or major change, share key information with employees early on. Be clear on: 

  • The reasons why change is happening

  • Your company’s vision, hopes and expectations for the future

  • What is at stake if the change does not go ahead

  • How the organization plans to achieve its goals. 

By creating a strong, persuasive vision for change, your top talent will have a reason to stay and see the benefits of change. 

2. Communicate regularly and clearly 

In times of uncertainty, employees may make assumptions – rightly or wrongly – about what’s happening. Some, including your top performers, may feel confused and worried about what lies ahead.  

Regular communication minimizes the risk of losing vital people. So, managers must be prepared to: 

  • Provide a consistent, clear message about what lies ahead

  • Answer difficult questions and concerns promptly and accurately. And to be honest if details are not available yet – letting employees know when they will be

  • Manage information gaps and minimize negative rumours or gossip. 

3. Ensure leadership is united 

You need strong, united leadership to keep talent committed and engaged. Your top performers will quickly spot if leaders are insincere or unsure. They should remain positive and demonstrate their commitment to the organization’s future. To do it, they should: 

  • Remain visible and approachable during difficult times

  • Be open, honest and acknowledge they don’t know all the answers

  • Present a consistent, unified response to key issues and challenges. 

4. Make retention a top priority 

When market conditions are in a state of flux, talent management can often be forgotten as other areas take precedence. But keeping top performers gives your organization an edge.  

Consider setting up a task force to address and lead retention issues. You can also hold managers accountable by linking retention objectives to their performance frameworks.  

Managers have an essential role to play as retention champions. They can influence and encourage employees to stay by providing: 

  • Exciting and challenging work

  • Structured career development plans

  • Coaching and mentoring

  • A supportive working environment

  • Regular recognition of employees' achievements through praise and positive feedback. 

5. Be flexible 

In times of economic uncertainty, you may have to do more with less, which places added pressure on employees.  

That’s why you should check in with people regularly to make sure they're not feeling overwhelmed, and try to help them avoid working long hours and burning out.   

Flexible working can help, letting people do their job around stress-relieving activities such as exercise. Flexible work also lets people work when they’re most productive and increases autonomy, which psychologist Dr Kevin Teoh believes is crucial to maintaining well-being and in tough times. [1] 

6. Conduct ‘stay’ interviews 

You don’t just lose skills when employees move on, you lose money, too. Gallup gives a “conservative estimate” that the cost of replacing an employee to be two times their annual salary. [2] 

To avoid a run of exit interviews, try conducting retention interviews. Consult employees on how they’re feeling about the current environment, the issues that matter most to them, and what will encourage them to stay with you.  

As well as making employees feel valued and appreciated, managers can use these meetings to assess individual development needs and create tailored retention plans.  

Remember that when times are tough, employees will be thinking, ‘how will this affect me?’ So, managers should discuss how changes will impact people directly, as far as they are able to do so.  

7. Be creative with rewards 

It may not be possible to give out big bonuses in the current financial climate. Be honest with people and consider non-financial rewards such as: 

  • Taking teams out for lunch or giving them an afternoon off

  • Giving monthly awards to hard working employees

  • Sending out well-being packs with little gifts.  

These small gestures could be a big deal for people and help show how much you value them.   




[1] Teoh, K. The ABC of Managing Wellbeing in an Uncertain World [online] Available here. [Accessed 9 September 2021]. 

[2] Wigert, B and McFeely, S. (2019). This Fixable Problem Costs U.S. Businesses $1 Trillion [online] Available here. [Accessed 9 September 2021]. 

[3] Croswel, L. Focus on learning and development to increase retention [online] Available here. [Accessed 9 September 2021]. 

Other source: Sujansky, J. (2008). How to Lead, Motivate, and Retain Key Talent During Uncertain Times [online]. Originally published here

About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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