How to ensure your company lives it values and retains talent

Almost three years since the first Covid restrictions were introduced in the UK, the impact of those unprecedented days on businesses, workers and the workplace continues to play out, even as new economic turmoil has emerged.

Almost daily, we hear about and see new workplace trends – from the Great Resignation and hybrid working to quiet quitting and resetism. Take it seriously, businesses are advised; getting on top of these issues is the only way to retain top talent, drive productivity and weather the current storm.

What each new trend serves to repeatedly show us is that a greater and more enduring shift has occurred: the power balance has decisively shifted towards workers. And they now have demands outside of the usual salary and benefits expectations. They want also companies with strong values that align with their own.

According to new research from KPMG, which surveyed more than 6000 adult workers in the UK, 82% of people prioritise having shared values with their companies. It rises to 92% among 18 to 24-year-olds reinforcing what we already know about the importance of a company’s ESG values to Gen Zs. Conscious quitting – where people quit their roles if their company’s sustainability values don’t align with theirs – is fast becoming a reality!

However, it also shines the spotlight on some uncomfortable truths. Too often, a gap exists between a company’s stated values and those that inform that real internal culture. According to research from recruitment consultancy Mthree, 70% of workers aged 21 to 28 years old regretted taking a role after discovering what the company culture was like, and 26% went on to quit in the first six months.

The only way businesses can address this gap is to stop value washing and begin acting with authenticity. Start by clarifying and defining your real values – whether they are core to your business now or aspirational values you are working towards – and communicate them to your teams. Reinforce them at every opportunity and try to bring them to life through examples from within the business, so people understand how their role/work contributes.

Translate the values into the behaviours that you expect to see, so people can understand what it means for them day to day. Make sure those values are activated in everything you do, from hiring and onboarding to progressing and supporting existing workers. Leaders and managers are pivotal in bringing the values to life, so invest in appropriate training or coaching to support them.

By helping leaders and managers understand their contribution, they will bring this support to their teams and, in turn, recognise what training, reskilling or upskilling is needed to help them to achieve their targets and progress their careers. Investment in the growth and development of your teams will empower them by making them feel happier, more valued and engaged. It will keep people in your business and motivate them to support it in achieving its values and goals because they feel a part of its success.

Being transparent and intentional about your values and weaving that through every touchpoint in the business will help create teams and attract new hires that align with those values. This understanding will help create an inclusive and supportive workplace where everyone should feel able to be authentic and bring their whole self to work. If you know what you stand for as an organisation, you create space for your workers to explore and express their values. Then don’t recruit for fit, recruit for contribution.

Never take it for granted that your message is reaching everyone. Offer your teams frequent opportunities to give feedback to ensure it is filtering through to every team member. It will highlight what your business needs across the board, from how to develop individual team members to how you can improve the customer experience.

Values and how they are actually lived out and expressed are more important to today’s workforce, and people are increasingly happy to quit if they don’t feel in alignment with them. A strong set of characterful values mark your business apart and serve as a rallying point for your workers, partners and customers. Truly working to and achieving this cultural magic have huge benefits – the alternative is bland values that are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, dishonest and a cynical. Stop your workforce putting one foot out of the door and bring humanness with effort to your culture.