Money can’t buy your employees’ loyalty

The pandemic has drastically impacted what employees expect of their work experience and what organizations must deliver so they want to stay. Managing job satisfaction and even employee engagement are no longer sufficient. Traditional incentives, such as raises and bonuses, are table stakes. Organizations must evolve their paradigm by focusing on a holistic employee experience that puts equal emphasis on growth, engagement, and well-being. These three factors are essential, because their balance drives a positive or negative employee experience.

In our most recent Great Attrition research, employees rated three elements of employee experience as most and equally important reasons for recently leaving a job: not having caring leaders (35 percent), having sustainable work expectations (35 percent), and a lack of career development and advancement potential (35 percent). These findings underscore the need for a genuine, personalized, and multidimensional employee experience. To create the human-centered experience people are craving, here are four things leaders can do:

  • Personalize relationships and avoid transactions. We’ve found that up to 55 percent of employee engagement is driven by nonfinancial recognition—which serves as the biggest driver of employee experience. This insight is congruent with our findings that an employee’s decision to leave is often driven by not feeling valued by the organization or their managers.

    Currently, many tactics meant to bring employees together are received as the opposite—transactional, commonplace, and impersonal. For example, the “mass market” approach of giving everyone a one-time bonus might seem noble and effective at a surface level but runs the risk of hitting all the wrong notes.

    To avoid this trap, leaders can integrate a greater sense of meaning by determining what matters most to their teams, personalizing expressions of recognition and appreciation, and providing opportunities to build relationships. One large technology firm has a dedicated program and a designated area where employees can recognize each other for a job well done by expressing their gratitude through notes, emails, and even nominating someone for a spot bonus.

  • Prioritize social interactions. Based on our research, we identified nine elements of employee experience across three key areas: social, work, and organization. The strongest predictors of a positive experience were the social aspects, including quality relationships with leaders, trust, caring teams, and organizational social climate (e.g., respect and inclusion).

    Employees with an overall positive experience were eight times more likely to stay and four times more committed than those with a negative experience. These elements create a “sticky,” relational employee experience, compared to a more fleeting, mercenary one.

  • Give them room to grow. In today’s labor market, employees are switching jobs more frequently than ever. However, treating employees as temporary will only exacerbate the transactional relationship.

    Among employees who left because of a lack of career development and advancement potential, they reported that they could not achieve their career goals (65 percent), did not have advancement opportunities (63 percent), and did not feel an investment in their knowledge, skills, and abilities by their organizations (59 percent). In other words, employers must treat their employees as though they have come to stay—invest in developing them and show them a future in the organization, or watch them leave.

  • Create sustainable working models. While many organizations acknowledge the growing levels of disengagement and burnout, they frequently fall short in addressing it. For example, Australian workplaces lost $17 billion of productivity due to absenteeism and mental health conditions.

    To maintain growth and development, organizations must create easy avenues to seek help and promote flexibility, work-life balance, and emotional resilience—all of which lend themselves to a more sustainable working model focused on productivity and well-being.

Employee experience has always shaped how employees think about why they come to work. Now, it has become an indispensable part of an employer’s competitive advantage. With supportive leaders focused on building meaningful relationships and creating sustainable working models, companies can transform work from something employees have to do into something they want to do.

The authors would like to thank Timothy Bromley, Jonathan Emmett, and Laura Pineault for their meaningful contributions to this post.


This blog post is part of a series on the Great Attrition, exploring the immediate actions leaders can take to retain and attract talent at a time when employees are leaving their jobs in droves. Topics include how to keep top-performing talent, the nuances emerging in different industries, adaptability as an antidote to burnout, the implications for the labor shortage and what to do about it, how to build a sense of community in the new employee landscape, the complex relationship between DE&I and attrition, the importance of employee experience, socioemotional support as the organization’s social glue, the need to reimagine and personalize flexibility at work, and competition from the gig economy and entrepreneurism.

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