Chapter 8

How to Retain Star Employees in an Uncertain Working World

Businesses must identify star performers and retain their top talent to maintain productivity in a post-COVID-19 world.

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As we’ve moved through this pandemic, the focus for leaders has shifted from safety and survival to establishing a new sense of normal – thinking through what “success” looks like for our teams and business performance as a whole. 

Productivity is key for a business to thrive, with employee engagement and productivity frequently cited as the top challenges for HR leaders.

During the pandemic, productivity may have ebbed and flowed, depending on an individual employee’s situation.


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There were a variety of factors that influenced productivity, including: 

  • The employee’s work environment (physical space, equipment to do their job)
  • The employee’s mental wellbeing (worrying about family or loved ones, dealing with disruption in day-to-day responsibilities and priorities)
  • Uncertainty of the future (job security, business direction)
  • Lack of motivation (distractions in everyday life, not feeling connected to business) 

But despite a number of challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity for businesses to realize their top performers, who, despite changing and uncertain work environments, maintained productivity and may have even thrived to become a more powerful contributor during challenging times. 

For the future success of businesses in a post-COVID-19 world, those are the employees you want to retain to maintain business continuity and drive innovation. 

post-COVID-19 employee retention strategies

4 ways to retain top performers

Our own research has highlighted that more than 70% of employees agree that motivation and morale would improve if managers simply said “thank you” more often. If we want to cultivate productivity and motivation, our people need us to say, “I see you and I appreciate what you do.”

Having a strategic reward and recognition program that connects employees to thousands of behaviors that drive success for your business all through the year can embed the values and behaviors your business needs to survive and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world. Your top performers are key to that success. 

We like to call these top performers your company’s “ambassadors,” as part of the Employee Engagement Quadrant. There are many versions of this quadrant, but we believe at Reward Gateway that it’s likely your employees fall into one of the following categories: 

the employee engagement quadrant

Your ambassadors are your stars. These employees not only enjoy their job and consistently deliver high-quality work, they are also loyal to the company and make decisions based on the long-term good and survival of the broader team or group.

They focus on a constructive (not destructive!) approach to questioning management directives or current processes, and bring a positive attitude that brings up the people around them. 

post-COVID-19 employee retention strategies

Here are a few ways you can show your appreciation for your star employees: 

  • Recognize them! You can send a note of thank you via a digital employee reward and recognition program and connect their actions to a value that they’ve been living, and describe how their contributions are meaningful for the business as a whole. (Check out more tips on writing recognition strategically for a quick guide).
  • Use technology to amplify those nitty-gritty moments of success that would otherwise be forgotten, and shine a spotlight on a team or individual in company-wide communications, which is especially helpful if others can follow suit in sending recognition to that individual. 
  • Give them an extra bonus or reward to spend on something they’ll truly appreciate. You may not feel comfortable giving your employee a bottle of champagne or picking out a personal gift, so give them the gift of choice by offering a monetary voucher that they can redeem at the retailer they truly want.
  • Involve them in strategic business conversations, and let them have a voice. A Salesforce report revealed that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6x more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Consider bringing them in as a guest to higher-level meetings they may not normally be a part of for a new, valuable perspective for them to feel extra special. 

Identifying your top performers and finding innovative ways to retain them can help your business survive as you continue to navigate a post-COVID-19 era.

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