4 ways CFOs can help businesses retain employees

The pandemic begat the Great Resignation across industries, markets and companies. Finance leaders can help their organisations retain professionals and keep them inspired.

During the pandemic, many professionals across industries and geographies had a change of heart about what's important in life and work, and employers are struggling with the fallout.

On a surface level, the shift to remote working highlighted the benefits of flexibility and mobility on the job and the importance of being connected to co-workers. On a deeper level, people had time and space to meet and tackle uncomfortable emotions about not being heard or seen, a lack of autonomy, and being pushed or stretched, said India-based leadership and emotional intelligence coach Rashmi Datt.

"When we have the space to mull over difficult emotions, they ferment and compost, and we reach a point of clarity," Datt said. It takes courage to face the feelings of anxiety and irritation, she said, and we often gladly distract ourselves by being busy socialising and shopping and, in the process, burying those feelings. But the pandemic limited this option, she said. The clarity feels liberating, and those who can afford it see no reason to stay hitched to something they can no longer relate to.

As the pandemic entered its second year, professionals started to act on their epiphanies. An increasing number sought better terms of employment and a more favourable work/life balance. Resignations in the US, for example, rose to a historic high of 3% of the workforce in September and November, up from 2.3% a year earlier, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. And the Great Resignation is not limited to the US.

"It is widespread across industries and markets and companies," said Rajiv Chinniah, ACMA, CGMA, CA (ANZ), CPA (Australia), the CFO of Coty ANZ.

"Earlier assumptions that no longer hold true should be discarded, and companies must understand the shifts in employee expectations and their prioritisation of wellbeing and accordingly revise their strategies," Chinniah said.

Workers are not merely leaving the workforce but actually reconfiguring their careers. They are prioritising their requirements, choosing better positions, jobs, industries, pay packets, schedules, and, in some cases, benefit perks. The pandemic has taught them that work is a part of their lives, which also includes family and relationships, among other things.

"Leadership has to pay closer attention to find the glue for securing high-potential employees while ensuring gender balance and inclusivity. There have to be ways to encourage employees with long-term rewards as well as a sense of increasing belongingness in the teams," Datt said.

CFOs play a major role in this process and decision-making because finance has access to organisational data and plays a key role in compensation and employee investment.

How to retain employees

Retaining employees includes keeping them inspired and maintaining strong, positive vibes within teams in a changing environment. To do so, Chinniah and Datt recommended finance leaders consider these four strategies:

Show them they are valued. And not just cursorily. "Employees are looking to see value demonstrated by their organisations. They want to belong. Employers and leaders who are able to reconnect, provide genuine career progression, and who are committed to their employees' development are having success in retaining them," Chinniah said.

Finance leaders should review job descriptions and redefine roles to reflect a more humane approach, to thoughtfully establish a better connect between the professionals and their roles, he said.

Leadership has to continuously educate managers in ways of encouraging belongingness and inclusivity by advocacy, by demonstrating these skills themselves, and by creating systems in the organisation that recognise and reward leaders with these competencies, Datt said.

Invest in them. For a longer and richer association, employees want companies to invest in them, Chinniah said, and this goes beyond the various compensatory and financial benefits they have been receiving so far. Organisations are already adding all kinds of financial rewards and benefits to the package for inspiring and retaining the workforce, but employers and leaders need to take extra steps and reinvest in their employees by listening to their needs and taking proactive action to attract, develop, and retain talent. For example, companies provide benefits such as paid time off for volunteering, personal development, study, and "me" time.

Along with those benefits, some organisations are offering childcare support, increased parental leave, sabbaticals, recognition programmes, and corporate discounts on certain products. Some companies offer employees free snacks and meals, or even hire baristas.

All of these investments in employees are part of making them feel valued and rewarded, but they also need employer support to help them cope with changes in work.

Employees must be upskilled to contribute comfortably in the highly technology-oriented workspace, Datt said. There's a need to upskill in all areas of a professional's life, not just in the core values or in technology.

"As consultants and coaches, we are increasingly being called upon to create coaching programmes for enabling leaders to hone skills of communicating with empathy and displaying authentic leadership," she said.

Increase rewards and benefits. Nonfinancial benefits such as flexibility, four-day workweeks, remote working, and hybrid work environments are gaining ground among organisations trying to inspire their teams.

Also, finance teams are looking for hybrid working arrangements that are interactive and fun. They are trying to update and renew organisational cultures to accommodate inclusivity and personal choices.

The pandemic has shown us that with the high level of technological advancement, a high degree of flexibility in the workplace is attainable. This is significant in increasing the work/life balance and prioritising the other aspects of life. CFOs realise that if they want to retain and attract talent, a certain level of flexibility is required.

"It is becoming clear that aspects like human connectivity, workplace camaraderie, and trust are now essential business skills. These are not just the responsibility of HR but of every manager," Datt said.

Encourage mobility across geographies and working environments. Multinationals looking to transfer skills between countries are providing a strong base for talented employees to be mobile and experience new working environments, Chinniah said.

CFOs can encourage these transfers to ensure the skillsets remain within the company while providing employees with a planned career progression and a wider playing field, he said.

Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is a freelance writer based in India. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at