Are remote workers less loyal?

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Dec 07 2016 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Apparently remote and virtual workers leave their jobs at a slightly higher rate than those who work in a fixed location. Are they simply ungrateful weasels, or would something else explain this increase in turnover?

In speaking to several recruiters I know, there are a couple of things that explain the number of people who jump ship (or donít). One is perhaps obvious and thereís not much you can do about it. The second reason is more nuanced and itís where leaders can make a huge difference.

Basically, the feeling among recruiters is that itís easier to convince remote workers to move to a better/ higher paying/ more interesting job because: a) there are few barriers to changing jobs, and b) people who are emotionally engaged with their employer, their team mates and their work are just as likely to stay as other employees. If they are not engaged, however, they are more likely to jump ship.

Given that the cost of replacing a knowledge worker is roughly 5x their salary, itís important that we address what we can, as vigilantly as possible.

For the first reason (the low barriers to change) thereís not a lot you can do. Working from home has eliminated many of the factors that go into choosing an employer or leaving for a better offer. When you work from home, the conditions of employment donít change much no matter who you work for. Odds are the working hours will be the same, so there are no major changes in routine to take into account. You wonít have a longer or easier commute, your childcare needs are the same, the daily routine youíve established probably wonít change much, and your banking is all done electronically so itís not like youíll have to go out of the way to deposit or cash checks.

If one job is as good as another, only the name on your business card changes; so why does it matter which one you take? A minor change in pay, or a chance to do more interesting work will likely seem like an easy change to make - and why not?

That means the real difference between your best people leaving and staying rests in the second factor. People who take pride in their work and the organization they work for arenít in a hurry to go anywhere. People tend to stay in jobs where they have strong personal relationships with the folks they work with and for. If they like their teammates and feel appreciated by their manager, they are less likely to leave whether they are remote or working in a cubicle farm.

While itís become a buzz word and is easy to ignore, people who are engaged with both their employer and their work (and they arenít the same thing at all) have little to no motivation to change jobs. A slight pay raise wonít impact their decision one way or the other. Studies have shown that happy employees require more than a ten to fifteen percent salary increase to be really tempted to leave their current job. Unhappy employees will often accept a lateral move or a slight increase and not think twice about it.

As an organization and a team leader, what steps are you taking to ensure that people are really connecting to the work they do, your organization and your teammates? If the work has devolved into lonely silos, mind-numbing tasks and no fun with their co-workers, why would they choose to work for you when the phone may ring at any moment with another, more tempting, offer?

As so often happens, we ignore the ďsoftĒ side of the business at our peril. How are your people doing?

Are you sure?

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.