Photo: Jacob Lund, YFS Magazine, Adobe Stock

Keep The Cookies: Employees Stay For Work Environment

Adam Chambers, President of Nurse Recruitment Experts (NRX), reveals why employee retention is driven by workplace relationships and environment.

Last week, I spoke to the HR Manager of a warehouse.

She told me of her surprise at the reasons some employees were leaving: “We removed free cookies and milk from the break room.”

“Why not return the snacks?” I asked. “Because every 30 minutes spent eating is 30 minutes not working,” she responded.

Photo: Adam Chambers, President of Nurse Recruitment Experts (NRX) | Courtesy
Photo: Adam Chambers, President of Nurse Recruitment Experts (NRX) | Courtesy

Her reasoning was understandable from an economical point of view. An Oreo has more value on store shelves than workers’ stomachs. But it’s flawed, and shows a thought gap between today’s leadership and workforce. Namely, managers consistently underestimate the importance of feelings to staff retention.

The interaction confirmed a recent study by my company, Nurse Recruitment Experts. Surveying 2,000 nurses, we discovered that 55% of retention was driven by workplace relationships and environment. Pay and benefits lagged behind, at 16%.

So what’s the problem, and how can we fix it?


Active listening is key

Firstly, employees want to be heard. 96% of Gen Z employees say it’s important that they feel valued, included and empowered at work, according to Meta.

Yet, look at work from home statistics. 98% of workers want remote opportunities. But 90% of companies plan a return to the office by 2030, and nearly 30% say they’ll threaten to fire truants.

Management’s counter-revolution against work from home belies a lack of listening.

Leaders must not only view satisfaction surveys, Glassdoor reviews, and exit interviews, but actually respect, respond, and take action upon feedback. Many organizations are seeing success with “stay interviews”: 30 minutes set apart to understand an employee’ likes, dislikes, and reasons for not leaving (yet).


Feelings matter

So put it into practice. Listen closely to our titular cookies, so cruelly torn from their warehouse, I hear them quoting Henry David Thoreau: “It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see.”

The small things look insignificant if you’re not putting in a shift on the floor. But workers see fundamental human needs met. Sugary snacks activate dopamine sensors and give energy. Free, communal meals fosters (romantic?) relationships. Natural sunlight, and breaks to enjoy it, exposes people to nature and fresh air.

Many employers still believe a $1-$2 improvement on pay versus competitors is enough. But the cost of living squeeze has eroded the dollar’s mental and physical significance to staff. Today’s workforce care about their emotions more than ever. According to Pew Research, 57% of employees who quit in 2021 cited feelings of disrespect.


Satisfaction = Productivity

So how can you show staff your respect? I understand, this can be tough. You’re being pressured from above to drive productivity, revenue, and profit forward. There’s also nowhere to hide if you’re a leader.

Keep The Cookies: Employees Stay For Work Environment
Photo: Jacob Lund, YFS Magazine

But working employees to burnout is counterintuitive: output has its limit. Happy workers are 12% more productive. Losing a good team member is costly: the average price tag of losing and replacing a nurse is $52,350.

And with record employment, workers have the luxury to test different workplaces. Job hoppers are given more exposure to the good and bad of each setting. Positive points stay with them, and form a basis for comparison to you.


Retention drives growth

So keep your cookies and invest in work environment, even if budgets are tight. Actively listen, take workers’ feelings into account, and recognize that satisfied staff are more-productive than burnt out counterparts.

Otherwise, it’s ‘Chips Ahoy’ to solid retention, and with it productivity and growth.


Adam Chambers is the president of Nurse Recruitment Experts (NRX). Since 2019, NRX has sourced and hired 10,000s of RNs, LPNs and CNAs for health systems across the United States and Canada.


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