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What Great Resignation? These employers know the secrets to retain top talent

Amid a historic wave of resignations, these companies are starting with a radically simple first step: Really listening to what their employees need.

Mikel Casal/for The Boston Globe

Five months after starting a job at the Boston financial technology company Forward Financing, Javier Ceciliano decided he wanted to move into a new role. Sales, he thought, would be a better fit for his gregarious personality and work experience. Still, he worried how his manager in account services would react. “I was scared to say I want to move departments,” Ceciliano says.

It turns out, he had perfect timing.

Earlier this year, Forward Financing decided to try filling open positions from within its existing ranks before looking externally, an attempt to make sure the company isn’t losing valuable employees at a time when the hiring market is very much in flux.


“Everyone was extremely supportive — it was amazing,” says Ceciliano, who just finished training for his new sales position.

Like most of the country, Massachusetts is in the throes of what has been dubbed the Great Resignation, a still-rising wave of employees leaving their positions, sparking much consternation among employers unable to keep people on the job. In September, more than 600,000 people across the Northeast and 4.4 million people nationwide quit their jobs, the highest pace on record for the second consecutive month.

“I’m seeing by far the biggest disparity between supply and demand I’ve seen in any job market in 20 years,” says Jason Alexander, managing partner at BANKW Staffing, a group of recruiting and staffing companies serving Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

The uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic appear to have something to do with it, leading many people to reevaluate their priorities and come to the conclusion that their jobs are too stressful or unsatisfying. So they quit — and look for something that will let them focus more on their families and their emotional well-being.

Facing this upheaval in the job market, employers are jumping into action, examining and strengthening their strategies for retaining valued employees. Companies are looking beyond Ping-Pong tables and happy hours, and finding ways to create a culture that puts the needs of workers first. They’re bumping up compensation levels, maximizing opportunities for career growth, and embracing remote work, going so far as to tailor benefits according to the location employees choose.


“We need to realize a lot of our culture needs to be reassessed and rebuilt,” Alexander says.

At Forward Financing, that meant posting open positions internally and promoting them in company meetings and Slack channels. The real key, though, is creating a welcoming atmosphere where workers feel comfortable approaching their managers to discuss ideas, concerns, or hopes for change, says Shannon Braley, vice president of people. “We’re very open, very collaborative,” she says. “Our goal is to retain all of our great employees.”

Intellia Therapeutics is also helping people switch roles internally to keep them from looking elsewhere. In July and August, the Cambridge company hosted two internal career days to inform employees about open roles across the company. Different departments gave live, online presentations on what they do, and then about 100 employees stuck around to be randomly connected with colleagues for speed networking.

The events not only gave employees insight into the opportunities available to them, they demonstrated that the company was listening to their needs, says chief human resources officer Marika St. Amand. Intellia has been growing rapidly, adding new positions and even entire new departments, and existing workers had expressed a desire to learn more about what that meant for them. “This was really in response to our employees and what they asked for,” St. Amand says.


Money helps, too. Integrated Project Management, or IPM, a national consulting firm with offices in Maynard, has increased its 401(k) match to 75 percent of employee contributions, up from 50 percent, and made employees eligible after just one month with the company, instead of 90 days.

The company made the change after seeing more turnover than usual in the past year. A market analysis showed IPM’s previous 401(k) guidelines were similar to those of peer companies — ”but IPM doesn’t want to be just like everyone else,” says Aby Shaughnessy, executive director of human resources.

MilliporeSigma, the Burlington-based life sciences division of Germany’s Merck KGaA, is also offering financial incentives to fill jobs. Its “Move With MilliporeSigma” program, launched in August, gives employees $10,000 to relocate for jobs in manufacturing, covers all moving costs, and pays for housing for three months.

The program mostly recruits from outside the company, but internal candidates are also welcome; so far 100 people have taken the company up on its offer, says Adam Robitaille, head of human resources for North America. The success of the initiative in just the first three months has convinced the company to continue it through 2022. “The job market is tough,” Robitaille says. “We are trying to do all we can.”

At Waltham-based IT consulting firm Aqueduct Technologies, managers are listening to employees’ needs like never before. Director of people and culture Paige Charbonneau has been meeting with every employee for what she calls “stay interviews”: frank, transparent conversations about what’s working, what needs improvement, and how management can better support them.


Charbonneau asks what she calls “difficult questions” and says she is willing — eager, even — to hear answers that might raise hackles in other workplaces. “In a time like now, when we’re hearing about the turnover tsunami, we’re trying to wrap our arms around the pain points that make them think of leaving,” she says. “I don’t want to find out about these difficulties at termination. I want to know, I want to talk about it.”

Marketing assistant Brooke Whitaker describes her meeting with Charbonneau as “awesome.” The candid conversation wouldn’t have been possible with previous employers, she says. She was even comfortable explaining that she likes to do three job interviews a year with other employers to keep her skills and network fresh. “That kind of conversation would scare another company,” Whitaker says. “I just love that they want to know everything going on in my world.”

The adjustments employers are making will likely continue, workplace experts say, as there are no signs of the labor market returning to its old ways anytime soon. Even when everything settles down, companies are likely to be changed forever.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” says DaQuall Graham, chief people officer at Insource Services, an outsourcing consultancy in Wellesley. “The companies that are willing to figure out what the next iteration needs to be are going to triumph.”


Sarah Shemkus is a writer on the North Shore. Send comments to