top of page

What Does Retention Mean In The Changing World Of Work?

Britt-Mari Sykes Ph.D., CDP is a career counsellor and founder of CANVAS Career Counselling working remotely with clients across Canada.

Executive Contributor Britt-Mari Sykes

Retention is becoming tricky. What does retention mean when a career life is now multi-staged and includes having different work experiences? What does it take to attract and retain employees in this new reality?


Human Resource Manager having casual discussion with new staff

Retention has as much to do with what employees are experiencing – their relationship with work and career, their aspirations, how they want to develop their career lives, the meaning they ascribe to work and career, and the quality of their time, what they are learning and their contributions to an organization – as it does with the needs and goals of an organization.

Leaders concerned about retention can begin by understanding the experience of work as it shifts over a lifetime along with some of the key factors that may influence an employee's decision to leave.

The meaning of work and career moves and shifts at different stages

The meaning we ascribe to work is very much entwined with how we experience ourselves, our lives, and our work day-to-day. This includes very human desires for self-expression, mastery, security, fulfillment, having a place in the world, the freedom to choose and design our career lives, and to actively participate and contribute to our work environments. 

At one stage of our career lives, access to education, training, and related work opportunities is important. At another stage, our emphasis may be on stability and financial security. We may be focused on specific skill development in a chosen profession or field at a certain stage and value being recognized for our expertise and knowledge. We may come to identify strongly with a professional title or role and experience meaning in how we are seen in the world. We might experience meaning and fulfillment through the contributions we make and the impact this has on our workplace and our careers.

At other points in our career lives, we may find ourselves outgrowing our jobs or our roles and yearning for change and new opportunities. We may be experiencing burnout. We may be facing changes due to job loss or the elimination of a job or profession. We may experience doubts and question a career choice. We may experience periods of our life away from the paid workforce due to child-rearing, illness, injury, or eldercare which impact our perspectives on work and career. And at other stages, we may begin to (re)frame the value of work differently and our focus may turn to the wider purpose and relevance of what we are doing day to day. 

Any of the above examples – but usually some combination – will influence our relationship with work and career, how we develop our career lives, our engagement, motivation, and what we commit ourselves to, all of which can potentially impact retention.

The experiential impact on retention – What can leaders watch for?

How do our experiences of work at different stages of our career lives impact retention? Let’s look at 6 examples.

1. “I want to be recognized as more than…”

While movement and change are part of life, our careers do not always move in tandem with our personal growth and our desire for professional development. We can outgrow our work roles and even work environments.

If employees feel pigeonholed, if work roles have little room for growth, or if new roles are unavailable to meet an employee’s current stage in life, their current skills, expertise, knowledge, interests, aspirations, and values, they will begin to look elsewhere.


2. Purposeful work

Increasingly employees want to feel that what they are doing day to day, the responsibilities they are tasked with, the projects they are working on and contributing to, and the direction and mission of the organization they work for, have a purpose. That “bigger” purpose may be associated with an issue in the community or larger world, it may be related to the impact the work has on specific populations, or it may be related to the development and growth of the organization they work for.

Being able to identify the personal connection we have to our work and experiencing its purpose feeds directly into engagement, enthusiasm, commitment, and yes, retention.

3. Burnout

Burnout is pervasive and can be experienced at all levels and stages of a career life.

Organizations that do little to address and adjust structural policies and procedures from within that contribute to burnout will inevitably lose employees. Further, negative attitudes or punitive measures towards those experiencing burnout, those taking a leave of absence because of burnout, or those returning to work after burnout can also hasten an employee’s decision to leave.

4. Onboarding, guidance, and support

Too often, little attention is paid to guiding and supporting an employee when they are first hired, when they take on a new role and responsibilities, when they encounter problems, or as they move through different stages of career life.

Without built-in, accessible guidance and support, employees are left to guess, flounder, and struggle daily. This can impact a decision to look for work elsewhere.

5. Clearly defined roles and expectations

Employees want to feel confident and competent in the roles they are assigned and what is expected of them. To do so, they need a trusted dialogical space to ask questions, seek clarity, express concerns, and feel confident that they will receive relevant and respectful feedback.

Poorly defined roles and expectations can easily fuel frustration, disengagement, and stress, any or all of which can affect rates of retention.

6. Communicating and executing the values of an organization

Frequently used words such as transparency, accountability, inclusion, authenticity, respect, and teamwork mean little on their own or when peppered throughout an organization’s mission statement. What will each of these words/terms look like day to day in the workplace? How will they be experienced? How indeed are these words defined and communicated? How will these definitions impact what is expected of employees, teams, and leaders at every level in terms of daily behavior, attitudes, interaction, and communication?

Clarity and communication matter. They affect our daily experiences of work and can also influence a decision to seek out a different work environment.

For reflection

Think about your experiences of work and career as an employee and/or your experiences as a leader. Think about the different stages of your career life and the factors that impacted the meaning work held for you, your commitment, your engagement, your professional development, and ultimately your decision to stay or to leave. 

Canvas Career Counselling offers individual career counselling and consulting at any stage of career life. Contact for more information or to book a consultation.

Follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Britt-Mari Sykes, Career Counsellor

Britt-Mari Sykes Ph.D. is a Career Counsellor and founder of CANVAS Career Counselling working remotely with clients across Canada. Britt-Mari offers a reflective and strategic process to clients, one that integrates their lived experiences, values, and aspirations. This experiential approach to career counselling helps clients gain greater clarity and perspective and design practical steps towards a more meaningful relationship with work and career.

Bình luận


  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page