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Business team in a meeting

5 ways to inspire, engage and retain staff

As companies prepare for a return to the workplace, research shows employees in many businesses worldwide are ready to jump ship. Here’s how to encourage yours to stay—and thrive.

Business team in a meetingResearch shows recognition is a key motivator for employees to stay in their roles (VioletaStoimenova)

COVID-19 has already had an enormous impact on the way we work, hire and connect with each other. And while it’s still too early to say how enduring that impact will be, it appears that employees in many kinds of businesses are now giving a lot of thought to where they want to work, and why. As a result, there’s been an exodus from organizations in all sectors.

Dubbed “The Great Resignation,” the trend is gaining steam worldwide. One 2021 report from the Achievers Workforce Institute showed, for example, that 52 per cent of employees are searching for a new job, up from 35 per cent in 2020. 

And Canada is not immune: according to a recent poll by the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation, 42 per cent of respondents said they are considering changing jobs or careers within the next year.

But no matter what type of business you work in, there are ways of avoiding this new kind of brain drain. 

Here are five tips for building a culture where employees find everything they need to thrive—while staying right where they are.


Research shows recognition is a key motivator for employees to stay in their roles. Yet it appears that employers in many areas are falling short in this regard. 

According to the Achievers report, for example, 20 per cent of respondents say they feel a lack of appreciation is hindering their work engagement, while two-thirds believe they’d have a better relationship with their managers if they received more recognition. 

“Leaders need to be able to articulate to employees how they are adding value,” says Emily Brine, KPMG’s managing director of human resources. “The ability to demonstrate to people that what they do matters, is extremely important to employee engagement and the sense of self-fulfillment.”

CPA Jeff Smith, founder and CEO of SupportingLines Institute, which helps leaders and teams perform so that people have a better human experience at work, adds that recognition also includes showing interest in career development. But this is another area that is reportedly on the decline. According to a recent survey by recruitment agency Robert Half, 62 per cent of Canadians are feeling stuck when it comes to advancing their careers or salaries due to burnout and career stagnation.

“When someone has an interest in your development, you feel safe, you feel engaged, you feel inspired, you feel motivated,” says Smith. “And that applies even more during times of uncertainty.”

Smith says now is the time for employers to engage in more one-on-one conversations with employees in order to find out about the challenges they are facing, while recognizing a job well done and offering constructive feedback

“The key thing is to actually show you care,” he says. “[Organizations] have been focused on achieving goals and saving the company, but the reality is, you can’t do that without offering your people a great experience.”


Recognition also includes providing opportunities for career growth, including upskilling opportunities. Research shows this is all the more important in the digital era, when skillsets, particularly for CPAs, are evolving. According to a KPMG 2020 HR Pulse Survey, 72 per cent of respondents ranked reskilling as one of the most important paths for shaping the workforce. In fact, 35 per cent of employees are expected to need reskilling over the next two years due to technical innovation. 

Some organizations are leading the way. At KPMG, for example, employees have a variety of upskilling options, including self-directed learning via Degreed, Digital University, Leadership Academy, and a Data Analytics and Visualization micro-credential program. 

“We recognize that one size does not fit all—so we work with a broad ecosystem of learning institutions to provide a best-in-class experience and opportunities to our people,” says Brine. 

At Porsche Cars Canada, Ltd., employee development includes finding new and unique ways to use skillsets through job rotations. Employees work with managers to identify three potential roles of interest that they could fill, be they vertical or lateral in direction. For example, a CPA serving as a controller but with a passion for events could shift over to marketing and provide financial expertise in that area, says Shereena Robinson, Porsche Cars Canada’s human resources manager.

“It may not be a promotion, but an expansion of their experiences,” she says. “It’s thinking creatively and finding other opportunities of interest that can also help drive the business to be more successful. It gives people a chance to feel empowered.”   


According to the Achievers report, 46 per cent of employees are feeling less connected to their company or colleagues than they were at the start of the pandemic.

There is a reason for this, says Smith: many employers have been more focused on averting crisis than nurturing employees. But there are ways to help people build a deeper connection to the organization and its people, he says. These include actively listening to their professional and personal experiences as well as involving them in problem-solving initiatives (such as establishing return-to-office policies) or giving them the reins for decisions that directly impact them. 

“When you think about engaging employees, the most important thing is to make sure people are involved in planning and they see a vision that inspires,” says Smith.  “Share what’s difficult [for the business] and get them to help you solve it because they are smart—that’s why you hired them.”

Porsche Cars Canada, Ltd. has done just that by using regular pulse surveys during the pandemic to gauge and act on employee pain points. Furthermore, as part of the company’s Global Strategy 2030, all projects are evaluated (and documented) on how they tie into this overarching plan, so employees see how their work is directly impacting the organization’s direction.

“It’s a top-down strategy, but it’s built from bottom-up projects, initiatives and ideas,” says Robinson. “It gives people that sense that they are contributing to the overall strategic success of the organization.”

KPMG also uses various methods to connect and build engagement with employees, says Brine. In addition to frequent pulse-check surveys, monthly town halls with open Q&A sessions have been held with the CEO throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve been really purposeful in connecting regularly with our employees,” says Brine.

“When you’ve asked for the feedback, you can’t turn a blind eye, you have to be able to respond quickly and transparently.”


Employees’ expectations in terms of what they want from their jobs have evolved since the pandemic began, say experts. 

“People have had time to reflect on what’s most important to them and where they want to spend their time,” Brine says. “Organizations need to understand that and illustrate how employees can find meaning and purpose in their work on a day-to-day basis.”

More than ever, says Brine, people want to know how their employers are responding and adapting to broader issues such as climate change, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), flexible work policies, wellness/mental health initiatives, and health and safety protocols.

At KPMG, for example, the Total Rewards program offers personalized wellness support for employees, including flexible work arrangements, paid parental leave, and sabbaticals, says Brine. Fostering inclusion is also a top priority, with employee resource groups (or ERGs) offering additional staff support and connection.   

“It’s about an organization’s ability to respond to shifting social dynamics and take the opportunity to adapt and pivot in the right way,” she says. “Those that don’t will likely see further attrition in their organizations.”


In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that a strong culture can be a major success factor for an organization. But according to the Achievers report, 42 per cent of respondents said company culture has diminished since the onset of COVID-19, with blame being placed on a lack of effort in terms of staying connected while working remotely. 

“It’s important for an employer to determine how its culture has shifted since the pandemic began,” says Smith. “We help leaders do this with a high-performance culture assessment that simultaneously gauges conditions for both operational performance and a great human experience of work. What makes you a great company five or 10 years from now, will also make you a great company five or 10 weeks from now.” 

Stressing the importance of DEI efforts, Robinson adds that behind any effective corporate culture is a sense of community that makes employees feel as if they belong and can bring their true selves to an organization. 

“It’s especially important for CPAs to be able to show that their personality and lifestyle aren’t about hiding in a corner with a green visor,” she says. “That’s critically important to retaining CPAs.”


Create a business strategy that takes social and human capital into account in a more meaningful way by consulting CPA Canada’s A4S essential guide. Plus, read this CPA Canada report to find out which environmental and social implications are impacting businesses and capital markets the most. And use these business continuity resources to move through the pandemic more seamlessly.