7 great employee retention strategies

How do you win the employee retention battle? How do you keep from losing your employees in this kind of job market?

This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared on When I Work

To keep your employees working for you, consider trying these seven employee retention strategies:

Salary and benefits must be competitive

A recent Glassdoor survey of hiring managers and people in recruitment and HR found that for 45% of employees who quit, the top reason is salary. This reason was followed by career advancement opportunities, better benefits, and location.

But is it always about the money? According to a collection of recent surveys on employee retention, only 24% of ‘Generation X’ employees say that financial stability motivates them to stay in a job; benefits that are actually beneficial matter. What you offer your employees in this area must be comparable to other businesses in your industry in your region.

After seeing those statistics, you’d be forgiven if you thought that the easiest fix for employee retention concerns would seem to be to offer more money and more benefits.

No doubt these are two top issues that employers must consider, and for some employees, that would be necessary. However, seeing this as the only option is a knee-jerk reaction that can cost your business more than it can afford. Salary and benefits are important and should be considered – specially if you are paying below industry standards – but there are methods to retain employees other than costly raises and benefits.

Hire the right person at the start

Glassdoor found that 35% of those doing the hiring of new employees are doing so with the expectation that more employees will be quitting in the coming year. It’s a little disheartening to know that those doing the hiring are already envisioning over one-third of their appointments walking out of the door. If you hire a quitter, don’t be surprised if they quit. If you hire someone who’s a bad fit for your business, don’t be surprised if they (or employees they’ve annoyed) quit.37% of hiring managers say that new hires would stick around longer if they were better informed during the hiring process. A poor onboarding experience for a new hire builds a foundation of negativity in the new job.

Make sure you’re being honest about what you expect of the new hire. Don’t hide or sugar-coat aspects of the job just to get a person to bite. Transparency is key in finding the right employees. If you need a little extra help, try using hiring software to make the job easier.

Reduce employee pain

You can’t expect employees to function like robots. When an employee’s work and life balance is out of whack, there’s pain. If your employee feels like she spends most of her life working instead of living, the job becomes the bad guy.

Consider the aviation industry, and the struggle airlines are having with a pilot shortage. There simply aren’t enough pilots to fill the airplanes, and a looming retirement wave of seasoned pilots promises to make the problem worse.

Airlines have been working at several solutions, with one being fairly obvious; offer better salaries than can be found elsewhere in the industry, and tempt pilots away from other airlines or from corporate aviation. This, in turn leads the Air Force to increase salaries for pilots – a kind of trickle down effect that will, ultimately, have the worst impact on those companies unable to compete with such salaries.

What should a small business or company do if they are in a situation or an industry in which competition for great employees is high, but the business can’t afford to pay a dollar-for-dollar competitive salary?

 Find the pain point.

Through employee surveys, direct feedback or paying attention to industry trends, find out what is a point of frustration for employees in your industry.

For example, commercial pilots often have onerous schedules, living in one city and having to fly to another where they are ‘based’. They spend time surrounded by travelling strangers and in hotels instead of with family.

 Alleviate the pain point.

Think of pain as the main thing to be alleviated. Money alleviates pain, in a way, making the hassle worthwhile because the resulting paycheck will make other areas of life less painful. But there are other ways to attack the pain problem that some employees will consider being just as valuable as being paid more.

Using our aviation example, corporate aviation can sometimes offer more family-friendly schedules even if they can’t match commercial salaries; they are re-vamping how they set up flight schedules so that pilots can be home each night, or have shorter on-the-road schedules.

Conversely, airlines are attractive to corporate pilots who are tired of the full service (clean, schedule, greet, stow luggage, plan) they have to handle on each flight; for most airlines, the pilot simply has to show up to fly. Perhaps a corporate flight department might consider hiring staff who would do much of the unskilled labour (cleaning, etc.) and fully combat all perceived pain points to retain and attract pilots.

 Don’t let the pain build elsewhere.

Good workers are easily taken for granted. Be on guard for employees who may not be complaining, but are quietly feeling exhausted or frustrated about the amount of work expected from them.

Some employees, because of their personality or nature, won’t even realise they are overworking themselves. Perhaps you don’t expect it of them, but they have a work ethic that demands a constant ‘nose to the grindstone’ approach. These are employees who sometimes think in terms of an accounting ledger, and will rarely take time off because they don’t want to miss the income. For these people, paid vacation helps and gifting a random paid day off also helps.

Perhaps organisational changes have unintentionally created pain. Perhaps you’ve created a pain point by solving another problem but creating a new one. Whatever the case, communicate with your staff and keep an eye out for areas that have inspired grumbling. Those are pain points.

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Have leaders, not bosses

Few people want to be leaders, but everyone wants to be the boss. Remember, though, that people follow leaders, while they abandon bosses; a boss is a dime a dozen while leaders are rare.

Do you want to keep your employees? It’s worth knowing the five characteristics of effective leaders, because it’s going to play directly into employee engagement, our next employee retention strategy. The characteristics are:

  1. Clear direction towards the future. Good leaders let employees know where the company is headed. Bosses don’t share information and leave employees wondering if there’s good or bad coming down the pipe and if they should be concerned.
  2. Able to handle challenges. Leaders handle the many challenges that come their way instead of, intentionally or unintentionally, offloading the stress onto the employees.
  3. Genuine desire to offer high quality. For both customers and employees, good leaders offer the best products, services, and experience possible. Bosses are almost behind the curve, scrambling to meet the minimums.
  4. A belief in the importance of people. Good leaders consider employees their most important asset; bosses are focused on numbers.
  5. Inspires confidence. Good leaders make employees feel confident about their ability to lead them to a good place. Bosses tend to inspire passive-aggressive frustration as employees question the decisions that have been made that have affected them negatively.

How do you be a good leader instead of just a boss?

Be available for your employees. Bosses often pay lip service to an ‘open door policy’, but it’s not enough to simply invite criticism and feedback. It’s not unusual for people to feel they can’t really express themselves for fear of embarrassment or reprisal, even with open door policies in place.

This is about actively creating an open rapport with employees. You don’t have to become best friends, but taking the time to be friendly and engaged with your employees will pay off in spades.

Be steady and structured.

Provide work schedules regularly, and in advance, so your employees can plan their personal lives. Have a good handbook, and stick to it, treating all employees and situations equally and fairly. Anything less is chaotic and employees don’t stick around for chaos and drama.

Keep an eye on your managers

People leave managers, not companies. Have you ever asked people about the jobs they hate and the reasons they left? Chances are pretty good that one of the first things you’ll hear is griping about a manager or boss, not the products, the customers, or other co-workers. Keep an eye on your managers. People follow as they’re led, and a bad manager creates a negative mess all around.

Make employee engagement possible

According to a Gallup poll, 56% of somewhat disengaged and 73% of actively disengaged employees are actively looking for a different job. That ought to get any employer’s attention.

Your first response, however, shouldn’t be a matter of blaming employees for their distraction as a reason for their disengagement. Distraction is associated with motivation problems. As an employer, you need to understand what motivates people to want to become fully-engaged with the work they do, and what makes them merely punch in at the time clock until something better comes along. What motivates people to engage, care, and want to stick around and stay a part of the team?

Offer valuable learning opportunities.

Employees who are highly engaged in learning are also more engaged at work. Just remember that the kind of learning opportunities I’m talking about isn’t the same as on-the-job training. You should be helping your employees to grow and expand, not simply get better at what they already do. If your training centres completely rely on increasing performance in a current role, you’re missing the boat. Consider:

  • cross-training programmes so employees have a broad skill set, not just a narrow set limited to their specific job;
  • mentorship programmes that encourage mentee to become mentor;
  • creating a leadership ladder so employees know what they need to do to move up.

Good employees – the ones who are dedicated to your company – the ones you really want to keep – want the opportunity to advance, not just maintain momentum.

Make advancement possible.

Whether it’s job advancement, promotion or some form of professional development, people who feel like there is always a goal they can work for, instead of a dead end, are generally more motivated.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

How hard will you work if you know you’re only going to be treading water, instead of advancing, for the foreseeable future of your job? Why wouldn’t you start looking for a new job if you’re someone who is motivated by achievement?

Give employees opportunities for concrete success.

According to Entrepreneur, people have a, ‘deep desire to feel they’re succeeding and that their talents and capabilities are being used in a way that makes a difference to the business’.

It’s not enough for you to give vague, if well-intentioned, feedback; your employees actually want to see the results of their work. They want to have that concrete object that they can rest their pride on. They need to see the results with their own two eyes.

Be a brand they can be proud of

This is an age of activism, with upcoming generations who want every aspect of their lives to be part of a solution instead of a problem. Be known for the positives, known for your involvement and support of:

  • charities and helpful organisations;
  • the local community;
  • issues such as environment, education or equality.
  • team-building and a family-like work environment.

Employees who are passionate, and care about the impact their lives have on the world, will consider working for a positively-branded business a serious benefit.

Just remember that your employees aren’t automatons, chugging along only for a paycheck. They care about where they work, how they work and who they work with. When competing in a tight job market, it’s important to keep this in mind instead of getting into an unwinnable wage bidding war that could wipe out your bottom line.