It’s Time To Focus On Your Employee Retention Strategies


As the unemployment rate hovers at the lowest levels of recent decades, hiring managers and recruiters are feeling the pinch, especially in sectors that are already relatively competitive (e.g., information security, software development, construction, physical therapy, nursing and home health care aides).

As important as finding strong candidates for open positions, managers and human resources (HR) teams have to work to keep the talented employees they already have.

One size does not fit all.

We know intuitively that employee retention rates tend to go up when people are happy at work. But delivering happiness at work is, well, complicated. Which factors can you control or influence that show positive correlations with retention? Do those factors vary between demographics?

A fair amount of research — by Robert Half, Gallup (registration required) and others — has been done on how generational differences manifest in the workplace. Based on my perspectives from this research and my own experience, the elements that seem most influenced by age are communication, technology use and adaptability. The key is to understand, beyond the stereotypes. Retention efforts cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach.

Baby boomers are nearing retirement. They have worked for many years in various roles and settings and lived through many changes. Being aware of their experience and listening to their insights can be mutually beneficial — you get the benefit of their wisdom, and they may feel respected and needed instead of worrying about being pushed out or ignored by younger team members.

Gen Xers are in the prime of their careers and in the sweet spot between experienced and ambitious. I have found them to be self-aware, to know their strengths and interests and to have a broad perspective on workplace dynamics. They are often comfortable and capable with technology but have balanced views on what actually helps make them more productive. If asked, I have found that this generation often has the keenest insights on why a team, project or initiative is or is not working as intended.

Millennials are digital natives and, as such, are technology power users. I have noticed them to be constant communicators, natural born influencers, content creators and cross-pollinators. The millennials I’ve worked with want to be mentored and coached, and they prize meaningful feedback. They want to understand the context, purpose and outcomes of their work and are ready and willing to share their opinions. Do not leave this well untapped; this generation has a pulse on the market — in large part, they are the market.

And now, Gen Z is beginning to make its mark in professional settings, no doubt bringing fresh perspectives and challenges for managers.

Poor retention is expensive and disruptive.

With the low unemployment rate, economic pressures on wages and gig economy competition, hiring managers need to be realistic about working harder and smarter to retain valued employees. The grass is always greener, especially if other employers are offering more flexibility, more money or more meaningful work.

The review culture is going strong when it comes to workplaces, just like it is for restaurants. For instance, you can’t afford to dismiss the influence of a collection of bad reviews on Glassdoor. Crowdsourced opinions are out there, at small and large scales, regarding what it’s like to work for your company. Don’t be the last to know. A bad rap will hurt more than your prospect pool. It potentially means that your competitors can figure out where you’re vulnerable and start cherry-picking your best people.

Avoiding bad reviews is the tip of the iceberg. If your retention rates and employee engagement aren’t where you want them, you have to identify the disconnects. Then figure out what you can do to bring them into better alignment.

Start by bringing problem areas out in the open and getting a dialogue going. Remember, a top-down approach to “How do you want me to listen to you?” is probably not the most effective. The difference between engaged and satisfied is fertile ground for retention-focused improvements and initiatives.

The Work Institute’s “2018 Retention Report” predicts that one in four employees (42 million) will leave their job this year; the rate of those leaving within the first year on the job is the highest in eight years. This adds up to billions in turnover costs for U.S. employers each year. By analyzing nearly 235,000 exit interviews, the researchers found that the top three reasons for leaving are: lack of opportunity to grow in the current position, work-life balance (commute, schedule, etc.) and manager behavior.

The good news? These factors are at least partly under your control.

To keep your best people, focus on excellence in engagement.

It’s important to remember that retention is worthy of focused, continuous improvement efforts because it works in the other direction, too. If you can retain people longer, you can get more traction, advance understanding, develop deep expertise, build institutional wisdom and gain critical momentum. You can get more return on your investment in longer-term employees, and you may be able to identify individuals willing to retrain for internal promotions into hard-to-fill positions.

Your retention strategies should be shaped by a balance of people, technology and process, and in alignment with your business’s goals. Engagement requires two-way communication and healthy, continuous feedback loops.

It’s important to provide safe, anonymous spaces for any discussions that venture into sensitive areas. If your employees feel that speaking frankly might damage their work relationships or status, they won’t do it. It may sound counter-intuitive, but bring transparency into the dialogue by leaving identity out of it as much as possible. The process of actively “listening” in this way will go a long way towards making employees feel heard. Making real, noticeable changes based on the feedback is even more important.

Managers and leaders that have powerful tools and methodologies for personalizing team and company communications, soliciting feedback and tracking follow-through efforts can retain, engage and develop their company’s people into critically valuable assets and competitive forces.


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