Posted on 3 November 2008

How to Retain Your Employees

A few months ago, I was approached by Peter Fretty, an author with Business Connect, to discuss employee retention tools employers can take advantage of.

I shared a few things with him which I am glad to say were published in this month’s magazine along with some other good, insightful thoughts from both local and national employers.

If you don’t receive Business Connect Magazine (which I strongly recommend), you can read Peter’s article online here: How to Retain Your Employees.

Just for fun, I’ve listed the more verbose responses to some of what Fretty asked me:

What do you see as the most effective means of retaining employees?

The most-common reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their boss. This takes on a lot of forms from not feeling challenged, to feeling micromanaged, passed over for opportunities, or not being trained well. It’s regular for new managers to completely change over much of their staff within a year after they take a new post, generally because of these personality factors.

It’s not about the money, it’s not benefits, it’s not getting a shiny car for being employee of the year like Doba did last year*. At the end of the day, the employee’s direct supervisior has more power and ability to help and employee feel liked and encouraged or disgruntled and dissatisfied than any other thing a company can do.

We all know that the cream rise to the top, and in business, the superstar talent will always keep their eyes and ears open through active and passive networking. Even the least-talkative or outgoing employee likes to work where they feel liked and appreciated, and even they will seek new opportunities when they feel their relationship with their direct supervisor is strained. Superstars are savvy enough to not complain about their boss around other people, but they will sing their praises, and your company’s, if they like what they’re doing, and they feel satisfied with their job.

That being said, the best boss in the world will lose employees hand-over-fist if the company is not:

  • Paying well (by the way, which means ahead of the curve, not right at the median pay-range),
  • Doesn’t provide adequate (read: liberal quantities of) tools to help employees succeed at their jobs
  • Misses opportunities to praise and reward employees for the hard work they do (recognition is more important than money, but money talks very loudly).
  • Provide all of the required and some over-the-top benefits to make sure their employees (and their families) feel appreciated as more than cogs in the machine.

What mistakes do people commonly make when trying to keep employees?

  1. Hire the wrong bosses.
    People are promoted to management for the worst reasons. They look the part, they have the right degree, or they’ve been there the longest. Just like a brilliant doctor without any bedside manner, the most accomplished, credentialed, superstar manager will fail miserably if she can’t incite enthusiasm and success in her employees.
  2. Don’t give bosses tools for retention.
    Corporate policies always play their heavy hand when employees want flex time, or to try out a special project, or even take an extra day of vacation to see their kid’s last soccer game of the year. Google’s 20% rule, where employees get one day a week to work on any approved project of their choosing has produced some of their best creations. Why not?  This is much better use of “water cooler” time anyway, isn’t it?
  3. Don’t ask people what they want to do next.
    People will jump companies in a heartbeat for new challenges. Companies are usually horrible at actually helping people accelerate through their careers internally. Challenge them, ask them for help with special projects, allow them to be creative and try new things with your blessing.
  4. Pay exactly the “market rate”.
    Duh. This one is easy to fix, but hard to approve through management. Yes, employee costs are high. But replacing an employee costs up to 70% of that employee’s annual salary. It’s your choice: You can lose them every 8-16 months (current averages for non-executive transitions), or you can pay them an extra 10% or even 30% over the market, with regular, meaningful raises.
  5. Stifle creativity by maintaining the status-quo.
    Doing more of the same, but hoping for something different is the definition of insanity. People will either go insane or go somewhere else if you don’t allow them to have input to your processes and take on difficult projects. Toyota championed this, allowing any factory line worker to stop the whole plant if they saw something that needed to change.
  6. Don’t Talk.
    The old joke is, if you hear from your CEO more on CNN than in your own business, there’s something wrong (See GBAT #16).  Maybe your CEO isn’t ever on CNN, but this is the age of transparency, and if your employees don’t know what’s really going on behind the brass-handled doors of the C-suite, they will go elsewhere.
  7. Don’t Listen.
    Gatekeepers, assistants, and other executives are great at keeping the bad news and feedback from getting to the top. That’s bad. Engage in conversations. Real, honest, and serious ones. Your staff will respect you for listening, and likely respect you even more when you recognize where you’re wrong, admit it publicly, champion the better ideas, and make sure you always pass credit where it’s due. Likely, when people know that if they talk to you, you will act… they will make sure they only talk to you about really crucial things in the first place! P.S. If your employees blog, comment on them!
  8. Don’t Relax.
    Companies that let their hair down once in a while and do something fun–take your employees to the premier of a new movie, send them to lagoon for a day, host a staff retreat that’s actually about retreating–will retain employees longer because people will like working there.  Do something once a quarter… maybe two smaller events and two significant onces. Make them memorable, fun, and for everyone.

* Don’t get me wrong, Doba did an AMAZING thing by doing this, but not everyone can/should.  I’d be open to it, personally though…

1 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Ankur Says:

    cheers. This can be used as a ready reckoner anytime.

    I also follow a blog on Importance of Human Resources:


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  1. Why Very Talented People Leave Big Companies » Utah Tech Jobs Says:

    […] 2008, in collaboration with Petter Fretty for BusinessConnect Magazine, I detailed eight reasons companies lose great people in an article called “How to Retain Your Employees” that really echoes Jackson’s […]

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