When good employees leave, productivity sinks, morale suffers and colleagues struggle with increased workloads. Add in recruitment and training costs, and onboarding new hires can make for a difficult and expensive transition.
The best solution is to keep your workers happy so they don’t leave. But before you can implement a plan to increase employee retention, you need to determine why valuable employees are leaving. Here are the most common reasons employees jump ship to new employers.
According to an August 2018 Gallup report, worker engagement is on the rise, with the current ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees at 2.6-to-1 — the highest ever in Gallup tracking.
Still, 53 percent of the workforce remains in engagement purgatory, according to the report. “They may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace; they will usually show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer,” according to Gallup.
How can you tell if an employee is not engaged? You have to pay attention to subtle signs, which may not correlate with the length of an employee’s tenure, says Sanja Licina, Ph.D., who leads the Future of Organizations practice at Globant.
A common myth is that attrition is a predictable, stable metric, Licina says. Many organizations believe they have a “grace period” during which workers will stay with them. That window is shrinking, however, as technology and transparency enable employees to more easily research companies, culture and opportunities, and make applying for jobs much more simple, she says.
“I hear a lot of conversations about how long people are staying in the workplace; ‘Oh, attrition won’t happen until X months out, and the average tenure is two years, so we don’t have to worry about disengagement for a while,’” she says. “The amount of time people are staying in the workplace is decreasing as the pain points for leaving are diminished.”
Assessing employee disengagement requires engagement and empathy on a manager’s part, as it can be tricky to spot. Are they withdrawing from social activities? Calling in sick more than usual? Performing the bare minimum to get by?
“You should be assessing factors on an individual basis rather than comparisons with [their] peers, or judging engagement based on productivity or quality of work,” Licina says. “If someone’s always been outgoing, but suddenly they’re more reserved, or they’ve always participated in outside-of-work team building or activities and suddenly, they aren’t — those are signs, for sure. But if someone’s an introvert it can be trickier unless you have built a personal relationship with them.”
“Most people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers,” says Wendy Duarte Duckrey, vice president of recruiting at JPMorgan Chase.
Understanding that your organization’s management philosophy could be part of the problem is the first step to improving retention, she says.
“When you lose your top talent, the first place to look is at management,” Duckrey says. “Managing teams as a whole is hard. You have to manage to each individual, and invest time into discovering what each member of a team needs both at work and outside of work to do their job to the best of their ability.”
Do your employees feel that they’re all “in this together”? Do they feel their suggestions, concerns and challenges are acknowledged and, when possible, acted on? Do they feel valued?
While it may sound inconsequential, simply listening to employees’ concerns and doing what you can to address those — or at least explaining why they can’t be addressed at the present time — can go a long way toward keeping the best and brightest, Duckrey says.
“One manager with poor people skills can do damage to the culture and effectiveness of a company in a short period of time,” says David Stevens, executive vice president of corporate relations at Valor Global. “Managers need to be people-orientated and able to harness their team’s talent and passion.”
It’s not uncommon for a manager to be a highly talented technician ill-equipped to deal with the demands and nuances of management.
Skills that make an employee a great software developer or coder, for example, are completely different from those required for management. You need to provide the necessary training and guidance to help your managers lead and manage their teams.
“A critical mistake organizations can make is the assumption that [if] someone is great at their day job, they’ll be great at leading and managing people,” says Travis Furlow, a coach at Paperclip Thinking.
“One of the easiest ways to lose people is to misalign them with their daily duties. Organizations need to train people to be managers. Invest the time in developing, coaching and mentoring your managers,” says Furlow. “Too often, people are promoted into management and then are left to fend for themselves.”
One of the main reasons top performers leave is because they feel their career advancement isn’t going as planned.
“It doesn’t matter if they like what they’re working on, who they’re working with and are compensated fairly or more than fairly,” says David Foote, chief analyst and research officer at Foote Partners. “They have to feel there’s something in it for them personally,” otherwise, they will be tempted to search for employment elsewhere, or be susceptible to recruiters.
Your best individual contributors aren’t always going to want to manage people. So you need to build a non-managerial career path for them or they will find another organization that does.
Making educational and career advancement opportunities available, even if they result in employees growing up and out of your organization, is a must, because you never know when an employee might return to your organization, or when they’ll make a key referral, says Duckrey.
“Make sure employees are aware of available opportunities to grow and to expand their knowledge,” she says. “One of the key things — if you’re really listening to employees — is to find out if they are getting the resources to add to and change their roles, to take on more and different responsibilities, to spearhead new projects, to experiment,” Duckrey says.
She adds that not all educational opportunities have to be job-focused. At Duckrey’s previous employer, Mondo, a two-week sabbatical program was available for employees who’ve been with the company for three or more years.
“The sabbatical program is a huge motivator,” she says. “If you’ve always wanted to travel, you can take the time and go to an exotic place, learn a new language, learn about a new culture and then come back and tell everyone about the experience and what you’ve learned.”
Keeping your technology current can help keep valuable employees engaged in the direction the company’s going, says Rona Borre, CEO and founder of technology and finance hiring, recruiting and consulting firm Instant Alliance.
“We have two clients right now who can’t necessarily afford to pay top-of-the-bracket salaries, but they are always updating their platforms and making sure they’re on the cutting edge of technology,” Borre says.
If new technology or upgrades aren’t in the budget, consider sending employees to outside training on cutting-edge systems even if you can’t use them in your organization, she says. That will emphasize that you value their education and their skill sets.
“Give them the flexibility and the freedom to play around, and also the opportunity to get exposure for themselves working with the new technology,” she says.
If your managers aren’t offering constructive feedback on a regular basis or they don’t talk about career goals at least once a year with employees, then your organization is at risk of falling out of touch with your talent. While once a year performance reviews are the minimum, most experts agree that more frequent reviews are better, especially with millennials.
“The more frequently you can have those [performance] discussions, the easier it is to catch and correct a [problem] and support great behavior or performance,” says Furlow. “Having a structured and pointed career development session every six months with the employees on your teams can add huge value when it comes to growth, engagement and retention.”
Regular feedback will also give you more warning when people are feeling dissatisfied or disengaged. “Checking in with your employees a couple times a year provides a sense of interest in the employee’s success and in many cases will give early warnings of dissatisfaction, allowing for an opportunity to change course if warranted,” says Stevens.
In the tech space, flexible scheduling and telecommuting have become more common, but not yet ubiquitous, even as demand from talent rises.
“Flexible work time and the ability to be a virtual employee are so prevalent in today’s workforce that they are becoming an expectation,” says Furlow. “The ability to work a flexible schedule can be a [great] way to retain professionals.”
Research from Dice.com shows that telecommuting is the most-wanted benefit tech pros are looking for. In fact, 63 percent of respondents to a separate Dice snap poll said they would be willing to take a pay cut to telecommute at least half the time.
“This is a major demand we see from talent,” says George McFerran, executive vice president at Dice. “And for organizations that can’t compete on salary to get that elite tech talent, offering remote and telecommuting options — even just part of the time or a few days a week — means they’ll be able to land those great hires.”
If employees don’t understand what the organization’s, or their department’s, goals are, or what their role is in the overall strategy, chances are, they will not be as engaged. Having a strong set of corporate values, a mission statement and specific goals (for the company, departments, teams and individuals) can help direct employees’ energy and help them see how their individual contributions are part of a greater whole, says Borre.
“Most people want to work somewhere with a strong corporate culture, one that clearly defines its mission and has a set of values that every employee, from the CEO on down, has bought into, believes in, and is tracking to,” says Borre.
Helping employees feel valued isn’t difficult, says Borre, but it may involve investing a bit more time to listen, gather feedback and incorporate that feedback into company policies and mission statements, she says.
“Communicating the technology strategy and how it reflects the organization’s objectives is essential to employee engagement,” says Stevens. “This is so central to succeeding that it needs to be continually and consistently presented at various levels of the organization, so the team can be part owners and champions of the strategy.”
Paying attention to employees’ struggles to manage work and home life also can go a long way toward keeping top talent, Duckrey says. And it’s often the little things that work best.
“It can be as simple as having a bowl of fresh fruit in the break room. It can be something like offering a dry-cleaning service that picks up and delivers items for employees while they’re at work. Little things that emphasize the importance of work-life balance go a long way toward making employees feel that they’re not just disposable cogs in a wheel, but a valuable asset to the company, and to their families,” says Duckrey.
By constantly inviting feedback, listening to employees’ concerns and incorporating that into the fabric of everyday life — both for the company and for employees’ home lives — you can ensure you’re keeping and nurturing the best and brightest, Duckrey says.
“There is a talent shortage, and you’re going to have to give a little to be able to retain top talent,” Duckrey says. “You don’t have to be a mega-billion-dollar corporation or spend tons of money to give people luxury perks or rockstar treatment; what you do have to do is give people the opportunity to grow, and to evolve and change to meet the needs of your employees.”
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