The Challenges of Employee Retention

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Published:  February 23, 2016

The phrase “employee retention” sends shivers down the spines of some folks.

And it ought to. Employee turnover is expensive to any company in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the impact on the customer experience, too.

According to Gallup:

Engaged employees are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work. Gallup’s extensive research shows that employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement. Engaged employees support the innovation, growth, and revenue that their companies need.

Employee engagement is dismally low, hovering around 32%, based on Gallup’s recent survey findings. Look around you; seven out of ten people you see are basically just showing up at work and doing the minimal requirements of the job. Those seven people are likely either complacent, biding their time til the right opportunity comes along, or actively looking for another job.

Employee retention is a challenge!

And, to add to it, this headline surfaced on a Fast Company article recently: You Should Plan On Switching Jobs Every Three Years For The Rest Of Your Life. It raises mixed feelings for me. But with advice like that, retention becomes even more challenging. Or even, to some degree, almost nonexistent.

As an employee, I’m not opposed to this concept. I think that staying in one place too long can serve as a disservice to both the employee and the employer. The employee is only exposed to “how we do things.” And the employer gets stuck in the “we’ve always done it this way” rut. The employee doesn’t get a broader, more diverse perspective, which is often gained from working for a variety of employers. The employer loses out on innovation and creativity that often comes from “fresh blood.”

As an employer, it raises a few concerns. Namely, I don’t want to incur the costs associated with hiring new employees every year. And the impact on the customer experience every time I lose a more-seasoned employee and have to start over again with a new one is huge. Plus, the time invested in training and developing the employee also becomes costly. But, then I’m reminded of the saying…

What if we train employees, and they just leave?

What if we don’t train them, and they stay?

… and so that cost needs to be absorbed, either way.

In light of that headline, how can we make “employee retention” a reality? Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of people who have worked for their current employers for 10 or 20 or 30 years or more. That longevity does still exist; I think it exists more so in larger, more traditional corporations. If you’re like me and have worked for startups or smaller companies for much of your career, you’re familiar with the frequency of job changes that occurs when working for those types of companies. They’re fast moving and evolve at the speed of light. They afford employees a lot of opportunities to do, learn, and experience different parts of running a business, to build their skills and their resumes at a much faster pace. I think the speed of these businesses often drives burnout; the speed is also a bit of a time warp: three years at these companies is like 10 years anywhere else.

But, I digress.

How can employers ensure that employees will stay for longer than three years? There are a few ways, but they all fall under one large umbrella topic: leadership must focus on the employee experience. There are a lot of components of a great employee experience, but I believe the key factors ultimately driving retention are:

  • development and growth opportunities: if you’ve got ambitious employees (and if they’re leaving their jobs every three years to “move on up,” then they are ambitious), not laying out a career development plan – and making sure you execute on it – is going to be detrimental
  • education and training: ongoing education and training on the latest and greatest trends, challenges, products, methodologies, innovations, and thinking not only in your industry but also relevant to each employee’s individual role; employees who aren’t always learning and being challenged remain stagnant and will end up getting left behind (or leave you behind)
  • recognition: making sure employees know how their work contributes to the overall vision of the business, that their work matters, and that their contributions matter are of utmost importance
  • leadership: be a leader that cares, is well respected and trusted, communicates clearly and honestly, and encourages and facilitates the development and growth of her employees

Oftentimes, companies don’t find out until it’s too late why employees are leaving. Companies are keen on conducting exit interviews, presumably for the benefit of the employees who remain. If they were to conduct stay interviews, instead, there can be a regular check-in about how well those four items above are being delivered on.

While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him, while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.

How well are you delivering on your initiatives to retain employees? You do have employee retention initiatives in place, right?