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Retention: What Can I Do?

by Robin Throckmorton, M.A., SPHR

Has the market turned on us?
Are we actually in a recession? 
Then why is retention still such a huge issue for all of us?

This is one of the most amazing economic states that we have experienced in quite some time. Although there has recently been a huge number of layoffs, there is still a labor shortage. This means that companies are still battling the retention issue. But, we are all quickly learning that having an effective retention program is the right thing to do in any economy because it provides us with a competitive advantage.

Research shows that it costs between 50 – 150% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them. Skeptical? The cost to replace an employee includes costs for both recruiting and training the new employee plus the loss of productivity while the position is empty and even during the “learning curve”. The exact cost depends on the level of the position and the current market demand for that position.

But why do employees leave? The number one reason reported by employees for leaving a company is because of poor relationships/communications with their supervisor. A supervisor represents your organization to the employee and has control over what the employee does or doesn’t do. If a supervisor isn’t recognizing and rewarding an employee’s efforts, providing continuous learning opportunities for an employee, or just making the employee fit in and feel valued, the employee will look elsewhere. Some of the other top reasons cited for employees deciding to leave include: lack of professional growth opportunities, failure to be recognized or rewarded for efforts, feeling as though their work is not meaningful, or just feeling like they don’t fit into the organization.

The key, then, to successfully retaining your employees begins with you, human resources, and management. One individual CAN make the world of difference in retaining employees by:

  1. Recognizing and valuing the differences in employees including personality differences.
    For example, your personality may be very different from another individual but that doesn’t make your way of communicating or assigning work the “right” way. People communicate and receive information very differently which can create conflict, stress, or frustration if it isn’t acknowledged.
  2. Maintaining a very supportive, caring, and positive attitude.
    Do you like working for a manager who doesn’t appear to care about you or your needs? Nobody does. An employee is going to be less likely to leave an organization if they are working with a supervisor and other employees who care about them and don’t intimidate them.
  3. Being readily available and easy to communicate with.
    It’s one thing to say you have an open door policy, but employees really need to feel like your door is always open to them. Plus, when employees do decide to approach you, be an active listener and make them feel like you are very approachable and easy to communicate with.
  4. Rolling up your sleeves and helping when needed.
    Ever felt like others, including your supervisor, had no idea what you did? You can help an employee feel like both they and their work are valued by being willing to roll-up your sleeves and pitch in when they are swamped or working toward a tight deadline.

So whether you are human resources, the president of the company, the supervisor, or another employee, all four of these strategies will make the other employees (and even you!) more motivated about working at your organization.

The next step toward effectively retaining your employees requires you to find out what motivates them to want to work for the organization. For each individual, this can be very different; however, there will be some themes that create similarities. The best way to discover this information is to simply ASK. You have a number of opportunities to ask your employees their opinions, including regular business meetings, exit interviews, performance reviews, focus groups, or employee surveys. Try a few basic questions such as:

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What would you like to see changed or improved here?
  • What motivates you to want to work?

Of course, you can ask many other questions to gather even more specific and detailed information but these basic topics will be a great place to start.

Once you’ve asked people for their opinions, they feel much more valued and a part of the organization, but, only if you listen and take action. Be forewarned that you will create more problems if you ask employees for their input and don’t take action. Taking action doesn’t mean that you have to give employees exactly what they want but rather: acknowledge their input and ideas; explain what action is being taken and when; explain why something can’t be done; and most importantly, involve employees in developing and implementing a feasible solution to their suggestions.

Since the needs of each individual can be very different, you may find that some of the solutions don’t cost anything or are very inexpensive. The key is to be creative and respond to the needs of your organization rather than trying to mirror what other organizations are doing. Below are some examples of what others have done, but again, use this list as a way to think about what will work in your organization based on your employees’ needs:

  • Exit Interviews
  • Paid Internships
  • Salary Increases
  • Retention Bonuses
  • Sign-on Bonuses with Delayed Payment
  • Relocation Payback Agreements
  • Training / Education Payback Agreements
  • Spot Cash Awards
  • Career Counseling (Employee/family)
  • Shorten Waiting Periods for Benefits
  • Base Company Paid Benefits on Tenure
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Stock Options
  • Subsidized Child Care
  • Concierge Services
  • Sabbaticals
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Job Sharing
  • Job Rotation
  • Telecom muting
  • Business Casual Dress
  • Diversity Initiative
  • Project Celebrations
  • Employee Recognition Programs
  • Employee Opinion Survey
  • Work/Life Programs
  • Thank You, Birthday, Christmas Cards
  • Employee Involvement
  • Computer Subsidy or Purchase
  • Educational Assistance for Children
  • Management Style
  • Mentors / Coaches
  • Vacation Stipends
  • House Cleaning Stipend
  • Take Out Dinners
  • Care Packages for Family
  • Informal/Formal Feedback to Employees
  • New Hire Orientation
  • Performance Appraisals

Your final step is to put together an action plan for what you are going to do in order to start addressing retention in your organization. Your action plan should be specific, realistic, and timely. And, most importantly, you need to do it!!!

Good luck with the challenges of this unique economy, but most importantly retaining your employees!

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If your association or organization would benefit from a highly interactive session on retention or you want to share with us on retention techniques you have found to work, you can contact Robin at 513-697-9855 or Robin@strategicHRinc.com for more details.