What springs to mind when you read the words “employee retention?”

Almost one in seven of the nation’s 6.1 million jobless Americans in May were voluntarily unemployed, having left a previous position to look for another, the highest share of voluntary unemployment in more than 17 years. 

But for many, it’s the act of physically keeping your great staff on, and making sure your turnover numbers stay low. When you consider employee turnover, it’s hard not to connect it to a negative impact on an organization’s performance.

But this is just one dimension of retention; there is a further element that is often overlooked, and that’s the engagement dimension, which deals with the emotional and behavioral aspects of an employee’s role. Why keep employees if they’re not contributing and engaged? Sometimes, it’s best to part ways and as I’ve talked about before, HR professionals can gain valuable information from exit interviews.

We know we cannot keep everyone, but during an employee’s time with us, we want them to be supported to be the best they can be.

But before someone walks out your door, you have to ask yourself, are you doing your best to keep them engaged? Maintaining high staff spirits, a key part of engagement, results in continued dedication to both their role and the company as a whole.

As we’ve said before, an engaged employee is someone who:

1. 2. 3.
Understands and believes in the direction the organization is going. Understands how their role affects and contributes to the organization's purpose, mission and objectives. Genuinely wants the organization to succeed, and feels shared success with the organization

Employee retention is important no matter what industry you’re in, or how many employees you have. However, the task of attracting the very best employees in the first place can often take the limelight, vacuuming up effort and funds while retention is left to languish.

So how can you improve this part of your business? How can you keep these (easily breakable spirits high) and ensure that you don’t lose your strongest assets?

To figure this out, we first need to explore the main reasons that employees leave.

Why do employees leave (and stay!)

My colleague’s latest book, CRAVE, by Reward Gateway President of Employee Engagement Gregg Lederman, discusses the three components of why employees are motivated, and one can draw a clear line from these motivators to building upon and improving employee engagement at work. He looks at Respect, Purpose and Relationships, in that:

Respect: Help me feel respected for the work I do.
Purpose: Show me how what I do has purpose, makes a difference, and is relevant to the organization.
Relationships: Help me build stronger connections with people, especially my immediate manager/supervisor.

And he’s right. According to another LinkedIn study, 74% of candidates want a job where they feel like their job matters.  Although this doesn’t directly refer to retention, it highlights the fact that employees will quit if they believe that their company and their job doesn’t actually matter.

These findings teach us several lessons. Firstly, if staff feel like they can’t be themselves and like their colleagues don’t support them, they will walk out of the door. If they feel like their company isn’t giving them motivation, in the form of recognition or of non-existent or poorly matched benefits, that’s driving a feeling of disrespect among employee and employer. And last, but certainly not least, leaders who are not engaged with their staff will inevitably lose them.

The key factors to improving employee retention then, lie within:

  • Employee perks
  • People initiatives, such as diversity and inclusion
  • A sense of purpose and mission
  • A company’s leadership
  • Open and honest communication

It’s important to note that there’s no one-size-fits all solution to fixing employee retention, but rather there are steps to take that work together to improve retention, satisfaction and also, engagement. So, what can we take from these lessons, in terms of finding strategies to help you retain your employees? Let’s take a look...

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Refine your perks program

Firstly, it could be time to overhaul your perks program. Despite what some think, wellbeing isn’t just about a few free bananas by the coffee machine, or a half-price gym membership. It’s about the whole package, giving employees something that helps support them across the whole of the wellbeing spectrum, in what we call the wellbeing “pillars.”

Think about how your perks address this – are you taking steps to improve mental wellbeing, put money back in the pockets of your employees or offering opportunities for your employees to add to their physical wellbeing? Focus on what your employees want, and replace those well-intentioned but less impactful ideas.

employee retention best practices

Concentrate first on the employee benefits of substance; ones that truly make a difference to the lives of your workforce.

Address your workplace diversity and inclusion

Addressing a lack of diversity in your workforce is also a contributing factor here, as it can help your staff feel as though they are accepted and supported. Put simply, workplace diversity and inclusion makes everyone feel better, about coming to work and also working for a company that cares about them. If you haven’t already, consider creating a diversity and inclusion statement, creating an open space for employees to share stories or speak more openly about the demographics of your company and how it affects their day-to-day contributions.

Communicate the company mission and purpose, loud and proud

Next, are you shouting your purpose as a company from your rooftop (or at least the top floor!)? You must – because if an employee doesn’t understand your company’s mission, purpose and values, they might deduce that their job doesn’t matter.

Employees not knowing these elements is more common that you might realize. A Reward Gateway study found that less than half of employees felt fully informed about their company’s mission and values. And that’s just not good enough.

So, refresh and communicate your company values as a matter of priority.

Monitor your leadership team

My penultimate piece of advice? Address the “support from the top” element. A Gallup survey recently found that 50% of employees leave their job “to get away from their manager.”

That’s a huge percentage! So, only hire and retain leaders that will role model and live your company values. As Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, says, “The single biggest decision you make in your job- bigger than all the rest- is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision.” I agree.

employee retention best practices

Be transparent – always

Finally, always default to transparency. What I mean by this is that employee trust can only be obtained and retained by open and honest communication. Stop telling lies or half truths, and put all the facts and information on the table.

In Catrin Lewis’ blog about her first 100 days as Head of Global Engagement with Reward Gateway, she cites this as one of the most crucial things she learned to value and implement in her new role.

The benefit of making these changes will be truly tangible. Employees who won’t just go to bat for your company, but will stick around and help you succeed; today, tomorrow and right down the line.

Robert Hicks

Robert is the Group HR Director at Reward Gateway. While running is his top way to unwind, he also loves going to gigs, watching football and cricket, and is known to enjoy the odd ski weekend.

Group HR Director

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