Improve Employee Retention

Employees are jumping ship in droves. Here’s how to keep them on board.

Improve Employee Retention

Nearly 3.98 million people quit their jobs in July, which almost topped the monthly record of roughly 3.99 million, set in April. At the same time, the number of job openings in July (the latest reporting period available), vaulted to a record-high 10.9 million, according to statistics from the United States Department of Labor.

Experts theorize that the pandemic-induced shutdowns and quarantines have prompted millions of employees to take stock of their jobs, thoughtfully consider what work means to them, assess how much their employers value them and ponder their work-life balance.

Clearly, millions of people are finding their jobs and employers deficient in these areas. Luckily for them, there’s never been a better time to seek new jobs or careers.

Consequently, it’s also never been more important for companies to take steps to retain quality employees.

There are numerous ways to attack this challenge. Here are some thoughts from a variety of experts.

Interview for retention

Employee retention should start at the beginning with how you interview job candidates. Beverly Flaxington, the founder and president of The Collaborative, a corporate consulting firm, says too many employers look only at whether job prospects’ abilities match the position’s requirements.

“But they don’t look at who succeeds and who doesn’t and figure out why they do or do not,” says Flaxington, the author of Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where YOU Want to Go. They don’t even define the attributes of what success looks like in their organizations.

“In fact, most hiring decisions are based on nothing more than whether or not the manager likes the job candidate,” she continues. “And ‘clicking’ with someone during an interview is usually the worst reason to hire someone.”

Instead, employers first should focus on the job itself: What problem is the position supposed to solve, what would define success in the position and what kind of people succeed and fail in your organization?

During the interview, interviewers then need to ask behavioral-oriented questions that will actually determine if the job candidate is a good fit for the organization’s culture and values. That means asking questions that will reveal how the job candidate thinks — and to which the interviewee will have a hard time faking answers.

(What are your strengths? “I’m very organized and good at meeting deadlines.” What are your weaknesses? “Well, my boss tells me I’m too detail-oriented and focus too much on quality.”)

“If a candidate’s values center around helping people and doing the right thing, and they’re interviewing for a job at a company that’s most concerned about profitability, the candidate might feel like a fish out of water,” Flaxington explains. “You have to make sure they care about the same things the company values.”

Stay interviews

Interview shouldn’t end when the hiring process is finished. The use of “stay interviews” is a valuable retention tool, says Dick Finnegan, the CEO of C-Suite Analytics, a management-consulting firm, and the author of The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention and Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Bad.

The premise behind stay interviews (not to be confused with performance reviews) is simple: It’s better to obtain quality, insightful workplace intel from employees who believe they can benefit from changes, as opposed to exit interviews with disgruntled, soon-to-be ex-employees who no longer care about the organization.

The process is fairly simple, too; managers merely hold structured, one-on-one meetings with their direct reports and learn what they can further do to retain and better engage them.

“Stay interviews work because they’re not all about company programs or human resources departments,” Finnegan explains. “They put direct supervisors in the solution seat.” Supervisors get to ask employees probing questions and then find answers to their problems, such as how to reduce overwhelming workloads, get them the skills they want to learn or allow a flexible work schedule for day care arrangements. They should be held at least once a year roughly six months after a performance review; new employees should receive two — one 30 days after they start work and another one 90 days later.

“It’s funny that when managers find out why people quit jobs, they often say, ‘If I’d have known that, I could’ve fixed it,’” he says. “With stay interviews, they get to the things that can be fixed before people quit.”

Internal job-hopping

Building a culture of internal job mobility is another way to motivate employees to stay, says Jack Hill, a former vice president at PeopleFluent, a talent management consulting firm.

The concept is simple: Create an organizational mindset in which both employees and managers accept — better yet, even embrace internal job-hopping as a fact of life. And “both” is the operative word here, Hill points out.

“It has to be accepted by both managers and employees — that’s the big trick,” he says.

Managers in particular must walk the walk, not just talk the talk, to spur cultural change. For example, employees will be reluctant to express a desire for a new internal position if they fear retribution from an unsupportive manager. Moreover, managers also can thwart the change initiative by consistently refusing to let great employees move on to other positions.

Talent acquisition teams also must play a key role by quickly and competently backfilling positions as employees get promoted. Managers need to feel confident about the process — be certain that if they promote a rising star, the void will be filled.

It’s also critical to establish what Hill calls a culture of internal mobility, which requires managers to keep it top-of-mind in the daily cadence of work.

“They have to think every day like they’re selling an idea,” Hill says. He also recommends that internal mobility become a part of the annual job review process; managers should talk about their career development within the organization.

Another critical component is a solid feedback loop in which employees who don’t get new jobs they apply for receive a thorough explanation and some coaching.

Recognize good work

Employee recognition programs also can bolster retention efforts. But to maximize their impact, rewards should be tailored to individual employees in order to make them feel purposeful, important and significant, says Kathie Sorensen, co-owner of the Coffman Organization and co-author of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch: The Secret of Extraordinary Results.

“I like recognition programs that are flexible enough and adaptable enough that the local manager can use them in a way that fits each person — gives them a lot of different ways to recognize people,” she says.

But managers also need to get to know their employees well enough to develop insights into what they find valuable. For example, a good manager would never “reward” a harried, time-pressed worker with four children by taking them on a business trip, Sorensen notes.

As another example, she cites a well-known retailer that rewarded sales associates who logged the most customer applications for store credit cards. At the same time, it overlooked employees with great customer service skills, but who didn’t feel comfortable urging customers to sign up for credit cards.

“If you want to recognize employees in that environment, recognize that they earn great customer service scores,” Sorensen says. “But don’t rate them on how many credit cards they get people to sign up for. Again, you need to value those employees for the things they believe are worthwhile.

“It’s not rocket science,” she adds. “You only get a return on your [recognition program] investment if you pay attention to the things that help you leverage the energy of people.” 


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