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Leadership / Employee Retention

How to Protect Your Top Talent From Recruiters, Mosquitoes and Other Things That Bite

Don't let employee burnout and underdevelopment leech the talent right out of your startup.
How to Protect Your Top Talent From Recruiters, Mosquitoes and Other Things That Bite
Image credit: Michal Czekanski / EyeEm | Getty Images
- Guest Writer
Founder and CEO of Quote.com
5 min read

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Entrepreneurs in every industry face a common talent issue: turnover. Every company experiences talented employees either leaving for or being poached by other businesses, and that trend isn’t abating. In its 2017 State of the American Workplace report, Gallup noted that 51 percent of working Americans were -- and probably still are -- searching for different positions.

Additionally, the report said, 91 percent of workers reported that their last job changes had involved company changes. Employees have a range of reasons for jumping ship, including the search for new skills, bigger paychecks or more fulfillment in day-to-day work. So, for you as a leader, the message is that failing to offer such growth opportunities and combat burnout is the surest way to leave your company vulnerable to talent-leeching recruiters.

Reading the burnout signs

Fortunately, employees who might be at risk for burnout generally exhibit warning signs before they decide to leave. My team works long hours on complicated projects, so when I notice employees taking more time off, working from home more often or showing up later than normal, I know it’s time to give the team a break.

Related: How to Recognize and Beat Burnout

Sometimes an unexpected day of fun, or at least an off-site lunch, gives a team the boost it needs. But if a break doesn’t cure what ails an individual burned-out team member, the whole company risks losing time and momentum. When employees leave, voluntarily or not, the workflow -- and sometimes even the whole system -- gets disrupted.

This is especially true for smaller teams. Losing a handful of great employees early in my company’s lifetime set our whole team back by six months. I had to learn how to retain great talent to keep my team running smoothly and my customers happy. Here’s how I did that:

1. Be transparent from the very start.

During every interview with a prospective employee, I give honest, real-life examples of the work expectations and environment our team thrives in. If a candidate counters with unenthusiastic responses, I will either dig deeper with questions or pass on the individual entirely. This interview style has saved my team the distraction turnover brings and has allowed us to keep momentum.

Recruiting solid sales talent has taken this even further. A company called Sales Talent reports that it has added an expectations component to its hiring process, wherein before every interview, it shares a Google doc with the candidate on the pros and cons of working as part of its team. Then, during the interview, its hiring team gives that candidate the opportunity to ask real questions about his or her potential responsibilities and the company's culture overall.

Related: 5 Companies Tell Us How They Retain Their Best Talent

2. Encourage open communication.

There’s little that my team doesn’t know about my daily life, but that openness might not work for every leader. For me, relating to my team on a personal level by sharing stories about my kids or sharing instances where life has thrown me a curveball fosters mutual trust and respect.

This communication style is in line with millennial workers’ expectations: Deloitte found in a survey that being in the know about their CEOs’ lives outside of work would boost the perceptions about their work environments of 53 percent of millennials surveyed. When a leader is open about his or her life, that approach lets team members know they can open up, in return.

3. Keep up with annual reviews.

One of the simplest ways to show employees appreciation for their work and punctuality is by being punctual with annual reviews and raises. Employees all know the time of year when reviews are due. If they sense that their bosses aren’t prioritizing their career growth, they'll be unlikely to prioritize their current jobs over other opportunities.

Also keep employee preferences in mind for the timing of these reviews, as they might vary by generation. In one study, TinyPulse discovered that while 58 percent of baby boomers surveyed were more receptive to the traditional annually scheduled review, only 38 percent of millennials felt the same. Another 28 percent of millennials said they'd prefer quarterly reviews.

Related: 10 Tips for Retaining Top Talent

4. Allow employees to have personal projects.

When my team members ask to take on personal projects that relate to a companywide initiative, I give them the space and resources necessary to test out their ideas, and grow. These independent projects benefit the company and give employees a sense of pride and ownership -- which makes it a lot harder for someone to walk away.

Apple is among the companies that have relied on this technique of employee engagement: In 2012, Tim Cook decided to allotting 20 percent of chosen employees’ work time to projects that could help the company grow. Other Silicon Valley companies, from 3M to Google, have enacted similar policies.

No strategy can entirely safeguard an organization against top talent turnover, but there are ways to engage employees and improve morale. Use these four methods to cultivate engaged, loyal team members who will stick around through your company's ups and downs.

How to Make the Most of the Talent on Your Team