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Employee Retention

How Improving Employees' Work Lives Increases Retention

To retain talented employees, businesses must have meaningful conversations with them, praise their work -- and let them stay home.
How Improving Employees' Work Lives Increases Retention
Image credit: Mikolette | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Co-founder of SchoolSafe
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In kindergarten, teachers develop a growth plan for each student. At the end of each six-week period, they have a short meeting with each student to discuss progress. They also ask their charges some nonacademic questions: How are things going at home? Who are their best friends at school? Do they like school? Is there anything they want the teacher to know?

This personal mentorship dynamic changes between the kindergarten desk and the cubicle. Many people are clearly unhappy at work: Is anyone checking up on them? Employee turnover has become one of businesses’ most pressing problems in a tight job market. A recent Gallup report estimates that U.S. businesses are bleeding a trillion dollars annually because of employees who leave voluntarily. What’s worse, 52 percent of exiting workers said they might have stayed had their manager or organization done something to keep them from jumping ship.

In its “2019 Global Human Capital Trends” report, Deloitte revealed that only 49 percent of managers believed their employees were satisfied with the way their jobs were designed. Even fewer (42 percent) believed employees were satisfied or very satisfied with daily work practices. If managers know that most of their employees are unhappy -- and employees are so dissatisfied that they're looking for other jobs -- what’s the answer?

Related: How to Create a Winning Employee Retention Strategy

“Organizations need to shift from the traditional employee experience to a new category we call ‘human experience,’ where relationships are enduring, learning is continuous and work has meaning centered around human identity,” says Jeff Schwartz, a principal at Deloitte Consulting. In order to retain talent and optimize company culture, managers must form relationships with employees differently and help develop a positive company environment. To hold on to your valuable people, try these three strategies:

1. Reframe advancement opportunities.

A 2017 study by job site Hired revealed the top four reasons people give for disliking their jobs: few opportunities for advancement, company culture, low salaries and unlikable managers and co-workers. Employee development programs could improve the employee experience in at least two of those categories. Management must have a conversation with each employee about his or her career interests and goals. An individualized development roadmap should establish measurable objectives for each employee and a feasible timeline for achieving them.

Be careful when promoting just one person on a team, though. Data from ADP Research Institute uncovered higher turnover on teams with an employee promotion compared to teams with no promotions. This negative trend can be offset by offering learning and development opportunities and outlining potential career paths for each team member. The goal is to reassure workers that your company is invested in all employees, not just the ones who got a recent promotion.

Related: This Is How to Boost Employee Retention With Lifelong Learning

2. Open a feedback loop with employees.

To create a healthy, communicative relationship, managers can empower employees through check-ins, transparency and coaching sessions. These should occur frequently and consistently to gauge the employee's satisfaction and help him or her with areas that lead to struggles. Use a combination of engagement surveys and individual meetings so everyone has a chance to provide feedback in a comfortable setting. Taking this approach “shows your team this isn’t just a corporate whim, that you value their input and you are genuinely interested in improving,” says Tom Murphy, managing partner of employee benefits management company Sonus Benefits.

As much as anything, show appreciation for a job well done. High-performing employees often begin exploring their options when their managers fail to acknowledge their accomplishments. Keep in mind that the most effective recognition is prompt, authentic and in line with the actual achievement. That could mean a bonus or another financial reward, but sometimes writing a thank-you note -- like the 30,000 penned by the CEO of Campbell’s Soup -- is the best way to go.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Reduce Costs and Boost Employee Retention

3. Make the job work for your employees.

Employees will even leave a job because of a bad commute, and that’s not the only thing that gets in the way of their lifestyles. Consider being more flexible with hours and remote work, including allowing unlimited vacation time like Netflix or gender-neutral parental leave like Spotify. “Work flexibility is becoming the norm,” says Jason Phillips, global chief of staff at Cisco. “The challenge is how fast organizations provide it. Those that can are going to be in a far better position to retain top talent over the next three to five years.”

But as Spotify’s APAC Head of HR Michael Kim points out, flexibility can only improve retention if employees already feel supported. “In my opinion, progressive leave policies like [Spotify’s] only work if you have the right culture that supports the employees to actually take that time off.” It’s imperative that you encourage workers to take their leave and ensure that their transition back to work will be met with enthusiasm, not a demotion.

Employee retention must be a top priority in today’s tight job market. The key to retaining talent begins with developing individual career plans and includes lots of feedback, flexibility and coaching sessions. If you’re stumped trying to connect with your employees on a human level, just ask yourself what a kindergarten teacher would do.

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