Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

The 3 Keys Needed to Improve Your Employee Loyalty and Retention Listening and acting with intention and transparency can drive a truly happy workplace.

By Tripp Westbrook Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • If organizations listen well and find the right balance for both parties, the rewards will follow.
  • We're coming to a place where people can find fulfillment at work while giving companies the resources they need.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We recently won the Ad Age Best Places to Work award for the first time. After the shock, surprise and overzealous company celebrations, it got me thinking — how the heck did that happen? Well, looking back, it wasn't by accident.

This award means so much to us because, unlike prizes for creatives, it comes directly from employees. To even be considered for the award (we were in the category of 200 employees or fewer), over 75% of people have to rate their satisfaction with pay, benefits, culture and leadership extremely high. To me, winning left no doubt that the people who walk the halls with us every day are feeling satisfied and fulfilled.

Reflecting on our success, I recognized that it was a silver lining from COVID. At that time, we asked people what help they needed to get through the pandemic and then provided them with real support. But what we did next may underlie why we went from being placed in the top 25 the previous two years to ranking first in 2024: As we emerged from the pandemic, we kept asking questions, we kept listening, and have been doing so ever since.

Related: Is Your Leadership Team Failing Your Employees?

1. Set up listening mechanisms

The lessons of this experience are worth sharing not just for the productivity gains of an engaged workforce but because these are the folks we put an arm around when they are having a tough day — we care about them. After ranking the top three to five things that mattered to our employees, we ended up giving stipends to set up home offices and covered mental health care completely. We also polled people on when they wanted to come back to the office and what form that should take — hybrid or completely remote.

We wanted our employees' participation because they were the ones who had to live the solution. As a business owner, assessing if we could afford the costs involved was a simple equation: Is it more expensive to provide for the people who work for us now or to replace them later? There are challenging and soft costs to training, recruitment and delays as work gets shifted while someone is replaced. Frankly, the decision was easy: We did what we could to make them happy.

When leaders set up mechanisms to find out what employees need, people feel a sense of ownership in the outcome. We have since overhauled our parental leave policy so that birth mothers get 12 weeks and birth fathers get six weeks; we now cover adoption fees and give adoptive parents leave, too. Now, we ask human-centered questions on a regular basis. The design is to foster a culture where both employee and employer are looking out for the needs of the other.

Related: How Listening Can Help You Build a Culture of Trust in Your Business

2. Align communication and action

COVID was a great wake-up call, particularly for larger organizations, that employers couldn't expect one-way loyalty. Culture, rather than compensation, is a much bigger predictor of turnover, so people need to feel heard, and leaders need to explain the thinking behind their decisions. Employees value leaders who listen and act substantively, not just performatively.

Of course, any action leaders take is not going to make everyone happy. So when you take steps to implement an initiative, be clear about the intention behind it — the benefits. We have also found that people ought to be reminded of how the company is helping them ("Don't forget to take advantage of x") because they're not always top of mind.

Our controller, Marla, keeps a running list of all the things we do for employees, big and small. If it's important enough to implement, it's important enough to record. But it doesn't end there. The other major piece of engagement is keeping an open line of communication and feedback.

3. When in doubt, state your intention

As a manager, don't view employees' raising issues as "chirping" — those issues matter to them. However, we do have to find a balance between entertaining their concerns and not enabling a culture of complaint. It requires knowing when you have heard enough of the same issue to escalate it for action.

We also have to make sure we're really communicating, not just throwing information out there. To that end, we have put our leadership group through training focused on understanding personality and communication styles and showing how people receive and interpret information differently.

I'm a perfect example: A creative person by heart, I tend to be very off the cuff and feed off my audiences. But we have leaders who process information in a very logical, process-centered way. In the past, these differing styles may have produced misunderstanding, even conflict. The key is making it a practice to state the intent behind your communication at the beginning of meetings.

If a leader states upfront, "I intend to share my experience, not be critical," it defuses what might be interpreted as low-key criticism. This process allows people to give and receive grace for how they communicate. So, when in doubt, state your intention. While we have evolved this kind of transparent leadership over time, we are now enjoying the open, vibrant workplace culture it has created.

Related: How to Build a Company Culture That Retains Loyal Employees

Balancing the employer-employee relationship

The dynamic between employers and employees has shifted often since COVID. Still, hopefully, we're coming to a place where people can find fulfillment at work while giving companies the resources they need. We have seen that a lot of the folks who prefer remote or contract work are starting to miss the in-person camaraderie and unscheduled moments that help us learn and be better. The irony is that creating an even better environment for that to occur was facilitated by the challenges of the pandemic. In our experience, if organizations listen well and find the right balance for both parties, the rewards will follow.
Tripp Westbrook

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President & Chief Creative Officer of Firehouse

Innovative and a convention-breaking agency leader, Tripp Westbrook is President/Chief Creative Officer of Firehouse. His creativity and expertise have been recognized by virtually every major advertising award show and his work includes one of USA Today’s top 100 Super Bowl commercials of all time.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business News

TikTok Reportedly Laid Off a 'Large Percentage' of Employees as the App's Fate in the U.S. Remains Unclear

Laid-off TikTok employees were notified Wednesday night through Thursday morning.

Personal Finance

This Investment Bundle Includes a Trading Course and Stock Screener Tool for $150

Approach the stock market with an increased understanding.

Business News

Four Seasons Orlando Responds to Viral TikTok: 'There's Something Here For All Ages'

The video has amassed over 45.4 million views on TikTok.

Growing a Business

5 Strategies to Know As You Scale Your Business

Scaling a service-based company requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond simply increasing revenue. It requires careful planning, strategic decision-making and a deep understanding of market dynamics.

Growing a Business

The Right Way to Ask Someone for a Million Dollars, According to a Fundraiser Who Does It For a Living

No matter what you're raising money for, Wanda Urbanskia says, the same basic rules apply.