Hiring & Recruiting

Retention: Why the Best Leave, How to Get Them to Stay

To retain your best employees, identify them, communicate with them, and find out what makes them leave. In so doing, you’ll find how to make them stay.

Retention of trained employees has been a problem since they wrote the old song, “How You Gonna Keep’Em Down on the Farm,” but these days, it’s a particularly acute issue.

The reasons: Retiring baby boomers are about to leave the workforce in droves, with not enough trained younger workers to fill all their spots. Plus there’s intense competition for talent, due to the confluence of an improving economy and a scarcity of certain highly skilled workers.

With all this tumult, it was no surprise that on recent BLR and other surveys, retention showed up as the second most critical HR issue, right behind perennial front-runner, compliance with government regulations. After all, what’s the point of keeping a company running legally if the key people aren’t there to run it?

Fortunately, the HR community has begun to address the retention issue in a major way. And the consensus view emerging sees these as effective retention strategies:

–Identification. First, look around your organization and choose the jobs and the people who really make things go. The two are not always synonymous. Sometimes a long-term employee in a noncritical job is a natural leader who inspires others. Such people are not easily replaced.

Then, say experts like Mark Murphy and Andrea-Burgio-Murphy, authors of The Deadly Sins of Employee Retention, understand that while treating all employees alike is a nice ideal, you’ve got to be willing to extend yourself in special ways to those most critically needed.

Communication- The Murphys, and others, recommend that your managers hold frequent one-on-one meetings with key personnel. Meetings that Dick Finnegan of Talentkeepers in Maitland, Florida, calls “stay interviews,” as opposed to exit interviews. Ask the employees what they like most about the job and what troubles them, even if the problem seems beyond the supervisor’s control.

Tell the employee, “I’ve written down what you’ve said and I promise every reasonable effort will be made to make these things happen,” Finnegan continues. “In exchange, I ask you to commit to immediately tell me if you ever consider looking for another job.”

What issues will such meetings likely uncover? Surprisingly, money doesn’t rank high on the list: Here’s what does:

–Quality of Supervision. This includes unclear expectations of what the job entails, supervisory failure to carry out promises, and general lack of recognition from all levels of management.

–Underutilization of Talent/Lack of Opportunity. Top performers like to use all their abilities, even beyond their usual job descriptions, and to have room to grow on the job. Take those opportunities away, and you’ll likely find them taken away by competitors.

–Perceived Lack of Fair Treatment, as compared with others, at the same or a similar level.

–Difficult Working Conditions. This usually comes up in connection with physically demanding or stiflingly boring labor. The antidote: job rotation to more comfortable conditions, every few hours if need be. Employers should also be flexible about time off.

–Lack of Trust in the Company’s Direction. Translation: If the crew feels the ship is starting to list, expect them to scurry to the lifeboats.

“Look for the ‘shoves’ and ‘tugs’ in your workplace,” say the Murphys, referring to factors that provoke, and prevent, leaving. “And take whatever action makes the situation better for high-performing employees.”