Professional Development: Employee Retention

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By Shawn Abraham
Published in the July 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Robert had a career on the rise. He had successfully completed the company’s three year training program and had become one of its most reliable and promising employees. So when he suddenly resigned his position to return to his home in the Midwest, his decision shocked his coworkers. Had the firm known about Robert’s interest in changing locations, it could have considered relocation. Communication had failed, and the firm felt the sting of losing a promising project manager.

Retaining good employees is critical to a firm’s long-term success. Studies estimate that losing an employee can cost 100% of that person’s salary.

The effect on coworkers can also be crucial. When people leave a company, other employees may become fearful and uncertain about their status. High turnover also can give a firm an unhealthy reputation in the marketplace, making recruiting future candidates especially difficult.

Understanding what motivates a person to look for another position is an important step. Compensation and benefits are certainly factors in a person’s job satisfaction, but a caring workplace where employees feel valued is critical. Firms must make a conscious effort toward employee development. Companies that establish a clear, definitive strategy for retention will benefit tremendously.

It is a common misconception that retention is the sole responsibility of a company’s human resources (HR) department. In practice, a successful program includes buy-in from all departments and levels of an organization. Owners, top executives, and managers must jointly establish operating principles that define its value system. Further, these leaders must take an active role in promoting, communicating, and practicing this culture.

A poor relationship with a manager is one of the primary reasons for dissatisfaction. One solution is leadership training. Additionally, allowing employees to attend conferences and professional development seminars validates a keen interest in an employee’s professional development.

Understand that integration must begin before the employee’s first day of work. An individual’s first impression can be lasting, so it is critical for companies to take a proactive approach toward easing the transition. Begin with a welcome letter that shares the company’s vision, culture, and outlook for the future and also reaffirms the company’s excitement about the hire.

If possible, have the employee’s work space furnished and business cards and name tags ordered. When the new employee arrives, someone should greet and welcome him or her. It’s important to introduce the new employee and schedule lunches with a variety of people. Having a buddy system or assigning a mentor to each new employee can be very helpful.

An orientation program should not conclude after a series of PowerPoint presentations and paperwork on the first day, but rather, it should demonstrate a long-term commitment toward employee development. Some savvy firms have initiated training programs that rotate new employees throughout numerous company divisions.

It is also vitally important to establish goals for the new hire within the first few months of employment. A manager should understand as early as possible what the employee wants to achieve in the short- and long-term and begin establishing measurable objectives to reach those goals. 

Open communication between an employee and his or her manager is critical in ensuring satisfaction. Ideally, managers should receive training in communication and its importance to retaining employees. A few ways managers can promote open communication include:

Periodic, informal discussions. This will help managers understand what challenges employees face and what can be done to enhance their experiences with the organization.

Willingness to work side-by-side. This demonstrates a manager’s compassion and commitment to the team’s success. Offering assistance with projects creates a feeling of mutual respect.

Employee surveys. This will reveal how staff members feel about many things, such as engagement, geographic location, and fellow employees.

To facilitate communication and ensure open, honest feedback, some organizations assign a sponsor who works in a different department or office. This person can obtain sincere input from employees who don’t feel as comfortable talking about serious issues with their managers. The employee sponsor, however, must have a direct link with company owners and executives in order to provide solutions.

Exit interviews also help managers identify current practices, trends, or challenges affecting the workforce by revealing how employees really feel about things like pay structure, growth potential, benefit plans, or culture. This information is critical in understanding what actions are needed to improve an organization’s culture. Managers must be prepared to take action on the feedback they receive and shouldn’t wait until annual reviews to open the lines of communication—by then it may be too late.

Rewards and recognition are yet another crucial component to the success of a retention program. One of the easiest and best ways to reward employees is to congratulate them on jobs well done. Other forms of recognition include service awards, congratulatory/promotion letters signed by top executives, promotion announcements (on the company intranet, newsletter, or trade publication), and accolades at meetings. Companies might consider a systematic compensation/bonus program designed to establish milestones and reward top performers.

Finally, employers should not underestimate the balance between work and play. Everyone has certain needs, whether they’re related to family, financial well-being, spiritual connections, hobbies, or extracurricular projects. Today’s workers are more interested than ever in balancing work and personal life. Organizations that acknowledge the need for this stability in their employees’ lives will, without a doubt, create loyalty among their staff.

Even with the best of efforts, some employees are bound to leave no matter what a firm does. There are many companies offering challenging and exciting work. But when an organization is willing to devote the necessary time, resources, and energy toward cultivating and developing its most valuable assets—its people—growth and long-term success are inevitable.

Abraham is a corporate recruiter for Structural Group, an organization comprised of three dynamic and diversified companies.

 

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