For too long, managers and human resources professionals have approached the issue of employee retention with the question, “How do we make people stay?” While it is a valid question, it is far too simple for approaching the complex reasons that top employees choose to stay with a company and has resulted in far too simplistic solutions that rely on piling on individual material perks instead of fostering business cultures that address employees’ less tangible but far more deeply felt needs.
Instead we should be asking, “What value are we creating for employees that will make them want to keep creating value for us?” When we approach employee retention as an issue of addressing employee needs instead of safeguarding our own needs, we can develop more innovative solutions that make people want to stay with the company. These four tips make it possible to create value for your employees that rely not on expensive perks but on human engagement that makes employees feel indispensable.
Facilitate Productivity Through Trust Rather Than Force
It seems that every other day a study is published revealing that employees can be even more productive when they work from home than from an office and is immediately followed by another study or opinion debunking these claims. The truth is, some people thrive in a busy office while others don’t. Some projects are executed best with in-person collaboration while others can be done in isolation. There is no one-size-fits-all and creating blanket policies around how people must work in a business is a guaranteed way to make people feel that they don’t belong and that their work styles are unwelcome.
Instead of relying on studies about productivity, rely on your employees’ own reports of how they get their best work done. By tailoring work schedules to their own best practices, you both facilitate more productivity and demonstrate that you value their judgments about their own work. Some managers panic at the idea of giving employees this much power to decide their work environment but that is precisely the problem: distrusting employees to do their best work is a huge reason that people leave. If they were good enough to hire, they are good enough to report their own best practices.
Make Reviews a Conversation Rather Than an Evaluation
The quarterly review often comes in the form of a goal-setting and goal evaluating format that focuses exclusively on the employee with only a minor nod to what the business can do better. The inverse should be true. Reviews should be an opportunity for employees to explain what about the company has made it possible or impossible to accomplish their professional goals and meet company expectations. By leading with questions about the company rather than about themselves, you can signal to employees that you are listening and that business success is a two-way street.
While there are certainly some employees who will advantage of this time to air their grievances, far more will use it demonstrate their innovative ideas about how the company can do better not only for them but as a whole. Reviews that function as conversations keep employees engaged with the company and make them want to see it succeed if they know that their own ideas are being considered as solutions to company issues. Far fewer people will leave a company where their feedback is part of the DNA of company’s procedures and policies.
Acknowledge Value Beyond Business Goals
A lot of praise is heaped on employees who hit the highest sales goal or bring in the most new business for the company and there is no debating that these accomplishments should be acknowledged. But by focusing exclusively on these material achievements, you demonstrate to employees that your only priorities are making money for the business. It also makes people with less quantifiable roles feel disposable. Instead of making all acknowledgements about what literal values employees are adding to the company, create space to acknowledge the value that they’re bringing to each other as well.
If there is an assistant who is consistently helping their colleagues with projects, acknowledge his or her patience and tenacity. If there is someone in accounts payable who always manages to field questions with both expedience grace, acknowledge his or her contribution to morale. These don’t have to be formal gold stars at the all-hands meeting and indeed they shouldn’t be. Instead, creating a culture where value is consistently acknowledged makes employees feel that their contributions are being noticed and in turn, makes them want to stick around.
Foster a Company Culture That Can’t Be Replicated
Too often a start-up or small business will be profiled for its great company culture and the write-up will include a reference to the endless snacks on hand and the weekly free yoga class to which all employees are entitled. These perks are great but they are not a company culture. A company can invest in granola bars and an assortment of beverages and still lose employees if they aren’t paying attention to the value that is being added by every employee.
Having the budget for perks is a great way of getting people in the door in the first place, but making them stay is about keeping them excited to be at their job because they know they’re doing it well and are indispensable to the company. Though this culture will look different depending on the business and the people it employs, the basic principles of open communication, management transparency, and ongoing employee appreciation should serve as guiding principles for fostering this culture. People can buy their own granola bars and commuter benefits, they cannot buy a sense that they are appreciated or be certain that another company can offer it to them. Just as you want employees to feel indispensable, make the amount of communication and trust at your business an indispensable part of your employees’ daily lives.
Andy Selway is the Founder of ‘Your HR Consultancy’ which provides HR & people solutions to start-ups and SMEs. Andy also runs Corporate and Cocktails, which is fast becoming one of London’s biggest growing HR communities with over 2,000 HR members.