Employee retention is a continuous challenge for organizations, especially in this strong job market with lots of new opportunities available.
While some turnover is inevitable, no one likes to see top talent leave for a rival.
A little while ago we asked our community the reasons why they’d left jobs and what could have convinced them to stay (and no, the most popular answer wasn’t salary!).
Off the back of our findings and wider research, we’ll cover 9 areas of focus to improve employee retention in your organization.
- Recognize people for their contributions
- Ensure wellness and wellbeing
- Focus on your managers
- Create Growth Opportunities
- Mismatched salaries
- Nurture your culture
- Ensure employee engagement
- Offer flexible working
- Work on your hiring and onboarding processes
1. Recognize people for their contributions
In our survey, the most-cited reason that people left their jobs was actually lack of appreciation.
When asked for details, respondents said they felt undervalued, taken for granted, and unrecognized by managers for the amount of work they were doing.
One person said they were told "No" for most new ideas they had for their teams, while another one had a manager that constantly took credit for their ideas and accomplishments.
This makes complete sense when you think about how a simple “Nice work!” or “Great idea!” can make you feel (especially if it’s public).
Generalized thank you’s and shoutouts are appreciated, it doesn't always have to be a grand gesture (although these can be a great way to showcase your employer brand), and spinning up a formal employee recognition program is relatively straightforward.
Genuine appreciation in whichever form makes employees feel safe, energized, and motivated to do what they do best.
Helpful resources: 30 Creative Employee Recognition And Appreciation Ideas
2. Ensure wellness and wellbeing
More than half of respondents said they experienced burnout and a decline in their overall well-being due to the working conditions in their job, and this became a deciding factor in them wanting to quit.
Burnout and work-related stress are recognized medical issues that impact people’s emotional and physical health and therefore their ability to work too. It’s estimated that $322 billion of turnover and lost productivity cost globally is due to employee burnout.
Working people into dust is actually counterproductive and will drive them to leave, who’d have thought it?!
The good news is that there are a number of ways organizations can help reduce stress and help safeguard their team members' health and well-being.
Promoting a healthy work-life balance is a good place to start. A lot of companies have been experimenting with the 4-day workweek, with one major study finding that absenteeism decreased by 66% and job applications rose by 88% (no retention statistics but we’re assuming team members were pretty happy about it!).
- How To Identify, Pre-empt, And Deal With Workplace Burnout
- Reducing Stress In The Workplace: Tips From A Fighter Pilot
- 4 Powerful Principles To Help Drive Better Mental Health In The Workplace
3. Focus on your managers
The third most-cited reason behind people leaving was a bad manager.
Respondents mentioned micro-managing, lack of autonomy, poor communication skills, biases, feeling undermined, and, in some extreme cases, discrimination, bullying, gaslighting, and sexism, coupled with a lack of action by management to address these issues as the reason they left their position.
Others pointed to a lack of direction, a lack of a clear vision for the long-term goals of the company, and a lack of transparency to include employees outside of the leadership team.
Some thought their leadership was detached from the rest of the staff, didn’t agree with leadership decisions, and felt like they weren’t consistent and didn’t align with the organization’s mission or values, while others saw constant changes in the leadership team as a sign that things weren’t going well.
This further highlights the important role that managers play in an organization and why they deserve training and support!
Further resources to help here:
- How To Support New Managers With A People Partner Program
- Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help As A New Manager (and How to Do It)
- People Management Tips For New And Experienced Managers
- Clarity, Responsibility, And Accountability (CRA) Model Of Leadership
4. Create growth opportunities
On a similar level with bad managers was no opportunities for career growth.
Several respondents pointed out that their work wasn’t challenging them and they couldn’t expand their skillset anymore.
Others cited that management didn’t offer any opportunities or incentives for personal and professional development, such as training or mentorships.
Some respondents also pointed out that they worked harder and harder but promises of promotions or career advancement never materialized, while others wanted to be around other types of leaders and thinkers.
Your best employees are likely those always looking for development opportunities and to learn new skills. Learning and development is a huge topic beyond the scope of this article, but here are resources to help:
- 5 Methods To Help Put Employees In The Driver’s Seat Of Their Career Development
- How To Create A Learning And Development Strategy In 7 Steps
- How To Start An Effective Mentoring Program In 6 Steps
- How To Create A Professional Development Plan With Your Team Member
5. Mismatched salaries
We found that the lack of appreciation is closely linked to financial compensation, as various respondents said there was an ever-increasing amount of demands and responsibilities while the pay stayed the same.
A salary that was disproportionate to the work they were doing was a reason to leave for 43.8 percent of respondents.
One person in particular, who left their job after less than a year, pointed out that they did extra work that wasn’t in their job description without any pay increase, while others said their salary was below market rates and they had to work overtime to meet deadlines but didn’t receive any extra compensation.
With more pay transparency laws coming into place, and a lot of positive conversations happening around pay equity, there’s never been a time to get on top of your compensation strategy.
- How To Create A Compensation Philosophy For Better Hiring And Retention
- Why Pay Transparency Is A Good Business Practice And How To Approach It
- 13 Best Compensation Courses For HR, Business Owners And Managers 2023
- Salary Benchmarking: Benefits And How To Do It
6. Nurture your culture
The working environment was another crucial factor for employee happiness. Well over a third of respondents named the culture at their workplace as a reason for leaving.
Several people described the culture as toxic, dysfunctional, and unsupportive. Bad office politics were often mentioned as having a negative effect on the mental health of staff, while some management was stuck in the old ways of doing things and didn’t adapt.
One person also pointed out that the culture of the organization they left was merely superficial and that employees were being bought with gifts and cash rewards.
Culture is important because it determines how people work together to deliver on your strategy. So, while it may seem a nebulous concept, it has a direct impact on important metrics such as productivity and innovation, as well as retention.
- Company Culture: Why It Matters And How To Improve Your Own
- 5 Subtle Signs Your Workplace Culture Is Turning Toxic (And How To Fix It)
- How To Build A Culture Of Innovation (with John Carter of Bose.)
7. Ensure employee engagement
Almost a third of respondents also didn’t feel engaged in their position, which led to them wanting to leave.
Some described their work as boring, monotonous, and frustrating, with a lack of purpose, while others were looking for ways to develop their skills that the employer didn’t offer at the time.
One person said that it was hard to get anything done because there was too much support for old legacy systems, which made their position feel like a dead end, while another one wanted to do more meaningful work that made a difference.
Beyond that, not allowing people to stagnate in their roles by offering opportunities to grow and develop—perhaps in a secondment to a different team or project.
- The Y Factor: 8 Strategies To Successfully Increase Employee Engagement
- Internal Mobility: Why It’s Important And How To Nurture It
8. Offer flexible work options
A quarter of the job quitters surveyed said their work wasn’t flexible enough, and 10.6 percent were even forced back to the office after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which contributed to their decision to quit.
Several respondents said that their employer didn’t support or even allow remote working, especially for full-time positions. Others also said that their commute was too long and that the options for remote work were too limited.
One person explained that they worked on a rotating schedule that their boss could never remember. They’d reach out on a day that was meant to be a remote working day, for example, and ask the employee to come in for a meeting that could have been held virtually.
Bottom line is that flexibility around where and when they can work is important to a lot of people and, in reality, this is closely related to micromanagement and autonomy.
- Hybrid Working: What Is It And How To Approach It
- Cultivating A Hybrid Workplace Culture For Innovation and Creativity
- 27 Best Practices For Managing Remote Teams In 2023
- How To Build Strong Relationships Working Remotely
9. Work On Your Hiring and Onboarding Processes
This didn’t come up in our survey but we think it’s worth a mention because, according to a survey from Jobvite, 30% of people leave their job within the first 90 days of starting.
Of these, 43% of people said that this was because the job wasn’t what they expected, something that can be mitigated by a transparent hiring process and a proper onboarding process.
As experienced recruiter, Kristen Renner, rightly points out recruiters shouldn’t be “selling” roles and instead matching them to the skills and desires of the candidate.
When it comes to onboarding, the aim is to make the new hire feel part of the team, provide further clarity on their role, responsibilities, and goals, set some professional objectives, and get them up to speed as quickly as possible.
Common thinking is that this should be at least a 90-day process and, in some cases, it can take up to a year for someone to be fully up and running.
Resources to help:
- 10 Employee Orientation Activities To Help New Starters Hit The Ground Running (+Template)
- The Key To Focused, Engaging Interviews (+ Template)
- How To Write A 30 60 90 Day Plan For Your Org’s Onboarding + Template
Employee experience is like a product
Some employee turnover is inevitable but, by focusing on the above, you can significantly improve your employee retention rate.
What's interesting as well is that recent research by McKinsey found that worker preferences are largely the same across all age groups.
The way we like to think of it is that, when someone joins your company, they’re signing up to what you offer them as an employer (your employer value proposition), much like they’d how they’d sign up to any other product or service.
The job of human resources/people ops/management is to create and manage this experience so that workers are happy, engaged, and working in the best interests of the organization.
This is why collecting regular employee feedback through methods such as surveys, stay interviews, and exit interviews is crucial if you want to find out why people are staying at/leaving your company.
Gathering feedback, and, importantly, acting on it has never been easier with the host of digital tools available. It also demonstrates to employees you care about them. Hey, we’ve already done some for you!
Best of luck with your retention efforts. Some further resources to help:
- An Easy Guide To Employee Surveys (With Questions)
- 5 Employee Listening Strategies, Methods, And Best Practices
- 8 Effective Ways To Get Employee Feedback (+ Pros and Cons)
- How To Attract And Retain Top Talent Through The Employee Life Cycle
- How To Run An Employee Journey Mapping Project To Improve The Employee Experience
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