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October 11, 2021

How to Retain Your Best Employees

Post By:
Debra Wheatman
In-House Contributor
Careers Done Write
Guest Contributor:

If we have learned anything during the pandemic, we have absolutely learned that just because work is available doesn’t mean people will stay. The “Great Resignation” is upon us and it is not showing any signs of slowing. We know that employee retention is critical for companies – not just now – but always. High turnover costs more than just money; it costs brand reputation, which in turn repels top talent. Naturally, companies want to identify, attract, and retain talent. Employees are the heartbeat of a company. Without them, nothing gets done. It’s more than that, though. Employees build and sustain the culture and the brand of an organization. Right now, it’s tough out there. Companies are clamoring to keep the employees they have and simultaneously recruit for open positions. They are facing significant challenges. But fear not! I have some strategies to share to improve retention despite the current war for talent.

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People leave managers, not companies. I know you have heard this time and again. Well, it’s true! I can share with you numerous stories of people leaving a job because they just COULD NOT stand the person to whom they reported. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, wants to spend a good eight hours (and sometimes more) a day having to deal with someone they despise. Your employees want to contribute in a meaningful way with the appreciation that accompanies good work. A sure way to ensure solid performers leave for greener pastures is to micromanage them, treat them like school children, take credit for their work and ideas, and call attention to minor foibles in front of other employees. I have heard of “manager stories” for the better part of 20 years. If you want to ensure your employees remain happy and productive, make sure your managers are trained and embrace a culture of collaboration and communication to motivate and inspire others towards positive performance. 


People want to grow and learn. This is especially true of high performers who pursue new challenges as a way to expand their careers. Create assignments, new internal roles, offer mentoring, and provide these employees with new opportunities. Don’t keep your best employees in the same positions, and having people repeating the same things does not inspire learning. When your best employees grow bored, they will leave. A growth plan will fuel engagement and new ideas that will continue to pay your company dividends.


The nature of business has changed, resulting from the pandemic. Over the past 18 months, companies have had to embrace a new way of working. Employees have had the option (dare I say the luxury?) of working from home. Many people don’t want to go back to the office. They want the flexibility to work remotely, at least on a part-time basis. I have clients who have up and quit with no other position because they were told to come back to the office. A number of these people were high performers. In some instances, their employers relented, backpedaling to prevent defection. I know of one company that took a survey and found that the resounding majority of employees wanted a flexible work arrangement. They responded by sending a company-wide email that everyone would be required to return to the office full-time. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what happened. People quit. A lot of them. Why send a survey if you are going to ignore the responses? The company had to act quickly to cauterize the wound. Shortly after the return to work email was sent, the white flag was raised. The company decided that it would be appropriate to implement a flexible schedule for its employees – and not soon enough. Without their workers they would have found themselves unable to operate!


A healthy work-life balance is essential to ensure health and productivity, but it can also improve your employees’ productivity. With the fast-paced and continuously changing business world and the connection to technology, it can seem impossible to separate work from our personal lives. People are (or it seems) available 24/7. You can text, email, and/or call. People travel with their laptops and other devices, keeping us connected with zero downtime. Why has this become the accepted norm? It’s important to take time away from the daily grind to relax and rejuvenate. The never-ending pressure to achieve results causes people to begin their days early and end well past the close of the business day. Providing people with downtime and promoting balance as part of the corporate culture will attract and retain workers. There are other benefits to promoting a healthy work-life balance, including employees' physical and mental health, better and more positive engagement, and less burnout. When people feel overwhelmed, they are not in a good place to do good work. A culture where people leave work at the office makes for positive and long-lasting outcomes and promotes retention.


Competitive pay for performance is an essential part of ensuring employees stay. “I’m doing this for the fun of it,” said no one ever when it comes to working. This isn’t to say that people don’t enjoy their work or working in general. I know I do! However, people have families, bills, car payments, and on and on it goes. They want to be compensated appropriately for the commitment, knowledge, and expertise they bring to the role. In turn, they should be paid a competitive market rate. Despite the pandemic, I have a friend who brought in a lot of business for her employer in 2020. To be nice, I will call her boss frugal. He didn’t give her a bonus! What kind of nonsense is that?! She outperformed her target, and the business is built on something of a back-end structure. Needless to say, they exchanged words over this. She left. The business is, shall we say, not doing as well. Recognizing your employees’ contributions is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it demonstrates that you value their work. Especially now, with the glut of open positions and companies clamoring to find suitable resources, this is not the time to avoid paying employees what they’re worth.


The pandemic got us all thinking about our finances, which by the way, is a leading indicator of stress. It impacts relationships and mental and physical well-being. Many people realized that their finances are not as strong as they would like. Enter financial wellness programs from employers. Employers that implement financial wellness programs, which demonstrate a commitment to their employees are more likely to retain talent. Extending beyond the typical 401k investment plan and offering financial wellness programs will boost employee productivity, reduce stress, and improve health. Employees also gain improved personal and professional satisfaction when afforded opportunities and tools to help them achieve their financial goals. Consider adding programs that help employees with budgeting, building credit, debt reduction programs, and student loan repayment. Providing this type of programming will alleviate the stress under which people find themselves related to financial hardships. You will find that your employees are more productive, happier, and more effective with less time spent on addressing these personal matters.


I am sure you have heard some people talk about the company gym, yoga classes, and the availability of other health and financial resources. Forever ago, I worked on Wall Street. There was a gym in the building. I went there twice a day. While this gives a window into my obsessive nature with exercise, it was also a place A LOT of people went to blow off a bit of steam and keep up their physical fitness. This was back in the ’90s when in-building gyms were not so commonplace. Aside from the obvious perk of having a gym in the building, it was a unique selling feature while also demonstrating the firm’s commitment to employee wellness. They also had classes before work, during lunchtime, and after 5pm. It was an investment bank, so the after 5pm crowd was VERY thin. It’s good business to help employees feel empowered to maintain their well-being. The benefits (no pun intended) also help defray the high cost of employee healthcare if employees are invested in their own health. Additional offerings may include services that support financial planning and wellness differently, including pool tables, reimbursement plans for gym memberships, on-site daycare, and other things.  


Setting your newly hired employees for success is a critical element to ensure things get off on the right foot. Your new hire and onboarding process should educate new employees about the company culture and how they can thrive in their new role. Orientation and onboarding are essential to help employees feel welcome and supported. Again, from my own history, I remember a time when I started a new job. The first day I arrived, my office wasn’t set up, nobody knew who I was, and they were not prepared for my arrival. Aside from the myriad other insane things about this place (my father warned me not to take that job. Of course, I didn’t listen. I was too busy knowing everything), it just didn’t start well for me. I was very young at the time and the sacrificial lamb in a den of lions. I lasted about a year before I threw in the towel and left. Onboarding would have been great. Honestly, though, the rest of it was such a shitshow I’m not sure onboarding in that environment would have mattered all that much. This aspect is not to be missed for other companies that want to promote a positive and healthy culture. The support and training afforded during the initial onboarding phase will set the tone for the entire tenure of your employees. 


I can’t even begin to count the number of conversations I have had with people – clients, friends, you name it, where they tell me stories about things said to and about them by managers and others. Remember when you were a kid, and there was that bully on the playground? Well, this person grew up, joined the corporate ranks, somehow got promoted (wow!), and now is the resident adult bully. Listen up. These people are destroying your organization from the inside out. Not only do they make your high performers unhappy and impact results, but they also severely impact your brand. Do you think the people who are the subject of this person’s behavior don’t talk to the Street? How wrong you would be.

Take the blinders off. People will talk. Your external brand and reputation are at stake, especially if you do nothing to promote a culture that fosters open communication, idea sharing, and RESPECT. Every company has its share of bullies. It is a well-known and DOCUMENTED fact that people leave bosses. They don’t leave because of money (mostly). They leave because they can no longer tolerate poor treatment where ZERO is done to correct poor behaviors and treatment inflicted by others. Who wants to stay in an environment where you’re treated like garbage? No amount of money is worth that. People are not going to tolerate “Combat Pay.” If you want to ensure your company is one where people are clamoring to join, make sure a positive and engaged culture is established and shared from the top down. It should reward respect and trust and demonstrates a clear commitment that bullying will not be tolerated and dealt with accordingly.


My grandfather stayed with his company for his ENTIRE career. He worked at the same place for more than 40 years. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen any longer. The median number of years that employees have worked for their current employer is currently 4.1 years, according to an Economic News Release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You will have some employees that stay longer and some that exit sooner. Every company wants to ensure their “rep on the street” is strong, so departing employees say good things about the business. We all know companies that have a poor reputation. They have a lot of trouble (especially now) attracting talent. Nobody is interested in going to a company that is known for treating employees like garbage. There are too many good companies and too many openings right now. People are going to leave; it’s inevitable. Suppose your organization takes the proper measures to establish a positive culture where employees are valued. In that case, you will reap the benefits by being regarded as an employer of choice – even when they leave.