Successful organisations understand that the retention of talented, effective employees depends on these people feeling engaged and rewarded for their efforts
Successful organisations invest in employee retention because they know it has a significant impact on productivity, customer satisfaction and business sustainability. Successful organisations understand that the retention of talented, effective employees depends on these people feeling engaged and rewarded for their efforts. As a professional, you need to develop a good practical understanding of the factors which contribute to staff retention. For a start it helps you manage your own career. All too often professionals and other staff leave a job not because they are ready for the next career move but because they can no longer stand working for their current boss. And when you have line management responsibility, remember, you are the boss that your staff could want to leave behind!
Retention vs attrition
Employee retention is about much more than minimising attrition. In most organisations, a degree of attrition is inevitable and quite often desirable. Resignation by people who have made a bad career move, the departure of staff members who are unable or unwilling to perform at agreed levels and similar factors all contribute to beneficial staff attrition. Attrition should be concerning only when it involves the loss of valuable staff members whose decision to go is based on dissatisfaction with working conditions. Employee retention is about ensuring optimal returns on investments made in recruiting, inducting and training people with the talent, interest and willingness for roles to which they are well suited. Retention also means ensuring that these people become engaged not only by their job but in shared commitment to the organisation's goals.
Why people leave bosses
The reasons why professionals leave their job because of the boss hold many clues for managers who are keen to optimise staff retention. It has been shown that professionals and other staff alike tend to leave bosses who:
- break promises;
- don't give credit where it is due;
- made negative comments about one staff member to others;
- invade privacy;
- blame others for their personal mistakes;
- micromanage; or
- treat staff disrespectfully.
And staff expectations of managers extend well beyond these behavioural characteristics to also include the factors which foster staff engagement. Staff members at all levels are far more likely to leave bosses who fail to:
- encourage and support their development;
- ensure that the connection between their job and the organisation's purpose or mission clear;
- talk to them about their progress and performance;
- reward good performance;
- provide opportunities for learning and growth;
- involve them in the decisions that will affect them; and
- help staff members to feel valued and appreciated for the work they do.
An important truth associated with these two lists of factors associated with employee retention is that employees leave bosses for any ONE of the factors in the first list and expect attention to ALL the factors in the second!
Boosting employee retention
So where should managers focus their efforts in boosting staff retention? The answer lies in paying attention to both the ‘big picture' of staff management and attending to important day-to-day details. From a big picture perspective, staff retention has a lot to do with the hiring process; making sure that you have the right people in the right roles. It is never enough to leave the entire task to recruitment firm. For sure, a professional expert can be invaluable in the recruitment process but managers but must play their part too by giving careful thought to position descriptions and specifying the skills, experience and personal style they are looking for. Cultural fit is also key to recruitment success. Following appointment of the successful candidate, measured attention to every new staff member's induction will pay dividends in the shorter and longer term. Induction goes well beyond the round of introductions to new colleagues. It must include processes which enable new staff to understand what is expected of them, how their role relates to others' roles, cultural norms, and how they can expect their performance to be measured. Other ‘big picture' factors which tend to boost employee retention are:
- regular informal feedback as well as robust formal performance management (for more on this see the Guide to Performance Management);
- demonstrated commitment to employees' professional development even when there is no formal ‘training' budget;
- effective timely communication about changes that will affect them; and
- opportunities to participate in decision-making (for more on this topic see the Guide to Employee Involvement and Participation.
Finally from a day-to-day perspective following these basic principles will help ensure that you don't become the boss that people want to leave behind:
- When you're having a bad day doing something to improve a staff member's day benefits them and you feel better as a result.
- By all means pay attention to your ‘gut' and how it feels but make sure that words and actions go via your brain!
- Ask yourself regularly what it's like to report to you. If you don't like the answer change for the better.
- Every day (yes every day) genuinely acknowledge something good about staff members' work.
- Remember that you look good when the people for whose work you are accountable look good. Ensure that they shine and enjoy the reflected light!
What if the problem is your boss?
Professionals who find themselves wanting to leave their job because of a bad boss face a tricky dilemma. While it is tempting to find an escape route as quickly as possible the cost to your longer-term career plans can be significant. It pays to pause and reflect on the options – there may be more than immediately evident. There is food for thought on this one in the Management Insights article ‘Help! I work for a Tyrant'.
Looking for more ideas?
For readers with an interest in extending their reading about the topics covered in this article the following Management Insights articles and Guides are available on the website:
- Management incompetence
- Help! I work for a tyrant
- Overworked or underpaid: a management perspective
- The qualities of successful managers
- High-performing managers
- Unhappy at work? Dealing with a bad career move
- Staff engagement: what's the bottom line?
- Managing upwards
- Employee involvement and participation (Management Guide)
About the Author
Dr Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational development and team dynamics through her company FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd (www.fourleaf.com.au). She facilitates strategic planning and team development undertakes organisational reviews coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.
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