The Secret to Employee Retention & Loyalty (hint: it ain’t the free food)

Why are so many employees desperate to chuck their job, either for a job at a competitor or getting out all together and launching their own business?

B/c they have the sinking suspicion that their current company would chuck them in no time, with less thought, feeling or consideration.

How can companies create a happier workforce and even long-term loyalty?

It ain’t about the gold watch & pension plan of my father’s generation, and it ain’t the free snacks & “bring your dog to work” of the millennials’ generation.

(although I do love seeing dogs in the office!) 

In order to build loyalty (and positive results like innovation and profit), EMPLOYEES NEED TO FEEL VALUED.

And here are the 6 ways to more effectively make that happen in the traditional corporate structure.

1. Pay them what they’re Worth – maybe Slightly more than they’re Worth.

I worked at a company (which shall remain nameless for purposes of this post) that did a lot of things wrong, but one thing they did right was pay us very well.  And it made me work hard, even when I was frustrated with the crappy systems, or the mediocre product, or the lack of vision. The money wasn’t going to keep me there in the long term, but it kept me there for a while; and I gave them my best because I felt like they were compensating me for my best. Conversely, I worked for a company (again – keeping it anonymous) that was high profile and best in class, and as a result, they decided their employees should be paid less, as if we were “lucky” to get to work there. Net result: my resentment built, and I left.

So pay employees what they’re worth, not what you think you can get away with paying them.  Good compensation is a recipe for retention.

2. Give Individuals Ownership

 One of my clients worked as a project manager at an agency, where her primary job was shepherding a project from conception to finished product. In reality, it meant nagging various departments to stay on track, but very little ownership over work.  She was left feeling like she had all the accountability but none of the responsibility.  As employees, we need to feel a measure of control over our work.  And it’s an opportunity to allow individuals to make a positive contribution and a chance to feel proud of their part.  Especially if you are a “Creative”, your work feels like an expression of your essence. Companies need to honor that.  I once worked at a huge matrixed organization and my (empowering) boss said it like this: “it’s your candy shop. Run it how you see fit.”  And I did. And I made a lot of money.  And I made the company a lot of money. A Win Win.

3. Contributing Towards Something Bigger (Purpose)

A basic human concern (after needs like food and shelter are met) is a sense of belonging. And we find more happiness and meaning when our contribution at work is towards something bigger. Something that matters more than we do.  There’s nothing more dispiriting than feeling like you are a tiny cog in a giant machine. Or doing anonymous work in a vacuum/silo. I’ve seen countless talented hungry contributors become disillusioned because they worked really hard on support materials like proposals or presentations, but then were never given the chance to join the big meeting, or present to the big boss.  Give contextual relevance and elevate their individual contribution where you can.  Double points for illustrating how the work ladders up to the company’s values. And if those values are in line with the employee’s personal values, that employee will go through a wall for management.

While we’re on the topic of contribution towards something bigger – how about more team building and fewer earbuds and other tools that create isolation and disconnection? People spend a hell of a lot of time at work – we need connection and camaraderie to feel valued. Does anyone remember the laughter? 

4. An Effective & Empathetic Boss

We deserve management that knows how to get the best from their team and empowers employees individually.  A client of mine recently said she’d love to have an inspiring boss, but would settle for a boss who’s only a little crazy. That’s how low the bar has gotten. Her manager lacks communication skills and understanding. Important information isn’t cascaded down in a timely fashion, or with empathy when it often impacts employees directly.  The effect on employees is fear and insecurity. 

Why aren’t we training managers to manage people? Instead we just promote people, and hope for the best. Companies can invest in their new leaders by retaining executive coaches or offering relevant workshops.  The ROI of some training has a ripple effect on all levels of the organization, not just the attendee. 

I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses. I’ve been a good boss and a bad boss.  The difference makers are: time, experience, a willingness to take feedback & grow, and training.

5. Respect Employees by Respecting their Time

These are grown-ups we’re talking about. With kids and dogs and doctor’s appointments. They have lives to lead. As the manager, you set the deadlines, but let them get the job done on their own time.  If it’s not getting done, obviously you revisit. But out of the gate, assume an employee can manage their work, and their own time. Where ever. However. Whenever.

Caveat: some jobs require face time, and maybe even more so at the start of a new gig, but face time for face time’s sake is an antiquated notion that achieves nothing.

6. Path to Growth

It’s in our nature, as humans, to struggle. We aren’t happy with the status quo. We need challenge. And opportunity to grow. Sure, the employee has to earn it, but if the prospects and support aren’t there, your employees will seek it elsewhere. And the company will lose 6-9 months salary during hiring/training/getting new employee up to speed.

The ROI of Investing in your people in these ways is priceless. 

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