Retaining top talent requires regular work. At a previous company, we found retaining talent near impossible. It felt like our competitors were offering candidates more money, more benefits, and more prospects than we were able to. But we were wrong. The culture was actually really special, but we were failing at communicating what was special about it to our employees and our candidates.
People’s priorities change, as do organizational objectives. However, what shouldn’t change is a relentless commitment to making people feel welcomed, included, and appreciated in the workplace.
And because retaining employees is the aggregation of lots of little things, here are 41 actionable ideas to improve your staff retention:
1. Create a compelling mission statement
What does your company stand for? What does it stand against?
If your employees don’t know this. Or worse still, if leadership doesn’t, then don’t expect people to keep showing up for anything other than their paycheck. What makes a compelling mission statement? Something that moves you. Simple as that. And no, it doesn’t have to be a societal cause such as tackling climate change or solving world hunger, some people are just passionate about making mortgages simpler, and that’s ok.
2. Eat lunch together
Eating together is the most basic of shared human experiences, and shared experiences create (often unlikely) friendships. About 65% of people maintain close friendships with at least one co-worker and having friendships at work is proven to lower staff turnover. If you observe close-knit teams, like firefighters, they always make a habit of eating lunch together; bonding over food is a way to increase the chances of forming new relationships and a way to strengthen existing ones.
3. Measure employee happiness
What gets measured, gets managed but how do you measure an emotion? By asking and listening (regularly). There are a variety of ways to track employee satisfaction — through regular pulse surveys, informal chats, and special exercises.
One tried and tested way to keep track of employee happiness is via employee Net Promoter Scores (eNPS); a scale of 1-10 with the question, “How likely are you to recommend [your company name] as a place to work?” To calculate your score you’ll need to break the scores into:
- Promoters (9-10)
- Passives (7-8)
- Detractors (0-6)
Your eNPS score is the % of promoters minus detractors.
For example, let’s say you have 80% promoters, 15% passives and 5% detractors your eNPS is your promoters (80%) less detractors (5%) = eNPS 75%.
4. Host regular “virtual” away days
Work friendships die pretty quickly with a lack of shared experiences. And whilst nothing quite beats a shared in-person experience, away days can be virtual too. At ThriveMap, we recently all took part in a virtual escape room (we escaped!) and try to have some sort of “virtual happy hour” over Zoom at least once a month.
5. Give mental health days
I often hear from businesses that it’s hard for me to know whether an employee is actually struggling with their mental health, or if they’re just taking advantage. If that’s you… I get it. This is new territory for everyone. But giving people time off for mental health isn’t a benefit, it needs to become the norm, and rightly so. Being clear with employees that if they feel like they can’t show up for work because of their mental health then they can take a mental health day, in the same way, they would take a sick day is essential. No judgments. No questions, other than how can we help you.
6. Recruit more authentically
Every job has its pain points, and every company has ways of working that not everyone likes. Successful hiring is about selecting people who can both do the job, but who also want to do the job (and know exactly what they’re getting themselves into). Research shows that 48% of new hires fail because of a disconnect between their expectations of a role and the realities of it when they join.
✏️ Top tip: Creating your own Realistic Job Assessments that take candidates through a “virtual shift” in the recruiting process will ensure that all candidates know what to expect when they join. They are proven to reduce new hire attrition and ensure hiring consistency.
7. Pay people fairly
Various studies show that extrinsic rewards (e.g. money and benefits) tend to crowd out intrinsic rewards (e.g. meaning and satisfaction). This can have a reverse effect on productivity. What matters more than a pay increase is that people feel like they’re being paid fairly. Yes, that may mean paying more, but it may also mean being paid in line with other people doing the same or similar jobs.
We recommend operating a policy of full salary transparency so no one will ever doubt another colleague and feel like their treatment or pay is unfair. We also recommend having a salary cap rule so that the highest person is not paid more than [insert a sensible figure here] times the lowest paid person in the company.
8. Create some “peak experiences”
It’s the moments at work that we remember and they can be good, bad or indifferent. Creating “peak” experiences; moments of pure joy, will keep staff feeling positively towards the company when they’ve had a bad day.
They can be anything (you’ll have to get thinking here), but they’ll be deeply meaningful and fulfilling to your employees. A sense of joy can be created in a simple “thank you” to a colleague, a shared team bonding experience, or in a grand gesture such as a company retreat or award. I had one a few years ago when after I’d lost a loved one, my employer made sure I had enough time to grieve and offered their unwavering support.
They’ll always be moments in the lives of your employees when they need support, or when they need encouragement. Make sure, you’re part of these moments and that you make them feel something special.
✏️ Top tip: Creating a culture of recognition can create magic moments at work. HRTech company Mo (short for ‘moments’ of course) has a platform to help facilitate a culture of recognition and celebrating success.
9. Personalise the employee experience with data
Everything now from your music and tv-show recommendations to the adverts you receive is personalized. But when it comes to employee engagement we seem to think we’re all motivated by the exact same things. When rewarding people, we should reward them in ways they like.
Yes, personalization is hard, but that’s where data and AI come in. There’ll be a lot of meta-data upon which to infer what people like at work and what they don’t. What employee benefits have they actually used? How much recognition have they received? When do they start work? When do they like to finish? How often do they visit the office or the factory? What do they like to eat and at what time? All this should feed into creating a bespoke workplace experience, whether on-site or at home.
10. Start an innovation program
An innovation program such as an idea incubator, hackathon, or accelerator can help motivate your employees to contribute their ideas to the business, rather than risk losing them to entrepreneurship. Your company is a breeding ground for ideas and innovation; you can either nurture those ideas or let them go. So too, if you have specific business challenges that your employees can’t solve, then looking for startups to help solve them for you is a great way to start projects and give your employees a sense of ownership. Parting with corporate innovation experts L.Marks can take the stress away from running the program yourself.
11. “Build” in public
Most businesses hide their practices from competitors, but in doing so, they communicate a lack of transparency and authenticity. The “build in public” model is one of the best ways for companies to stand out from the competition. ‘Building’ could mean sharing your product roadmap on Trello like Buffer, or creating a public culture deck like Netflix and Spotify. It could be as simple as blogging about how your company culture is evolving and what mistakes you’ve made along the way.
12. Give back to charity
According to research when employees feel connected to their company’s giving and volunteering efforts, turnover drops by an average of 57%. However, employees don’t just want CSR to be about fundraising and corporate donations; they also expect opportunities to directly help their community. Volunteering programs can be particularly effective. My wife went on a trip to build schools in Kenya with her company which was a transformative “peak experience” and 8 years later, she’s still working there! Biotech firm Genentech has a “Genentech Gives Back Week,” where employees are encouraged to volunteer at nonprofits during paid work hours.
✏️ Top tip: Skills-based volunteering deepens the connection between what people feel they can uniquely offer and how that benefits others, so if you can tie what people do at work to their charitable giving you’ll be more effective. For example, your recruiters can offer pro-bono services such as CV-writing or interview prep for underprivileged groups, and your operations staff could package and deliver food parcels to the homeless.
13. Create career “maps”
A career map is a written roadmap outlining where someone is in their career, where they ultimately want to go, and the specific steps they could take to reach that objective. And very few people have them! Be proactive in helping your employees design them and show them what opportunities could be available to them within the organization. If opportunities aren’t available to them internally, then that’s fine, help them to plan a transition out of the company in a reasonable time frame and support them to achieve it. That level of honesty about where things are going and what’s in it for both sides will reduce the risk of unplanned exits.
14. Facilitate more work friendships
It’s widely reported that work friendships drive work happiness. But with the increase in remote work, this is becoming harder. 62% of employees with 1 to 5 work friends said they would reject an external job offer; that increases to 70 percent for those with 6 to 25 friends at work. Ok so how to build work friendships remotely?
✏️ Top tip: Using communication tools and regular team or company-wide “events” can help. We like the Slack app Donut which helps arrange random virtual coffee meetings directly in Slack to facilitate that watercooler impact from home.
15. Create job sharing schemes
If your staff are pushing for more flexibility over their working hours, job-sharing could be a good solution. Most companies notice reduced absenteeism among job-sharing employees. Window and door manufacturer Pella’s job-sharing program reduced absenteeism among its production line employees (mostly working women with young children) from almost 6% to about 1%, and the company eliminated its previous need to over staff assembly lines to maintain production.
16. Switch to “outcome-based” management
Your work is more than your to-do list. But we’re often rewarded for “putting the hours in” or worse still, presenteeism. What matters more than visibility is outcomes. Were the goals achieved, and what did we learn? In order for managers to achieve more, and learn to trust their employees in a remote setting, we need to move past focusing on output only, to managing outcomes and decisions as well.
✏️ Top tip: If you aren’t sure about how to train your managers to lead this way then there are several frameworks you can lean on for help. OKR exercises (Objectives & Key Results) ask you to tie outcomes like strategic objectives to tangible, output-driven results. Giving your employees outcomes to achieve not tasks to complete will give them a sense of ownership they’re unlikely to want to give up.
17. Give people a company car
Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy and Behavioural Scientist, Rory Sutherland has a clever theory about company cars and employee retention. He says that if you were to ask whether people would prefer a company car or the cash alternative they’re almost certainly going to want the cash alternative, however giving them a nice company car enables someone to drive a car that’s more luxurious than they would ordinarily buy for themselves. This makes leaving the job and the nice car that comes with it much harder to justify.
18. Crowdsource your hiring criteria
Poor staff retention is often a symptom of bad hiring. To make your hiring better, turn to the true experts: your teammates! By asking and listening to the thoughts of people who actually do the jobs you’re hiring into, you’re going to get significantly better results. Ask people for input on what to look for in new hires using ThriveMap’s new Job Analysis tool (coming soon). This will help your recruiters and hiring managers reach alignment on exactly what to look for, how to attract people, and how to convince the right people to join your company.
19. Create a culture of vulnerability
The trust we have with senior leaders in a company is crucial to employee retention. Leading sociologist Brené Brown suggests that vulnerability is often lacking in leadership. Her work explains that through sharing our struggles we build trust. Put simply, being vulnerable creates a space for leaders to let others connect with them on a deeper level. Telling strategically vulnerable stories is a great way for leaders to build trust and lower retention levels.
20. Onboard people properly
According to research by Glassdoor, organizations with a strong onboarding process can improve the retention of new hires by 82 percent. That figure seems absurdly high to me but it’s still important. What constitutes a strong onboarding process is up for debate, so just think about what you would find valuable if you were joining a new company and check out our new hire checklist for some handy tips.
21. Pay attention to employee burnout
Burnout can feel different for everyone but the common symptoms are feeling like you’ve lost motivation. Here’s how Joel, the founder of social media app Buffer describes it;
“I just didn’t care. I knew I cared deeply, but I had nothing left. I couldn’t get up in the morning. I felt very sensitive and emotional. It was like anything could set me off, and make me well up. I cried a lot, by myself and with people close to me.”
Paying attention to burnout means spotting the signs in your employees and intervening before it gets too serious. Unless you have a culture of sharing vulnerability, people will often hide their true feelings; it’s your job as a leader to spot the signs and offer support.
22. Get creative with job crafting
Have you heard the one about John F. Kennedy and the janitor? If not, it goes something like this. When JFK was touring the NASA headquarters in the 60s, he came across a janitor mop in hand. JFK asked what he did. The man replied: “Mr. President, I’m not mopping floors. I’m helping put a man on the moon.” Before you roll your eyes, employees will find more empowerment, flexibility, and autonomy if they can craft their daily activities to what they like doing. Job crafting should be driven by the employee and can be used to retain people who express a desire to leave the company.
23. Set people up to work remotely
Everyone’s experience of working from home is different, making consistency a real challenge. Ensuring your employees are set up with internet connections, laptops, ergonomic chairs, sit-stand desks, and monitors so they can perform their jobs to the same ability as being in the office is important.
✏️ Top tip: Setting people up to work from home is also your chance to deliver a great employee experience, for example, Evernote sends a complimentary cleaning service to each employee’s home twice a month.
24. Train your managers
There’s an old adage which goes that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their boss. Let’s assume that management has an impact on retention (and it does), then measuring the employee retention statistics of each manager and offering support and training where necessary makes sense. No one wants to be a bad manager, but everyone has blind spots; it’s your role as an employer to offer support and training where it’s needed.
25. Do something remarkable
In the modern era, the old rules of employee engagement are becoming increasingly ineffective. In the same way that consumers only pay attention to products and services they deem “remarkable”, prospective employees find themselves in a sea of vanilla mission statements and copy & paste corporate benefits. The idea as Seth Godin states in his seminal book Purple Cow is to find things that are “just not done” in your industry, and then go ahead and do them. A good example of this is when LinkedIn, after spotting the signs of burnout due to the Coronavirus pandemic, gave all its employees one week off work to recharge. Grand gestures like these will create the legends of your culture that your staff will tell others about.
26. Launch an options scheme
Options schemes (we’re launching ours at the moment) have traditionally been used by startups to attract the talent they can’t afford to remunerate on salary alone. But every company can launch one, after all, why shouldn’t the people that help you achieve success share in the valuation increase they helped to create?
A lesser-known research paper from 2017 titled, ‘Retention Effects of Employee Stock Options: Evidence from Bunching at Vesting Dates’, found that ‘the retention benefits contribute greatly to the total benefit of options, which exceeds the granting cost by 95-275%.’ In other words, a company at least doubles its return on investment through an employee share plan in retention benefits alone.
✏️ Top tip: Be careful about timing any share scheme launch and vesting schedule as the same study also found that the quitting rates of participants double shortly after options fully vest. Essentially, some people will wait for their money and then jump ship.
27. “Force” staff sabbaticals
Work exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity. We all need regular breaks from work, and those who need it most are the least likely to take it. Insisting that your employees take their full vacation or sabbatical leave is not pleasant but is often required. Incentives drive behavior and behavior drives culture, so you should have strong incentives for employees to use their allowances – e.g. a bonus for taking their full holiday allocation.
28. Transform to a 4-day working week
When companies in Iceland piloted a 4-day working week, they reported it as an “overwhelming success”. Microsoft Japan also trialed it and reported a 40% increase in productivity. But does a 4-day working week improve staff retention? The real answer is “it depends”. Consulting firm Robert Half reports that two-thirds of workers want to work less than 5-days per week so assuming many of your employees feel the same way, it’s worth considering it as a trial. Workforce planning aside, moving some or all employees onto a lighter work schedule could be the competitive edge you need to keep people happy.
29. Help people start a “side-hustle”
Not everyone dreams of being an entrepreneur, but it’s important to recognize that people have interests, dreams, and ambitions outside the confines of your company. A side hustle is a project outside of work your employees do to help them satisfy their curiosity. It could be a startup, a hobby, or a passion project; side hustles should be encouraged and celebrated if you want to attract the best. Drinks manufacturer Innocent has a really cool, life after innocent webpage where they celebrate what their former employees have gone on to do. If you acknowledge the fact that your employees’ career possibilities involve starting a company when they’re good and ready, then they’re more likely to stay with you until they really are ready, rather than job hop for more transitory experiences beforehand.
30. Create a buddy system
Around 50% of all employees leave their jobs due to management issues and an astonishing 79% of Millennials believe that mentoring is crucial to their career success. Mentorships or buddy systems act as a support for employees who may otherwise feel the only person they can speak with is their manager. While a buddy does not replace a manager (in fact, far from it), they can be a superb additional resource for an employee to turn to.
31. Create a financial wellness program
Did you know that 67% of employees want more financial wellness support from their employers? Financial wellness involves ensuring your employees are financially secure and it requires two key components, financial education and the ability to deliver actionable insights.
✏️ Top tip: Ensuring employees get on the property ladder can really help with their financial stability. Standard Life’s Homebuyer Hub from Life Moments is a great example of what can be done by those prepared to go the extra mile to support their employees. Their “digital coach” provides data-driven personalized guidance for everything someone would need when buying their first home.
32. Create a “best-in-class” company competition
Rewarding people with status can be problematic as competition can contradict fairness (think “boiler room” style sales leaderboards), however, there are ways of celebrating those that win without demotivating those who don’t. Belron International has an incredible bi-annual event called the Best of Belron where their best technicians from each country compete with each other in a grueling global “best of” competition. Since employees from each country want their chosen technician to win the trophy, they all get behind their country representative further bonding interpersonal work relationships.
33. Push employees outside of their comfort zones
Most of us hate to make others feel uncomfortable, but we love the result of doing so: we make things better, we explore new possibilities, we feel fulfilled and we serve others more deeply. When people feel ever-so-slightly stretched at work, they’re more likely to remain engaged, but be careful, overstretching people will have the reverse effect.
34. Offer a thriving wage
People under the stress of scarcity have reduced willpower and, if left unchecked, scarcity will have catastrophic effects on company performance. The good news is, leaders have an opportunity to help prevent scarcity before it happens by paying a thriving wage. If the living wage is the amount of money a person needs to make to be able to cover their basic needs such as food and shelter, then a thriving wage is the amount of money a person needs to thrive. Typically a thriving wage includes money for hobbies, travel, and raising a family.
35. Make the day-to-day work more fun
Just because work is work, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. Rewards, no matter how small, tend to replenish willpower so giving them out often can create a distraction from repetitive or manually taxing work. Simple things such as bringing pets to work or wearing fancy dress can liven the mood and boost morale. We like the idea of dress-up Fridays as an antidote to the usual dress-down Fridays.
36. Surprise gifting
In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he finds that reciprocity is a key driving force behind influencing others. Your employees will therefore be less likely to leave your organization if you’ve given them something of value first. Knowing what to give someone is the tricky part, but in the main, people value experiences and items more than the monetary equivalent. Paying for someone to have a luxury meal or hotel stay will be far more memorable than a cash bonus of equivalent, or even greater value.
37. Regular check-ins
Real-time data forms the basis of our decisions in finance, marketing, product development, and more but when it comes to matters of staff retention (arguably our most important business metric) we tend to wait for an annual performance review to see how our employees are really doing. Regular check-ins with employees should be a coordinated effort throughout the whole organization to make sure our colleagues are happy and engaged. Using software can help, but with the wrong culture, all the software you can buy won’t help you.
38. Ask people how long they intend to stay
Sometimes people won’t want to be with you forever, and that’s ok. When calculating your employee turnover, it’s good to know which leavers were expected versus unexpected. If people are honest with you about wanting to leave it gives you an opportunity to address the reasons behind it. Getting that honesty from your employees is the tricky part, and it involves creating a culture where employees are not penalized for being candid, therefore we love this really simple idea from Buffer:
“Every two months we send out an anonymous survey to the entire team, primarily used to determine our team NPS (Net Promoter Score) score. In two past surveys, we decided to add in a question asking “How long do you plan to stay at Buffer?” The purpose here was to discover the self-reported number for how long we might expect people to stay at Buffer.”
39. Let people choose their own work hours
Everyone has their own preferred working schedule. Some may prefer to start their work super early in the morning so that they can take a break when their kids wake up. Others might prefer a lie-in in order to miss the rush hour traffic. Many companies are now letting people choose their own work hours. For example, global accounting firm PwC recently created a flexible talent network to give people the opportunity to work without being tied into standard working hours.
40. Insist on “Meeting-free Fridays”
Life over video calls has led to meeting inflation. But, in truth, most in-person meetings can be Zoom calls, most Zoom calls can be phone calls, and most phone calls can be emails.
To protect ourselves from pointless meetings at ThriveMap we created “meeting-free Fridays”. Why Friday? Well, work tends to snowball throughout the week leaving Fridays as a mad rush of deadlines and closing things off ahead of the weekend.
✏️ Top tip: If you want to try something similar in your business, don’t overthink it. Block out one day a week during which you won’t have any meetings, then stick to it. It’s best to do it on a team or company-wide basis as any miscommunication will lead to disappointment. You could even use Google Calendar’s out-of-office feature to automatically reject meeting requests on that day and ask people to book another time.
41. Give people meaning
I’m highly sceptical of corporations talking about purpose, but giving people meaning at work does make a difference for employee retention. Unlike purpose, meaning can be derived from anything at work. It’s up to you to decipher what gives each employee in your organization a sense of meaning and how to keep on giving it to them. It could be from doing a job well, from social interaction, from financial stability, or from helping others in little ways or large.
Your staff retention tells people a lot about the health of your company. Poor retention can be down to having a weak company culture, bad hiring practices, poor management, or misguided leadership and once it’s started it’s hard to stop. Hopefully, some of the tips in this article will help, but don’t forget that employees leaving is part of life.
Former CEO of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman’s Tour of Duty philosophy, explains that it helps if employers think of their relationship with their employees as being a tour of duty; some of those tours are longer than others, but as long as both sides are aware of what’s in it for each side they can leave having both achieved something. In game-theory, this is known as a positive-sum game.
And when people do leave, don’t take it personally. Celebrate it. Buy them a great leaving gift, throw them a party and thank them for everything they’ve done; you never know if they’ll be back again in the future.
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