Employee Retention Strategies You Need in Your Game Plan

9 min read
Nov 11, 2015

Optimized-iStock_000064690185_SmallThe average American will hold 11.3 jobs during their working years, which means it's more important than ever to reevaluate employee retention strategies. Your employees won’t stay at your company for years just because you offer free lunch or great health benefits.

Retention doesn’t just happen. It's something you constantly need to evaluate and tweak.Tweet: Retention doesn’t just happen. It's something you constantly need to evaluate and tweak. http://bit.ly/1RJfUIu via @TINYpulse

And the cost of losing a mid-level employee is as much as 150% of their annual salary, according to LinkedIn. Think about it: you have the costs of hiring a new person, onboarding that person, and losing productivity and engagement for that period of time. Not to mention all the knowledge and expertise you lose when a seasoned employee leaves.


Telltale Signs You Need to Update Your Employee Retention Tactics

If you worry about your employees sticking around, you need to make changes fast. There's no time to wait and see if employees actually start leaving — once they do, it will be even harder to recover. Here are three subtle signs that your employee retention strategy may be lacking:

1. Employees don’t care about the details

Employees who are the most passionate and engaged ask about the details. When an exciting project comes up, they'll ask many questions like “What little things do we need to accomplish to make this work?” or “Can I take on more responsibility to help complete this project?” They challenge themselves to think strategically and make the effort to go above and beyond. Employees who aren’t interested in your company for the long run aren’t going to push themselves and instead do the bare minimum to get by.

2. Lack of feedback from managers

Retention strategies aren’t only about making sure employees are happy and engaged. It’s also about ensuring active participation from managers. Employees want to learn new skills, hear feedback on their current work, and ask questions to experienced colleagues. If managers aren’t taking the time to develop their employees, they won’t feel valued and appreciated and will crave new opportunities where they can grow. 

3. Office camaraderie isn’t flourishing

Employees don’t need to be BFFs with their colleagues, but a healthy organizational culture is one where employees collaborate well and enjoy spending 40 hours a week together. Poor cultural fit is one of the most common reasons people leave. To set your strategy up for success, you need to reevaluate your interview process, making sure candidates talk with different colleagues and are asked thought-out questions. Improving retention starts at the beginning with making sure you bring on the right person.


Developmental Opportunities


When we asked people what they would consider the primary reason for leaving, we got some candid responses. Here are a few in their own words:

  • “If I felt like I stopped learning and growing as a professional. If that were to happen, I wouldn't be able to contribute anymore to the company outside of my current skill set. That doesn't help me or the company.”

  • “The primary reason I would leave would be for a better opportunity to grow my career.”

  • “I haven't been given a career growth path, or the steps to get there.”

Think your company might be at risk of losing some key staff to the same kinds of failures? If so, it might be time to think about what you’re doing in your organization to be clear with staff about the opportunities ahead of them. To help bridge the gap, consider these approaches:

  • Try holding one-on-one meetings to track weekly performance and assess skills they need to improve

  • In addition to weeklies, consider holding a separate one-on-one meeting each month specifically for discussing which projects are interesting/energizing to an employee

  • As part of these meetings, map out roles, expectations, and skills with your employee that can be developed over time to meet the person’s personal goals.

If you think all this is a hassle, remember: this is a win for both of you. An employee who knows there is progress to be made and a light to sail toward is one who will be more motivated to get there every single day. And teams full of happy, motivated people get higher customer service scores, higher job satisfaction ratings, and, on a personal note, are simply more fun to work with.


Recognition Is Tied to Retention

The question of employee recognition is a great riddle of organizations: do we cheer them on because they've done well already, or so that they'll do well later on? As it turns out, this question isn’t so vexing.



Pushy bosses and shaky situations, in other words, are far less motivating to workers than heartfelt appreciation. A few acts of appreciation can have a staggering effect on productivity. Now for the scary part, according to Globoforce:

  • 55% of workers say they would leave their current jobs for a company that clearly recognizes its employee efforts and contributions

  • 47% of employees cite a lack of recognition or a negative company culture as a reason for leaving their last employer

And according to our own data, just 21% of employees feel strongly valued in their workplace, and just one out of four feels fully recognized for doing great work.

The takeaway is clear: let your staff go unnoticed, and they won’t be a problem for you much longer. They’ll be packing up their desks and practicing their goodbye waves. Time to start paying attention. Your staff will appreciate it and stick around.


Encourage Work-Life Balance


In school, we had mandatory breaks: winter, spring, and summer. In the professional world, we’re given PTO and the choice to use it when we want. But some companies have created a culture that discourages time off. These companies risk driving employees to burnout, which leads to them leaving. Give your employees a break!

A study by the U.S. Travel Association uncovered the link between organizational culture and time off:

  • 32% of workers say their employer encourages taking PTO

  • 80% of workers say they’d take more PTO if their boss fully supported or encouraged them

Simply put, employees feel that their managers are their biggest obstacle when it comes to taking time off.

1. A guilty holiday

Take the holidays, for example — managers can instill a sense of guilt by not talking about vacations around that time of the year. Doing so leaves an unspoken implication that people shouldn’t be taking vacations. And employees don’t want to be the first one to raise their hand to ask for time off for fear of getting demoted or fired.

2. Happy productivity

When an employee is overworked, they become bitter about their job. Every task — and even just going to work in the morning — is full of resentment. However, a recent study showed that 35% of employees feel better about their job and are more productive after they come back from vacation.

3. Derail the burnout

Companies that push employees to constantly work overtime, then discourage time off, are actually pushing their employees to quit. This study proved that 88% of employees agree that taking time off gives them a much-needed opportunity to de-stress and avoid burnout. It’s understandable that big projects require extra attention and work. So why not reward employees by giving them the day off after they’ve completed the project?


Lock ‘Em Down With Perks

The answer is not locking employees down with intense contracts. Sure, a noncompete clause might seem nice, but it's tough to enforce. And c’mon, do you really want to be waving a stick when you could be dangling a carrot instead? After all, even if you get them to stay, unhappy employees are less engaged, less effective, and can pollute your work environment. How do you get them to want to stay?

1. Paternity leave

We all know about maternity leave, but what about paternity leave? It’s still rare in the US, and it sure isn’t expected. Consider what a trailblazer you’ll look like if it’s part of your regular employee benefits plan.

2. Unliminated PTO

The nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past. Your employees are checking in on weeknights and weekends, and they’re probably even checking in during family time too. Proscriptive vacation days ignore this fact. Do away with set vacation days and trust your employees to take vacation when they need it. You get to stop keeping track of everyone’s vacation days and also show that you trust your employees to plan their own schedules.

3. On-site day care

Does your company employ a lot of parents? Then they’ll love on-site day care. They’ll get incredible peace of mind knowing their children have a safe place to play and learn, and you won’t have to worry about losing them to stay-at-home decisions.

4. Free snacks

Yes, your employees can feed themselves. But if you make it a little easier to work through lunch or stick around a little later in the day to finish up a project, isn’t that worth it? A weekly grocery run isn’t a major operating expense when you consider that an army marches on its stomach.

5. Monthly bus passes

It’s not a big expense, but it’s appreciated. And when you consider that bus passes (or train passes) can usually be used during the evenings and weekends, your employees will appreciate you every time they swipe their card.


The Exit Interview

As a manager, how great would it be if you could peek into your employee’s window of reality and really understand why they're quitting? You definitely can, and it’s called an exit interview.

In the midst of someone quitting, how do you ensure that both parties have a comfortable, effective interview that will ultimately help you with retention? Here are three things to consider:

1. Enlist the help of a third party

Employees are 100% more likely to be honest and candid with their feelings with a neutral third party. Can you imagine telling your boss you’re quitting, and then having to tell him all the things you disliked about the organization and your job? You probably wouldn’t paint the whole picture. Same goes with your employees — make sure they feel comfortable and trust the person who conducts the interview to ensure honest, actionable answers.

2. Ask the right questions

Many departing employees don’t want to throw their colleagues or managers under the bus, even if they were the reason they quit. So, keep their probable reluctance for criticism in mind. Ask questions like, “Why did you start looking for a new job?” and “What is your new employer giving you that you did not get from us?” rather than “Why are you quitting?”

3. Keep track of all responses

Conduct the same exit interview each time an employee leaves. Over time, keep a record of what people say. Once you identify patterns and find out why employees leave, you can decide if you need to change practices and policies to improve employee retention.

It’s never easy when an employee quits. You are scrambling to reallocate workload and find a replacement, and the employee is dealing with all their last-minute projects and training other colleagues.

But it’s imperative that you take the time to conduct an exit interview. The departing employee will appreciate voicing concerns and having closure, and you will gain important information that will help you save money and improve employee retention in the long run.

No one leaves a sign on the office door to tell you when it happens. There’s no note at your desk to notify you the moment your favorite employee realizes that their job has become a dead end. Most often, you don’t find out until their resignation letter hits your desk. Do you really need to ask what went wrong?


Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.



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