Street sign saying staff turnover and parking
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Employee retention is a huge issue for enterprise businesses, especially those in the tech sector, which typically has high turnover rates. Employee turnover cost $600 billion dollars in 2018, and according to data from Paycor, it’s expected to cost businesses $680 billion this year.

Employee retention starts with the recruiting process, beginning with the application, screening the applicants, right down to selecting interviewees and preboarding. The benefits of employee retention include increased performance and productivity, better employee morale, improved work quality, a higher level of employee satisfaction, an improved employee journey and an increase in ROI.

Conversely, the price of having to replace an employee includes recruitment costs, training, lower productivity, and a lower level of customer satisfaction. In this article we’re going to tell you how you can improve your employee recruiting practices, and increase the retention of employees in your business.

Why Focus on Employee Recruiting?

Hiring the right employees obviously has an effect on employee retention, so the recruiting process needs to focus on attracting employees who are the right fit for the job. Benjamin Granger, senior principal at Qualtric’s XM Institute and an Employee Experience and Customer Experience evangelist, stated that to him, the recruitment process is “more important than it has ever been — and that trend will likely continue.” Granger believes that consistency is vital to recruitment, saying that, “Building consistency into their talent acquisition processes — consistency in the messaging, stated values, and technology across the candidate, employee and consumer experience.”

There are several keys to the recruitment process that will enable HR to land the appropriate employees.

Provide a realistic job preview to prospective employees — that is, lay out what will be expected from them, what their role will be in the business, and the tools you will provide them with so that they can effectively do their job. Be transparent when you are detailing the tasks that are required for the job. Include the good parts, but don’t omit the drudgery that will also be a part of the employee journey.

By looking at the resumes of the job candidates, you can clearly see if they have longevity with their previous employers. If they have gone from job to job, how is the job they are applying for going to be different? Whenever possible, try to hire a candidate that has shown that they are not looking for temporary work, that they have the ability to stick with the job they are doing.

Lyndsay Toensing, MBA, WPCC, author, transformational leadership coach, believes that employee retention is most pronounced when managers know, "how to put employees in the right roles and give them the right projects to keep them engaged, productive and wanting to work for the company and the manager." She firmly believes that employee retention is not a one size fits all approach.

Right from the start, tell the candidate the value and purpose of your organization, how it will benefit them, and even more importantly, how the business plays a meaningful role in society and improves the lives of others. By allowing them to perform a role that has meaning, it will provide an ongoing sense of satisfaction that they are not just showing up each day to make money, but rather, they are playing a role in doing something meaningful with their lives. Money, benefits and perks are important, but job satisfaction, especially for millennials and Gen-Z workers, is even more important, and plays a large role in retainability for a business. Granger believes that “generational tags are an oversimplified way to segment and characterize employees” but that “employee segmentation is very helpful.” He continues by stating that businesses should be “setting and communicating a compelling mission and strategy for the company and then explicitly aligning the work of employees to the mission of the organization.”

The recruitment process should allow prospective employees to fully inform you of the talents they are offering your business. Granger speaks about the quality of fairness, and how it needs to be a part of the hiring process, “In other words, make sure that applications, interviews and assessments give candidates an opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills, explaining the relevance of each step in the hiring process to the job they are applying for, and, of course, avoiding bias and adverse impact of processes.”

Many businesses are incorporating design thinking, which is all about empathy and seeing employees as fellow human beings — rather than workers, into the employee recruiting process. Coonoor Behal, UX/CX and Design Thinking expert, founder and CEO of Mindhatch, said that design thinking is an expression of the culture of a business that should be present right from the start of the employee experience, built into the recruiting process. She says leaders should put themselves in the position of the employee who is being interviewed for the job, and focus on how they are made to feel. She imagines the scenario going something like this. “I'm applying to your company. One of the first touch points in my recruiting process is human centered. And I feel like a person. You know, I'm going to want to work at your company. And it's gonna be kind of a ruler, a symbol of what it's like working at that company.”

Behal says that a business needs to embrace the idea of design thinking as a part of its culture, because “design thinking is at heart like a culture play.” She believes that if it’s genuinely a part of the culture, employees will embrace it, but it must be real. “It's going to fall on its face if you don't walk the walk,“ she emphasized. “The cultural changes that come if you embrace and reward a desired way of thinking amongst your employees is going to create greater retention amongst those employees.“

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Is Critical to Business Success

Encourage a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

There is still an inherent bias present in hiring practices. Asked about how the hiring practices should be framed, Josh Miller, technology director for the IT training and placement agency i.c.stars, stated that he believes it should be, “A recruitment process aligning the organizations’ values/mission/vision with employees’ aptitude, ambition, motivation, and drive.”

He shared that, “the effort required to transform a series of checkboxes and database filters to one that focuses on aptitude, ambition, motivation, and drive requires strong leadership from management as well as a sense of ownership and buy-in from the front-line employees tasked with implementation.“ Studies from Cornell University have shown that high turnover costs “can be significantly reduced when leaders develop a high overall level of inclusiveness in their relationships with group members.” Additionally, employees who are able to see diversity in their business leaders are more likely to stay with the business.

While many businesses are actively embracing diversity in their workplace, they are failing to recognize the value of inclusion, and what it means to be inclusive. An inclusive workplace is one that allows and encourages people to be who they are, to share their unique talents and points of view, and helps them to feel appreciated and supported not in spite of their differences, but because of them.

Inclusivity creates a feeling of belonging in employees, encourages employees to be able to be comfortable being their true selves, and fosters a culture of open communication. It may seem cliche, but each of us really is a special snowflake. Encouraging inclusivity and a sense of individuality in employees has been shown to increase greater retention, and less turnover.

Related Article: Where Technology Fits in the Employee Experience

Encourage and Listen to Employee Feedback

The key here isn’t to just obtain employee feedback, rather, it’s to actively listen to what they are saying. Actively listening to the feedback employees provide, and making positive changes as a result of that feedback lets employees know that their point of view is valid, and that leadership takes it seriously. It can impart a sense of respect and trust that is otherwise difficult to achieve.

The other part of this is to actively encourage employees to provide feedback. Provide surveys, polls, focus groups, workshops, and questionnaires, and make it a point to personally talk to your employees. Ask them how they feel about the workplace. What could be done to improve the tasks they perform? Is there anything they need in order to be a more effective, productive employee? What could be done to create more of a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction? Toensing suggests that leaders should, “listen to your people. Get curious about them and their ideas. No matter how much experience you have I promise you will learn something new from your employees if you give them the chance. Gone are the days of ‘I am the manager and you do what I tell you to do.’”

Sit back and listen to what your employees have to say. Take notes. And then create an action plan based on what you hear, and implement the plan. Get all the team or department leads together and go over the feedback you have received. Ensure that all employees feel that they have a say about the business, that they are a vital part of the enterprise, not just another tool in the corporate toolbox. Encourage and create a culture of listening in the workplace. There is nothing worse than asking for feedback or suggestions, and then blowing them off as irrelevant.

Once an employee’s basic needs are met, other factors come into play when it comes to loyalty to the company and job retention. As Granger put it, “as an employee, I need to have the equipment and direction to get my work done and I need to be paid fairly and I need to feel safe when I come to work. Once those are in place, then the [other] critical factors start to really matter.”

Ongoing Training Is Essential

Employees want to be able to successfully and productively accomplish their jobs, but that requires the tools that are essential not only to get the job done, but to update their skills. We’re not talking about hammers and nails here, we’re talking about a continued education program, that is, ongoing training. When asked about ongoing training and how it relates to employee retention, Granger said it is, “Hugely important. In fact, in our most recent global engagement trends report, ‘opportunities for learning and development’ was the most impactful driver of ‘intentions to stay’ with the company.”

Keep in mind that employees often don’t have extra time for additional training, and their lunch time or break time is just that — their time. Find time to allow training classes during work hours, but don’t assume that employees can take a 4-hour class and then keep up with their normal task schedule. Take a clue from YouTube and TikTok — short, incremental classes, 30 minutes or less, are very effective, and allow employees to fit them into their schedule without causing a backlog of work that needs to be caught up on.

And remember that providing an employee with a means of progression within the company is vital. As Granger put it, “‘career progression’ and development doesn’t just mean formal career paths and progression. When we run organizational surveys, what we often hear is that employees are interested in things like stretch projects with other groups/ departments, lateral moves, working on special project teams, etc. It could also be specific training on areas that they are interested in improving such as their public speaking skills, their proficiency with certain applications, etc.”

Mentorship Key To Retention

Many businesses provide onboarding to new employees — that is, they provide training that enables new employees to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to perform the job for which they were hired — but rarely is onboarding continued after the first week they are hired. A culture of mentorship can be cultivated that can provide ongoing training, encouragement and growth throughout the employee journey. Mentorship provides employees with the knowledge that they are being invested in and supported. It’s a vital element of employee retention, or as Granger states, “the third most important driver [in the study on employee retention] was having a manager who supports the employee in career development.” Toensing agrees, and says that this applies to leaders as well, “Organizations need to invest in the development and on-going education of their leadership teams at every level.”

Mentorship is also about social interaction and bonding. Creating a strong organizational identification that is part of an employee’s social identity not only increases their self‐esteem, but helps them create tighter bonds with their fellow employees, and makes them feel that they are part of an exclusive team, one that they are not willing to leave.

Having a mentor from their first day on the job, someone they can go to who is not a boss that they can ask questions about the job, encourages the employee to feel connected, and less intimidated at the thought of a new job, with new tasks and challenges. As they grow within their role in the company, they in turn become mentors to others, continuing what becomes a positive cycle of growth and inclusion.

Provide Positive Reinforcement for Retention

Everyone likes to be recognized for their contributions and loyalty. It’s important to explicitly link rewards to retention. By providing additional vacation time to seniority, offering retention bonuses, linking benefit plan payouts such as stock options to employees who have been with the company for a predetermined number of years, leadership is able to encourage loyalty and retention in the business.

This isn’t just about ROI. It’s about employees as human beings, our fellow compatriots in the struggle to earn a living, to gain a sense of self-importance, to feel like what they do means something, and that they make a difference. As Toensing emphasizes, “They [employees] are humans, not just another line item on the balance sheet.” The difference between a happy, inspired, empowered, and satisfied employee and a disgruntled, unhappy and underappreciated employee is that a happy employee is part of a team that they can be proud of, can support, and are loyal to. Their happiness is contingent on the success of the well-functioning machine that they are a part of. An unhappy employee is one that does not feel themselves to be a part of the team. They feel discouraged, unrecognized, unenthusiastic and are ready to move on — or far worse, to prevent the machine from working at all.

As business leaders, we are the ones who oil the machine, who refine its processes and fix any issues that may arise that prevents it from functioning at an optimum level. Your employees are not merely cogs in that machine, but rather, are partners who also appreciate what a fine machine it is that they are a part of. Positive reinforcement can be a kind word of appreciation, a word of praise at the weekly meeting, an extra paid day off this month, and for longer term employees, recognition of their loyalty to the company through promotions, additional vacation, stock options, and even special perks for 1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 years with the company such as a new whiz-bang laptop, a 7-day cruise, or even a week at a condo on the beach.

The point is that by recognizing your employee’s achievements and longevity with the company, you will have legitimized their feeling of being a part of something they can be proud of, enhanced their sense of self-worth and job satisfaction, while providing other employees with additional reinforcement as well.

Encourage Collaboration and Open Communication

We have discussed how active listening is as important as encouraging feedback from employees, as is taking action based on that feedback. What it comes down to is having an open pipeline for communication with employees. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the effective and timely communication of company priorities and goals and employee satisfaction. It's vital that employees feel aligned with their company’s overall vision, their operating principles and core values.

This ties in with cross-team collaboration, as well as the feeling of having open access to talk with the leadership in a business. Very often there are many different departments within a business: advertising, design, development, sales, HR, editorial and of course, leadership. Typically the goals of each department are different — but they should all be part of the overall team, one whose goal is to, together, create a productive, well-functioning, profitable business. This requires transparency, and open communication and collaboration between teams. This can involve weekly and monthly meetings, the use of collaboration and project management software, ongoing mentorship, continued learning, and one-on-one discussions. As Toensing says, open communication is essential. “If you want rumors, turmoil on teams and high employee turnover, don’t have open communication.”

An open and collaborative communication policy, including a clearly defined path to career progression, affects an employee’s sense of workplace satisfaction. Employees who feel that they contribute to the company’s business strategy are much more inclined to be aligned with the company’s goals, and are much less inclined to leave the company even for higher salaries, better perks or other incentives. 

Conclusion

The leaders in a business are in a position to take the steps required to greatly enhance employee retention rates. The actionable insights we have discussed in this article include:

  • Encouraging diversity and inclusion
  • Encouraging and actively listening to employee feedback
  • Providing ongoing training
  • Creating a culture of mentorship
  • Providing positive reinforcement
  • Encouraging collaboration and open communication

By focusing on the employee journey, and playing an active role in creating a positive workplace culture that begins with the recruitment process, enterprise leadership is better able to retain the employees that they have worked so hard to gain.