A Toolkit for Retaining Great Employees

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Are you giving your best employees good reasons to stay at your organization? Retaining employees comes down to giving great employees a good reason to stay at your workplace over and over again, especially when they have another opportunity on the table.

Over the years, ERC has conducted a large amount of research on what makes great talent stay at their organizations and has found that retention typically boils down to four (4) key factors: relationship with the manager, challenging work/learning opportunities, a great work environment, and compensation/rewards. Based on these factors, we've developed a toolkit of checklists to help you retain great employees.

1. Relationship with the Manager

Problems with one's manager is the leading reason employees seek employment elsewhere. Direct managers have the greatest influence on employees' satisfaction with their job, as employees view their work environment through the experience they have with their manager. When employees are satisfied with their manager, they tend to view their organization more positively, and are less likely to leave. Here's a checklist for managers to better retain employees:

  • Be selfless. Serve your employees first, rather than your own objectives and agenda.
  • Ask for, listen to, and follow-up on your employees’ concerns and input.
  • Recognize employees' successes and achievements.
  • Balance praise and criticism. Always praise more than criticize.
  • Accept mistakes as learning opportunities and use them as an opportunity to redirect and coach. Don't blame your employees when things go wrong.
  • Be fair and don't show favoritism towards certain employees.
  • Give credit for ideas and accomplishments.
  • Build trust and confidence by keeping promises, being honest, and not betraying your employees.
  • Share everything you know freely. Don't withhold information.
  • Set realistic goals and deadlines.
  • Support employees in their work/life and be flexible to their needs.
  • Help strong performers learn and grow in their careers. Don’t hold them back. Genuinely show that you care about their success.
  • Manage with the appropriate amount of direction and autonomy.
  • Avoid disrespectful behavior like rudeness, intimidation, embarrassment, and bullying.

2. Challenging Work/Learning Opportunities

Naturally, employees want to work for employers that nurture growth and progress in their jobs and careers. Interesting, challenging, and meaningful work is another reason employees either stay or leave their organizations. Employees leave jobs when they aren't challenged, no longer find their work interesting or fulfilling, or have opportunities to do more challenging/meaningful work or learn more elsewhere.

Keeping all of the strategic and challenging assignments at the top of the organization won't serve you well when it comes to retaining good employees who want to contribute more. Organizations that want to retain great employees provide ongoing opportunities for learning, challenge, and growth to all employees, including non-management staff. Here is a checklist of ways to provide employees with new challenges and learning opportunities:

  • Offer new responsibilities and job tasks, including stretch assignments and opportunities outside of their regular job duties.
  • Provide assignments aligned with strategic or departmental goals.
  • Involve employees in discussions and decision-making.
  • Institute coaching or mentoring relationships for employees with senior leaders.
  • Provide cross-training and job rotations in other divisions, departments, and roles.
  • Include employees in the development of new products and services.
  • Assign employees to global initiatives or travel opportunities.
  • Use employees as teachers, trainers, and facilitators for internal training.
  • Have employees lead and launch new initiatives, programs, committees, and teams.
  • Allow employees to be formal or informal mentors to new and existing employees.
  • Offer training and learning opportunities such as attending off-site workshops, programs, and conferences.
  • Have employees lead, manage, and/or participate in new technology design and implementation.
  • Offer short-term assignments in other divisions or departments.
  • Offer internal career opportunities and promotions. Seek internal employees first for open positions.

3. A Great Work Environment

One of the main reasons that good employees stay at their organizations is the work environment and organizational culture. It's hard for any employee to leave a work environment that is collegial, supportive, and enjoyable.

Factors affecting employees' perceptions of their work environment include how cohesive and collaborative their relationships are with their coworkers, the extent to which the organization is flexible and supportive of their personal and family obligations, whether the organization shows they appreciate and value employees, and how enjoyable and uplifting day-to-day work is at the organization. Here is a list of strategies to create a work environment that retains employees:

  • Make culture an obsession. Assess it often and constantly seek to improve it.
  • Ask for employee feedback regularly regarding your workplace.
  • Give employees a voice in decision-making to improve the organization.
  • Offer rewards and recognition programs to recognize employees.
  • Celebrate success. Implement employee appreciation activities and events.
  • Implement flexible and supportive work scheduling policies and programs.
  • Create a fun, enjoyable work atmosphere.
  • Make upgrades to the work environment (look and feel of the office, work and common areas, etc.).
  • Do team-building.

4. Compensation/Rewards

Last but not least, at times employees leave organizations for better compensation. No matter how good the work environment is, sometimes you may lose employees to a more enticing offer or package of rewards.

Compensation usually becomes a retention issue when employees do not think they are paid fairly in comparison to employees in similar jobs at other organizations or in comparison to their contributions in your organization, when they do not have opportunities to improve their compensation (bonuses, raises, etc.), or when they are not paid enough to meet their basic personal needs. Sometimes, they are also given offers that are too good to resist.

For these reasons, organizations must consider compensation and rewards as part of their retention strategy and make sure they...

  • Benchmark compensation practices with external practices by using salary surveys and market data.
  • Conduct internal compensation comparisons to make sure differences in compensation for employees in the same or similar jobs can be fairly justified.
  • Use a method of job evaluation to evaluate jobs for internal equity - their internal value/importance to the organization.
  • Provide regular pay increases every year that match or exceed the average increase in the market.
  • Give employees opportunities to earn more pay based on their performance, such as a bonus or profit-sharing program.
  • Offer rewards and perks of interest to your employees.  

Make these four areas a priority and do these things well and your organization will succeed in giving employees every reason and more to stay at your organization and thrive.

Additional Resources

Training & Development
ERC offers a number of courses designed to help your leaders and managers retain their employees, including critical soft skills as well as supervisory and management topics including change management, team-building, empowerment, respect, motivating employees, and more.  

Compensation Resources
ERC provides the most valuable salary, compensation, wage and benefits survey data locally, regionally and nationally. 

Employee Engagement
Research shows that high employee engagement leads to increased retention, productivity and business success. ERC's Employee Engagement Survey service assesses employees' level of engagement, identifies the drivers of engagement at your organization, and provides recommendations on practical steps your organization can take to improve employee engagement.