Every business is different with varied goals, approaches, and strategies but one thing everyone can agree on is the importance of employee retention. When it comes to retaining your top talent, everyone has skin in the game. So how exactly can you keep those stellar people in their seats longer? Employee turnover is a fact of being in business, it's true, but that's not to say there's aren't steps you can take to help your staff stay satisfied at work. Whether you're talking about new employees joining the team or older ones headed for retirement, ensuring your employees are happy and engaged at work can go a long ways towards keeping that turnover rate low.
How long are people staying in a role?
The average North American job tenure statistics can be hard to come by, but in general, people stay in their roles for about 4.6 years right now. That’s per the Bureau of Labor Statistics and related more to the U.S., with Canada a bit on the lower end. Obviously, different generations are in different stages of their careers, and that impacts turnover as well -- Millennial job tenure is shorter (about three years on average) than older workers how tend to stay in their positions longer, especially those close to retirement. Three years is a scant 36 months, and while every employee is different, typically it takes anywhere from 6-9 months to fully understand the processes of an organization and start excelling there. In the case of a millennial, the first 25% of their time with you might be just getting up to speed!
Doesn't turnover happen to everyone?
Why do you need to worry about something facing all business, right? Well it's true. No business, no matter how great their work environment, is immune to employee turnover. It would be impossible to imagine a world with 100% retention and that should never be a goal. But shrugging and saying everyone experiences the problem won't help you grow your business to the next level. A better approach is to examine your own numbers and try to understand why turnover happens and the impact that revolving door will have on your company. Employees will always have personal, professional, or family needs that might cause them to jump jobs and realistically you won't always be able to put strategies in place to address all of those issues, though sometimes you can. A single parent who can't manage a school drop off schedule without missing their start time at work could benefit from a flexible work schedule, for example. When simple accommodations can correct large problems everyone wins because the cost of turnover is high. Without a doubt, turnover impacts the bottom line. But that's not the only drawback. On the intangible side of things, turnover is linked to a large loss of internal knowledge. It also impacts employee engagement, company culture, and can make current employees consider their own exit. So while turnover happens to everyone, you want to do everything you can to decrease the amount it happens to you.
What about the “A-Player” problem?
Often one of the key problems with turnover is it happens to your best employees. Those star "A-players" that you can't imagine life without until they head for the door. Why is it those great people tend to be restless? Turns out, it's probably not them. Research by a team from Duke University, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado in 2015 found that managers underestimate how much time it takes to get something done and assign more work to those who are seen as more competent and responsible. So the only reward for doing good work is the addition of more work. High-performers reported feeling “burdened” and were unhappy about others’ over-reliance on them. Assigning work to others on the team can help prevent burnout and turnover. It also provides much-needed learning opportunities for others on the team.
Unfortunately, many organizations tend to heap work on their best performers. What happens when your best performers burn out? They want to leave. And what happens when your best performers leave? Now you lack top performers. How’s that a good competitive strategy? Especially since you're likely going to get caught in the same cycle with whomever you hire to replace your burned out employee.
There’s also the issue of “absentee managers,” who can drive turnover in all types of performers. Absentee managers are just what the name implies: they don’t seem to care about the people who work for them, and are typically not available to them throughout the work week. Absentee managers have been called “the silent killer of companies” because they skyrocket turnover. Who wants to work for someone who theoretically controls your career path, but never seems to speak to you?
How do you retain more employees?
It all boils down to this one question. When it comes to employee retention strategies, what should you be doing to try and protect your turnover rate? Here are a few ideas to start with.
- Allow them to work on new projects more frequently: This will delay restlessness and boredom and foster ongoing development as they learn new skills to tackle new challenges.
- Show employees you trust them: The key to retaining employees is creating a generally-positive work environment where they’re happy to come in every day. You can do that by boosting their oxytocin levels, which often happens right when you give them more control over their work. Employees who feel trusted are more likely to speak up, take more chances, and stick around longer.
- Compensate fairly: This is often avoided in these discussions, but paying fairly in-market (geographically) or above market can be a boon for retention. Yes, there are other strategies you can try but if your salary isn't competitive or doesn't allow your employees to maintain a good lifestyle then there's little incentive for them to stay.
- Train managers better: This is a heady topic because many organizations do not train managers very well, but training them on conversations, check-ins on a regular basis, asking about things other than just task work, and more can be helpful to create better manager-employee bonds. Many employees quit because of their manager, not because of the company itself. If you strengthen the managerial-employee bond, you can reduce turnover.
- And in that vein… Assessments are a huge factor in retention: This connection isn’t always clear because assessments typically happen pre-hire and turnover happens 3.2 years post-hire. But if you know what type of people work within your culture, and what types of employees might be best fits with specific managers, you can cut some of these bigger turnover issues off at the pass.
Turnover is natural, yes. It will happen. If a top performer has four children or a mother with health issues, they may need something from their career that you can no longer give them. But just because it’s going to happen doesn’t mean you should avoid the topic. Engage your employees, let them be autonomous, and teach your managers to work with them directly more, not saving interactions for project management tools or HR suites. Then use the power of assessments to better determine fit, which continues to help you down the line. 100% retention won’t happen, but if you focus on the people, their needs, and how good a match they are for their roles you can get a lot closer to retaining your staff long term.