Best Practices


There is an abundance of data showing that unemployment in the United States is approaching an all-time low, and the number of employees leaving jobs voluntarily has been on the rise for some time. This is a perfect time to reflect on how your company is doing with retention of valuable employees.
The first thing to do is review the data on employee retention for your own company. What is the annual percentage of employee turnover, and how has this been trending over time? If you cant access this data, set up a system to do so. Get a sense of why those valuable employees are leaving and use a Pareto chart to determine the key causes. In my experience, there are two main causes of regretted employee departures: unhappiness with the supervisor, and lack of career opportunities. Lets discuss some strategies for addressing these issues.
Being a supervisor is a little bit like being a parent in that you want the responsibility and you eventually achieve it, then you realize you really havent been trained for the job! Recognize this and put in place a good supervisor training program that incorporates best practices from the human resources community, along with aspects that are key to your company values, culture and mission. Such a program can be great for establishing peer relationships among new supervisors as well as reinforcing the availability of key resources in management, human resources and legal counsel that may be needed along the way.
If you are a manager of managers, you should try to get a sense of how your employees are as supervisors. You can do this through anonymous surveys and by occasionally touching base with people at all levels throughout your organization. You may want to discuss with the managers who work for you how they are recognizing employees in their organizations. Look carefully at how they implement human resource-related programs, how they treat people at meetings and how they delegate responsibility.
It is also important for you as a manager to demonstrate that treating people with dignity and respect is a key value; if you dont do this, those in your organization wont do it either. You may also want to consider whether your company has sufficiently flexible working arrangements. Supervisors may be reluctant to be flexible with respect to employee personal situations such as family illness, kids concerts or sporting events, or adjustable work hours, and they may be looking for flexible company policies to support them.
It may be harder to deal with the other significant cause of employees leaving your company, and that is the perceived lack of career opportunity. This may be especially difficult if your company is small or has a flat structure in which each employee can expect to stay in their job or at the same level for a long period of time. If this is the case, I would look to the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose. According to the work of Daniel Pink, these principles are key motivational influences for people.
Be sure you are giving your employees increasing autonomy in their jobs as their skills and competency grow over time. Allow them to become recognized experts in their field. This recognition can be both internal and external, and will become a source of pride for the individual, their family and the company. Provide opportunities for people to obtain external skills training and use it on the job.
With regard to purpose, try to tap into the desire that people have to contribute to something important. Perhaps your company already contributes to some higher purpose such as improving the environment through promotion of fuel economy lubricants or additives. You may want to look into establishing a program that gives back to society. Here, I would look for inspiration to companies like Warby Parker, an eyeglass company that gives a free pair of eyeglasses to someone in need for every pair that is purchased, or Toms, which does something similar with shoes.
Of course, you can and should tap into your employees desire to make your company more successful. Be sure to inform employees on a regular basis how the company is doing with regard to safety, customer satisfaction, revenue and profitability. If your companys products are involved in high-profile ad campaigns or used in motor races or other promotional activities, be sure your employees are aware and informed. Perhaps you are a larger company with a wealth of career options for employees. In such situations, strive to help employees navigate what may be a confusing array of options. Be sure that your supervisors and human resources departments are sufficiently equipped to help employees match their skills and desires to the companys needs, creating maximum advantage for both.
There are a few other stressors that may result in employee departures and dissatisfaction that are worth addressing here. I suggest being especially watchful of employees going through personal transitions such as maternity, divorce and family illness. It is in such situations that a company can show the employee caring through empathy and flexibility and win longer-term allegiance and motivation. If, on the other hand, such situations are dealt with in a heavy-handed or cold manner, you may keep the employee in body but not in spirit.
If your company has multiple locations, be careful to understand employee receptivity to geographic moves before proceeding to offer that employee the perfect opportunity in another location. People, and especially the millennial generation, may be less likely to want to relocate, even for advancement. I would also suggest being as honest as possible with people about their promotional chances. If people are not qualified or competitive for the jobs to which they are aspiring, your company will be better off in the long term if those folks understand this early on and make their decisions accordingly.
If you improve the skills of your management team, help employees develop their careers, inspire them with a higher purpose and remain mindful of transitions, you may improve your retention of valuable employees even in a tight job market.
Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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