Most business professionals would agree that talented employees are the most valuable corporate asset.
But Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” says finding those people is only half of the equation.
“Retaining the best and brightest is what ultimately matters,” she says. “The most innovative and successful companies today have figured that out. They have taken retention efforts to an advanced level.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humour Advantage, agrees. He says “finding top talent is a costly and time-consuming enterprise to begin with, so holding on to them for dear life has to be a priority.”
He continues: “And then there’s the added downside associated with your top talent leaving to work for your competitors, and the impact on the remaining employees and team dynamics every time a person leaves. Every second spent recruiting, hiring, training, and developing new employees is time taken away from your core business.”
You also have to worry about prospective vendors, investors, and shareholders, who typically inquire about turnover rates and gauge this as a barometer of corporate health, says Taylor. And don’t forget about your own reputation.
“In the best companies today, managers are increasingly evaluated in terms of how well they hire and retain great talent,” she explains. “If you can stay mindful of whether you’re the type of manager you’d want to report to, you’ll likely keep your team engaged and committed.”
Here are 35 things you can do to keep your best employees from jumping ship:
Show respect for your employees
This is one of the most critical factors in keeping your best talent, says Taylor.
'When you treat your team professionally and with dignity, they have a reason to deliver their best work. This practice also engenders respect for you as a manager, so it's self-perpetuating.'
Even when employees love the work itself and are well paid, if they feel disrespected, they won't stay committed for long. 'Stripped of dignity, people not will only leave, they may seek revenge in their own way, subtle or not,' she adds.
Assuming you've done your job hiring and training your employees and that you've given them the tools and the direction to do their job properly, then the single biggest thing any boss can do is get out of their employees' way and stop distracting or de-motivating them, says Kerr.
'Ask them not just what their 'on switches' are but also what turns them off at work. Office politics, onerous bureaucracy, and micromanaging managers are just a few of the factors that will get in the way of your top performers staying engaged.'
Being empathetic, supportive, friendly, respectful, and courteous are some of the ingredients of a high EQ, Taylor explains.
'The fastest growth companies in America place emphasis on having 'people smarts.' You can have the best technical skills on the planet, but if you condone an insensitive, disruptive, or self-centered work culture, be prepared for a revolving door. While you don't need to be fully aware of your employees' personal lives, showing you care as a fellow human being will go a long way towards keeping your talent under your roof.'
Ask them, 'What can we do to make you happy/make you want to stay here?'
Be proactive and hold real conversations around what's working and what's not working for employees on a regular basis, Kerr suggests. Ask them what you or the company can do to keep them feeling excited about coming to work every day.
Be real. Be transparent. Be honest.
'It's the trait you valued most when hiring each member of your team; why would they expect less from you? When there's negative news, your employees would rather get the ugly truth than cover-ups,' Taylor says.
When your employees understand what it takes to succeed, and those goals are constant -- without surprises -- you'll see optimal productivity, says Taylor. 'When the rules change, become confusing or unfair, you lose support.'
Give them as much autonomy and creative freedom as possible
'Talented employees thrive best when left alone and are allowed the creative freedom to pursue new ideas, which is another reason to be careful about micromanaging employees and a reason some organisations allow employees a certain percentage of work time to follow their own passions as it relates to their work,' Kerr explains.
'Your employees want to be appreciated for their contributions; thanking them for a job well done is core to anyone's feeling of value at any level,' says Taylor. 'When you publicly recognise staff members or departments, you also build loyalty.'
The praise you offer should be objective, however, and never manipulative, or it will backfire. For example, if used to pit one group over another, given robotically, or in the same way every time, it will be counterproductive.
'When you ask employees for their input it sends the message, 'We do pay you to think around here' and it demonstrates that you respect their wisdom, experience, and judgment,' Kerr says.
'In fact, it's the simplest form of employee recognition there is, and yet the one that too many managers fail to do. And considering that one of the top reasons employees say they leave an organisation is because they felt unappreciated, it's a simple, yet effective, way to demonstrate appreciation -- as long as you are sincere about it.'
Do something with those ideas
Don't just ask for their input, he says. 'Go a step further and implement their ideas.'
When an employee sees they can affect real change at work, it is one of the most powerfully motivating things there is.
Everyone in life wants to be heard, and the office is no exception.
'Even acknowledging a person's statements or perspective is an important way to keep your team engaged -- despite whether you agree with them,' says Taylor. 'Even more effective is mirroring back what you're told -- it says that you are giving the conversation your undivided attention.'
Employees are often on the front lines with customers, vendors, and other resources that you won't have access to on a daily basis. So you're not just being polite, says Taylor. 'Gathering their insight could ultimately become a game changer for your company.'
Do you offer fair compensation, based on clearly stated goals? Are there monetary incentives to make a difference, such as bonuses, that reflect above-and-beyond achievement?
To retain your best people, demonstrate your satisfaction with their work through competitive salaries that at least match industry norms, Taylor advises.
Connect them to a greater sense of purpose
'According to a 2013 international Mercer survey, a sense of purpose at work is one of the top motivational influences for employees,' Kerr points out.
'A good boss needs to create, communicate, and celebrate a sense of purpose at work. They need to connect the dots for employees between their work and purpose to remind them why their work matters and they need to include employees in bigger picture discussions so they feel connected to the overall performance and success of the business.'
If you don't feel like you are making any progress at work, it begins to feel like the movie 'Groundhog Day' where you relive the same day over and over and over, Kerr says.
'Talented people -- in fact, most people -- thrive on seeing progress in their business or with their own development. Everything from training and mentorship programs to involving them with increased responsibilities to celebrating small milestones will help give them a sense of progress at work,' he says.
'They may have changes in their family situation or needs that require you being flexible with their work hours or even creative with their package of benefits or incentives,' Kerr says.
'Some surveys, for example, have stressed how important it is to certain people to be able to bring their dog to work with them. This is a simple example, but it's the kind of situation where a little flexibility and exploring creative options might help keep a top performer happy and engaged.'
Share your vision
This goes along with being transparent and honest.
'When people understand your business goals and mission, and the value of their role in the big picture, they will be more invested in your future,' Taylor says. 'If you seek their input in building the vision, you will likely see even greater commitment.'
'It's easy for managers to believe they have all the answers. How else could you have gotten to where you are?' Taylor jokes. 'But this thinking is shortsighted. The best managers encourage new approaches, and the result is greater innovation and market competitiveness.
'Stubbornness or maintaining a position to save face will drive innovators out the door. Welcoming diverse opinions is more than motivational -- it will likely help grow your business.'
'This is partly tied to giving them a sense of progress, but it's also a matter of feeling connected and contributes to their need to keep improving and learning,' says Kerr.
Ask them for regular feedback
Check in regularly with your team to get a read on their workload and resource needs.
'Unless you ask, employees may be reticent to come forward with issues, so as not to create conflict,' says Taylor. 'It's incumbent upon you to ensure they have the tools and environment they need to succeed. Ask for honest feedback on how you can be of better service to your team.'
A challenging employee can create an environment where great employees will look for other drama-free work opportunities, so don't make the mistake of ignoring a toxic employee at the expense of a top performer, Kerr warns.
Give them clear direction and a clear path towards opportunities in the organisation that don't necessarily involve moving up the ladder
Some top performers have no interest in managing people, but this doesn't mean they don't want to expand or increase their responsibilities.
'Offering flexible and creative career paths where employees can see the possibilities for future development can be an essential and effective way to keep top talent happy and engaged for the long run,' he says.
Make sure you are available to your staff, especially when they need your help to move projects forward.
'It's extremely frustrating for your team to complete tasks, only to be stalled due to their manager's inaccessibility or shifting priorities -- which suggests that the employee's work is of low priority,' says Taylor. 'The 'hurry up and wait syndrome' will result in less credibility, respect, and loyalty.'
'Many employers I know have made substantial reductions in employee turnover rates (including businesses where employees work at remote camps away from their families) by remembering that employees' families are part of their support team,' Kerr explains.
'If you involve the spouses and family members and make them feel part of your community and thank the family for their contribution to your business success, it can go a long way towards keeping employees engaged and happy at work.'
People want to be valued for who they are. If you can embrace everyone's individual identity and tap into their unique strengths, you will be farther along in keeping great talent, Taylor says.
If the employee deserved to be promoted, offer them the opportunity.
'Employees want to see a continuous path of greater responsibility and professional growth. If you want to keep your best talent, show an investment in their future,' says Taylor.
Make it known that every job counts, no matter where in the hierarchy; without one, the others can't function properly, she says. 'Avoid practices that may ostracize certain team members, even indirectly. Showing favoritism is a morale zapper, as people will no longer feel that they're on a level playing field.'
'Trust is like oxygen in the workplace; you need it to survive as a company -- and with only some of it, you can still suffocate,' Taylor says. 'Only when your team believes you have integrity and live up to your promises can they be fully committed.'
Trust also involves being vulnerable, admitting to your mistakes, and not admonishing your staff for taking chances. That approach creates a 'safe for success' culture -- a fertile, trusting ground for taking smart risks. 'In a trusted workplace, there's no room for petty politics,' she adds.
Show your lighthearted side
You don't have to take stand-up comedy classes, but showing your sense of humour puts people at ease and breaks tension barriers.
'You want to show your human side, which will role-model a more friendly culture; encourage greater collaboration and innovation, too,' Taylor explains.
Can you say that your staff leaves work every day knowing more than they did in the morning?
'Companies dedicated to ongoing professional development, mentoring, and skill advancement will have a more committed team,' Taylor says.
The rumour mill will go into high gear when management tolerates it, or worse, participates in it, she says. It is a downward spiral of lost productivity and diminished respect by your team -- so don't encourage it.
Give constructive criticism
Clear, honest feedback is something that every employee wants and deserves. Being admonished for mistakes is a key complaint of unhappy workers, and if there's a pattern of public humiliation, disloyalty will ensue quickly, Taylor warns.
'Too often, criticism is subjective, or focused on form over substance.'
'Showing that you have a moral conscience creates a greater sense of community and reward among your team,' Taylor says. 'When your cause is greater than the corporate bottom line, your people will know they're also contributing to society at large.'
Whether it's vacation, time off, telecommuting, or family leave policies, these perks can go a long way in employee retention, she says.
'Having clearly stated programs in company manuals will ensure fairness, but using common sense and good judgment matters, too. If you can be understanding when your employees have extenuating circumstances, versus being rigid and pushing them too hard, you'll witness their greater dedication.'
Encourage open communication among everyone on the team
'When the lines of communication are open, people are most comfortable and productive,' she says. 'But this doesn't mean 'lip service' or saying what you think people want to hear.
'It's making sure your goals are aligned and you stay on the same page with your staff. Communication breakdowns can create a trust gap between you and your team, and conflicts will fester until real dialog resumes.'
Your team wants a leader who can set a high bar and motivate others to do the same for themselves.
'They want to see you follow your own rules and be accountable for what happens 'on your watch,'' says Taylor. 'Blaming others or deflecting responsibility will contribute to a disenfranchised workforce.'
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