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Employee retention is a hot business topic today.  No longer do people stay at the same company for 25 years and collect the gold watch like in years past. 

In fact, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the average worker will have 12 jobs from age 18 to 48.  A shocking statistic.  That alone should tell managers that all the time they put into hiring, training and promoting may just be preparation for the employee’s next job – and chances are it will be somewhere else.

Employees have more bargaining power than ever before.  Unemployment is relatively low, and social media makes a company’s employee retention information public knowledge.

Factor in that a recent Gallup poll shows that only 31 percent of employees are engaged at work, 51 percent are disengaged and 17.5 percent are actively disengaged.  Translation:  less than one-third of employees are excited about their jobs.  Glassdoor, a website where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management, says that the average employee gives their company a C plus (3.1 out of 5) when asked whether they would recommend their company to a friend.  In other words, companies need to do a better job retaining their valuable employees.

Then there is the collateral damage.  Customers have an uncanny talent for picking up on dissatisfaction, and that can damage the bottom line.  Can your company afford that?

Why do people leave companies in the first place?  There are many reasons – changes in benefits, bosses and job responsibilities, difficult co-workers, unethical practices, poor leadership, lack of challenges and many more. 

I happen to believe that employees leave managers; they don’t leave companies.

Taking action when your employees are seriously dissatisfied with your organization’s policies or decisions is a test of your leadership.  A face-to-face discussion about grievances can clear the air, but you’ve got to be careful to prevent it from turning into an explosive gripe session.  A productive meeting needs careful planning, so consider these suggestions:

  • Prepare to hear some painful conversation.  Be ready to listen without becoming defensive or arguing back.
  • Limit the size.  A group of 10-15 employees is large enough so people don’t feel exposed and singled out, but still small enough so everyone can participate.
  • Assure privacy.  Meet in a conference room where you won’t be overheard – not the lunchroom or break area where other employees might wander in and out.
  • Ask for input.  State the problem as you’ve heard it and ask for everyone’s opinions and feedback.  Promise that you won’t punish anyone for speaking out, and stick to your word.  Ask participants to prioritize the list so that the most important issues can be addressed first.
  • Respond honestly.  Address each complaint.  If you believe any issues are invalid, explain why, but be willing to listen to other points of view.  Specify what you will do in response to the valid complaints.
  • Follow up promptly.  If you can’t resolve a problem immediately, promise that you will respond in a short, specific time.
  • Thank the group.  Express your sincere appreciation for their courage and honesty in bringing each issue to your attention.  Re-emphasize your mutual goal of working together productively and efficiently so employees know you value their opinions.

That’s a good start, but keeping good employees is a long-term proposition.

Retention depends on more than bonuses and rewards.  The best strategies engage employees on the job with equitable and generous compensation and benefits.  Reliable, long-term retention depends on actions that managers should be practicing every day.

Coach employees on how to influence, motivate and persuade people.  They’ll be able to accomplish more, which will lead to greater job satisfaction, if they can motivate others.

Help them develop their leadership skills.  When employees see a path to advancement, they won’t have to look elsewhere for better opportunities.  Providing opportunities for leadership shows they can have a future with your organization.

Give constant and immediate feedback.  Tell employees what they’re doing right, and how they can improve.  They’ll see that you’re paying attention and committed to their success.

Encourage workers to suggest ideas and innovations, and take them seriously when they follow up.  Show that you value their experience and skills.

Recognize their contributions.  Praise employees for their efforts, share credit as widely as possible, and give their achievements the attention they deserve.

Mackay’s Moral:  Solving employee turnover is easier when they own a piece of the pie.

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