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How to improve employee retention

By Matthew Dunne-Miles
27 August 2021

With the world of work having been turned on its head in the last eighteen months, many employees have come out of the other end of the pandemic with new ambitions.

For many employers, this poses a predicament when looking to build back post-pandemic and ensuring they have the best personnel possible to take their company forward. So, how do you improve employee retention in this new world of work? 

Why is employee retention important?

Talent retention is crucial to companies looking to scale up and grow. 

While the current shifting job market means there are plenty of people looking for work, the time it takes to put out the search, conduct interviews, and then successfully onboard these new employees into your company can be costly to your business. Also, if you are bringing in new staff, having experienced employees to help onboard them provides a smoother transition. 

Talent retention also rewards through familiarity with business practices and the trust built between manager and employee. An employee who has been with the company for a longer time is more likely to want to pick up new responsibilities, meaning a manager can be comfortable in delegating extra tasks or goals to them – as they know they’re familiar with the business and will have picked up the manager’s practices by osmosis.  

Employee retention rates

According to the job hosting website Monster, the UK average employee turnover rate is approximately 15% a year – meaning that 15% of a company’s workforce will move on and need to be replaced.

Naturally, this figure is widely dependent on the sector in question. Figures from XpertHR for 2019 showed that the industry with the highest turnover was sales and marketing (31%), while those with the lowest turnover were engineering (8.8%) and retail (8.3%).

However, with it comes to current retention rates, the pre-pandemic world seems very far away.

America is currently experiencing ‘The Great Resignation’ - with nearly four million US workers quitting their jobs in June alone, and a survey conducted by HR software company Personio of 2,000 employees in the UK and Ireland found that 38% of respondents were planning to quit in the next six to 12 months.

So the question is: how can employers improve employee retention - when change is in the air?

Employee retention strategies

Identify candidates who will stay the course 

While not all turnover is bad and some is just the natural progression of people’s lives, there are some steps you can take at the interview stage which should help identify those potential candidates who are looking to stay around.

Jerome Ternynck, Founder & CEO of Smart Recruiters, believes that one of the key things to think about when hiring is ‘attitude over aptitude’ – as in hiring someone who is a good fit for the company culture first should be more important than those who have the right experience on their resume.

Skills are far easier to teach than attempting to change someone’s character.

Invest in onboarding

A study by recruiting firm Jobvite found that 33% of employee turnover happens within the first 90 days of their time at a company.  This means that staff retention could potentially be boosted by a third by making sure the onboarding process in those first three months is watertight. 

While there is the standard reading to be done, setting achievable tasks from early on means that employees instantly feel involved in the company journey, and having those tasks checked and assessed by managers is a good way to drum in the importance of their role to the wider company. 

Provide clear paths to advancement

While constant promotions and pay rises are not a realistic option for any company, it is important that your employee can see a clear path to how their career could advance from their current position.

This may be the promise of increased responsibilities at a more senior level, more active representation of the company at senior events, or the prospect of training and managing junior employees – these future options have to be signposted and, importantly, financially compensated in some way. 

Offer ongoing education

The pandemic led to many companies focusing on the next few weeks rather than the next few years, but there is now no excuse for not taking the time to introduce (or reintroduce) educational programmes for employees – with a survey by talent management platform ClearCompany highlighting learning and development as the most important employee benefit in 2021.

What these will look like will be specifically tailored to a particular industry, but management training for younger employees in senior roles is a way to show you’re taking their advancement seriously.

Also, in the wake of the conversations last year around equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, diversity training will likely be welcomed by a workforce looking to grow both personally and professionally. 

Offer the right benefits

Often wrongly assumed to be about post-work beers and pizza on a Friday at 4:30 pm, post-pandemic people are looking for a more substantial investment in their wellbeing when it comes to benefits.

While superficial perks such as resident DJs are unlikely to keep an employee at your company for the long-term, private healthcare, flexible working hours, flexible work locations, and maternity and paternity leave all show that you are a viable option for them as their lives change. 

Be transparent

Companies with secrets are often those with a bad company culture. When snippets of information (including bad news) are leaked to some staff and not others, the information will eventually find its way to all employees and some will wonder why they were not told directly.

The modern boss should be approachable and honest so that their employees feel connected to both the business successes and failures. A monthly internal newsletter directly from the CEO's desk is one way to keep that personal connection, or even just a weekly all-hands meeting can make sure those at every level feel invested.

Avoid overworking valuable staff

It is inevitable your company will sometimes face pressures, which means relying on staff to work those extra hours, answer an evening email, or go a step beyond to meet targets – but the more this becomes common practice the less successful it will be.

Research shows that for every hour added on above standard working hours, the less productive employees become and the more likely they are to make mistakes. A survey by reputable US polling company Gallup, found 63% of those who had quit their job cited overworking as the main reason. 

Instances of going above and beyond to meet a target should be balanced out with a direct thank you as well as promoting a work culture that values switching off when the day is done as the standard practice, not the exception. 

Appoint mentors 

When bringing in new team members, it can be valuable to assign a senior figure to act as a mentor and point of call.

While in the office this may have happened organically, in the new era of working-from-home it can be important to delegate this properly to ensure someone is regularly checking in with new starters through work social media channels as well as regular phone calls.

While helping the new starter onboard more successfully, this is also a mark of trust in more senior staff which will make them feel valued and develop new leaders. 

Acknowledge employee milestones

Something small which can help keep employees feeling valued following a long time at a company is to acknowledge significant milestones, such as a five-year work anniversary or the completion of a major project.

These celebrations do not require cake and fireworks, but a company-wide email of acknowledgment from the CEO or a Zoom call can be enough to let an employee know you’re not taking them for granted. 

Be open to sabbaticals

Often it can be difficult to offer something new for long-serving employees, but you don’t wish to lose their expertise permanently. 

There has been a growing trend for companies to offer sabbaticals (paid, partly paid, or unpaid) for an agreed period of time which can let employees achieve personal goals such as travel plans or passions projects unrelated to their role. 

A month or two break in employment may seem like a risk, but it allows junior employees to step up their responsibilities in the temporary absence of a senior colleague, as well as building a stronger bond between you and the employee on sabbatical – who will be grateful at having been given the opportunity to scratch that itch. 

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