As a manager, you play a key role in employee retention. Many studies have confirmed the role of a "great manager" in promoting a climate where employees want to be committed on a long-term basis. To achieve this goal, you must help your employees leverage existing human resource systems and create a work environment within the overall company culture that makes employees want to stay.
Before deciding where to focus, you should review information on why employees leave or might leave your company. This information can be gleaned from employee surveys, focus groups, confidential interviews, exit interviews and post-separation feedback.
To enhance employee retention, the actions you might consider fall into three categories – career development and planning, work/life balance, and rewards and recognition.
Career development and planning
Dissatisfaction with development is one of the primary push factors driving employees to look for new jobs. As a manager, you provide employees essential information about career development systems at the company, you often control access to training and development opportunities, you may be involved in promotion decisions, and you work with employees one-on-one to help them plan their careers. In order to ensure that all employees are receiving the maximum benefit from career development and planning systems, you will want to consider the following:
Strengthening the employee relationship
Participate in diversity awareness training. By participating in diversity training, you can better appreciate the individuality of each and every employee. You should supplement the training with books, videos, and friendships with people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. As you increase your knowledge and understanding of differences, you will learn that individuals from various cultural and ethnic groups approach career development differently. In the dominant culture, you expect your employees to ask for what they want and take charge of their career. Nevertheless, employees from other cultures may need more coaching, you may need to offer them specific suggestions of training they'll need to move ahead, and you may need to encourage them to participate in developmental opportunities like task forces and special projects.
Build authentic relationships with every employee. Building authentic relationships will facilitate two-way, open and honest conversations. You will be able to discern individual employee needs and help them leverage the appropriate human resource programs. In turn, they will feel comfortable giving you crucial feedback about the work environment.
Identify "high potential" employees and let them know that they're valued. You should determine whether your company has any special programs for high potential employees and make sure a diverse group of employees are included. Even if there are no formal, company-wide programs for high potential employees, you should let them know that they are valued. The retention of these key employees is one of your most important managerial tasks.
Make sure that performance evaluations are fair and unbiased. It is in performance management that you will be able to apply the lessons of all of your diversity awareness activities. Often, we do not realize how our beliefs and attitudes can influence our evaluation of an individual's performance. You will want to be careful to evaluate employees on objective measures of what they have achieved instead of subjective measures of the style of that performance. In addition, during performance management conversations, you will want to explore potential turnover triggers that may encourage employees to seek opportunities outside the company. By building an authentic relationship with each employee, you hopefully will be able to identify and address turnover issues before an employee starts looking.
Involve employees in the community. You should encourage your employees to seek leadership opportunities with community groups. By representing the company, they will naturally feel a stronger tie to your organization.
Involve employees in recruiting events and activities. When employees have to "sell" the company to potential recruits, it will reinforce the company's strengths to them.
Focusing on employee development
Ensure that all employees have an individual development plan. Having a written development plan helps employees navigate the career development programs and maximize their opportunities within the organization. In particular, written development plans have been found to be helpful for women and people of color. You should consider your employees as free agents and make sure that they have opportunities to grow within the company. You will want to meet with your employees at least once a year to have a conversation on where they would like to be in one, five and ten years and help them identify the competencies and experiences that they will need to achieve these goals.
Communicate key competencies and attributes for success. Employees are often unfamiliar with exactly which competencies and attributes are needed to assume positions with increased responsibility. For example, technical employees may be unfamiliar with the keys to ascending the technical ladder. You can hold open forums so all technical employees can learn about the technical ladder. Similarly, you can disseminate information on key competencies for other departments such as sales, etc.
Identify training opportunities within and outside of the company for every employee. Training is essential to employee development. You can help your employees make the time to take advantage of these opportunities. If necessary, you can encourage employees to take an "English as a Second Language" course.
Support employees in taking advantage of developmental opportunities. You should encourage your employees to take lateral, rotational, or special, short-term assignments. Similarly, you can encourage your employees to volunteer for internal task forces or project teams. They can also assume leadership roles in employee identity groups as a developmental experience.
Make sure that a diverse group of employees are offered the opportunity for high-risk, high reward assignments. Typically, managers select employees with whom they feel most comfortable to take on the high-risk assignments. Often, this comfort comes from sharing the same general characteristics like race, sex or educational background. You want to make sure that you move beyond relying on comfort as the criteria for making important recommendations for high-risk, high reward assignments. You also want to allow candidates from diverse backgrounds to apply for these assignments.
Provide every employee with the opportunity to be mentored. Several research studies have documented the essential role of mentoring in advancing within the organization. Mentoring can be accomplished in many ways – through formal programs, informally through employee network groups, and/or by developing a culture of mentoring. You should make sure that mentors receive training that includes communicating and coaching across differences. You also want to encourage (and support) your employees in participating in external development/mentoring/leadership programs.
Provide opportunities for formal and informal networking. Like mentoring, many research studies have documented the benefits of networking in career progression. By having a large network, employees are more likely to be considered for new jobs and developmental opportunities when they become available. However, many employees fail to see the value of cultivating a network. You should educate your employees about networking as well as serve as a role model by attending a wide variety of networking events.
Know the specifics of the corporate succession planning process. As the navigator of employee development, you need to be familiar with any corporate succession planning system. In particular, you will want to make sure that a diverse group of employees are considered for inclusion in any special fast track or high potential programs.
Issues for senior managers
Senior managers may want to consider the following additional recommendations:
Embed diversity in career development programs and processes. Senior managers can influence the design and implementation of career development programs and processes. You will want to make sure that none of these programs unintentionally excludes certain groups from participating. Moreover, you should make diversity an explicit component of these programs. For example, the promotion system should require that a diverse slate of candidates be considered for every position. Similarly, the succession planning process should include a diverse group of employees.
Identify and remove any barriers to the promotion of internal candidates. At higher levels, there might be barriers to promotion for certain groups of employees. Senior managers should research these barriers. Once identified, you may need to implement a new program, such as formal mentoring, or modify an existing human resource system, such as expanding the group of candidates included in high potential programs. At the very least, you can make sure that information about all position openings and developmental opportunities are listed in a company-wide posting system.
Partner with internal staff. If you want to begin a major retention initiative, senior managers should partner with staff from organizational development, change management, or training and development to identify appropriate tools and programs. You will want to make sure that diversity is incorporated into the design and implementation of any retention initiative.
Numerous studies have confirmed the importance of work/life issues in employee retention. Simply stated, the inability to achieve work/life balance drives employees to seek opportunities outside the company. In fact, work/life balance is often more important to retention than compensation and benefits. Nevertheless, work/life balance is one of the hardest things to achieve. Managers play a key role in allowing employees to take advantage of the full range of company work/life programs. Specifically, you should:
Allow employees to take advantage of flexible working hours. As a manager, you can encourage your employees to vary their working hours so that they can better meet their personal needs, even in the absence of a formal corporate policy on flexible work schedules. Research has shown that employees are more successful when they feel that they have more control over their schedule. Flexible work arrangements can be accomplished by varying the start and end time each day, by compressing the two work weeks into 9 days, by compressing one work week into 3 or 4 longer days, or by allowing employees time off during the work day. Some employees will seek a permanent flexible work arrangement, while others will only need to use them from time to time. All employees will appreciate knowing that you are open to meeting their need for flexibility.
Allow employees to work at home if possible. This arrangement is commonly referred to as telecommuting. Many employees do not need to be in the office to get their job done. With as little as a computer and a phone line, employees often can be more effective at home, away from corporate distractions and interruptions. They only need to come into the office to participate in important meetings. While not every employee can be accommodated with a full-time telecommuting arrangement, many employees will benefit from telecommuting part-time or on an as-needed basis. Your flexibility in allowing employees to work from home will help increase their loyalty to the company.
Allow two employees to share one job. Although less common, often you can retain two good employees by allowing them to share one job. In this way, each employee is able to work part-time. As a manager, it may be more difficult to manage two employees instead of one. However, the benefit of retaining two valuable employees should outweigh the inconvenience.
Identify positions that could be done on a permanent part-time basis or positions that could be separated into two or more part-time positions. Some employees, especially working mothers, would like to stay in the workforce but are unable to work a full-time job. You may be able to retain key employees by redefining their position so that it can be accomplished on a part-time basis.
Rewards and recognition
The role of rewards and recognition in improving retention is often overlooked. You will want to do the following:
Apply rewards and recognition in a fair and inclusive manner. Employees are very sensitive to signs of recognition as well as concrete rewards given to their peers. You will want to give out rewards and recognition such that every employee feels like he or she has an equal chance to receive them. In addition, you will want to make sure that you are rewarding concrete accomplishments (substance) instead of the manner in which something was accomplished (style).
Tailor reward and recognition systems to meet the individual needs of employees. Reward programs often are designed to appeal to the majority. Winning a round of golf at a local club may not appeal to all of your employees. You will want to look for rewards with broad appeal to many groups as well as vary the type of rewards given out.