Are you worried about employee turnover in your company and how it might get worse once the economy improves? If you aren’t worried, you should be.

It has been estimated that as many as a third of employees are looking to change jobs. Now that the recession is easing and more companies are beginning to hire again, these employees will start acting on this desire.

My friend and colleague, Bernie Donkerbrook, retired Ford Motor Company program manager and Bernard-donkerbrook now executive coach, places responsibility for retaining talent on the shoulders of an employee’s supervisor or manager. Bernie believes that there is much those managers can do to keep their employees engaged and productive. He writes:

In today's sluggish economic environment, companies operate lean, demanding more of employees in the process. Many are focused on surviving, not thriving. While uncertainty in the marketplace may keep employees loyal today, when the economy improves, they may be more apt to seek out career opportunities elsewhere. If organizations ignore the retention issue today, they will undoubtedly regret it tomorrow.

You should be asking yourself, “What am I doing to ensure that my key talent remains once the job market improves?” and, concurrently, “What am I doing to strengthen loyalty and build a positive work force, positive people, and good relationships with their immediate bosses?”

Here are actions you can take to increase employee retention (all of which are behaviors that can be coached, trained and developed in supervisors and managers):

  • Improve relationships between employees and their immediate bosses. Many employees leave because they perceive that they are not appreciated, recognized, and valued by their immediate bosses.  Here is what you can do:
    • Have HR determine if there are supervisors/managers that have a higher than normal turnover rate in their units. Provide them with a coaching process for understanding and dealing with difficult issues. The supervisor’s/manager’s behaviors need to be understood and changed. There is usually a reason some bosses have higher turnover rates than others.
    • Make it clear to supervisors/managers that employee retention is part of their job and that long-term development of employees is part of their job, too...and part of their evaluation.
  • Revitalize your organizational culture to include employee appreciation, recognition, and valuing.  “People honor a culture that honors them.” This is incredibly important…honoring, valuing, respecting and recognizing your people.  It makes a big difference in building loyalty to the company and also is definitely teachable.
  • Remind your managers and supervisors of the power of the “Golden Rule” of behavior at work.
    • How would THEY like to be treated by their bosses?
    • What would THEY like to experience in their jobs?
    • How would THEY like to be recognized, appreciated and thanked for their efforts?
    • How long will THEY want to wait to be appreciated, recognized and valued?
  • Tell your best people they ARE your best people. It is highly motivating to know you are well thought of. Let your best people know you want to keep them, to retain them with the Company.  Really… it makes a difference. Imagine yourself being told by your boss, or your boss’s boss, that you are important to the Company and they are counting on you.
  • Ask employees what they need, want, would like to be doing. No promises, but it shows you are interested and want to make it work for them and the company.  For your best and key people, make sure they have a career development plan. This is so obvious but managers and leadership are so busy they often fail to take this seriously.  And, there is often no corporate plan to set this up.
  • Ask employees for feedback on YOUR management behavior. How can you improve? What would they like to see more of and less of from you? Are you helping too much or not available often enough?
  • Carve out one-on-one time with your employees.  Much successful retention and employee loyalty comes from, simply, one-on-one time with the boss.  Regularly demonstrate personal care and concern for individuals, their life and family, and what is important to them.  (Bosses may need coaching/mentoring on how to do this effectively.)
  • Put people to work where they are their best.  Allow them to work at what they already do well, where they have excelled, and what they are excited about.  Ask them.  Everyone wants to be doing what they know they are good at and what they enjoy doing.
  • Find out what inspires, motivates a person.  What is that person passionate about? Find that person work in these areas if at all possible.  At least, let him or her represent the company externally in the areas where there is passion.  This builds the corporate brand and demonstrates corporate engagement with the local community.    
  • Find out if career growth opportunities are available for employees.  Do they have opportunities for development, growth, new challenges, and promotion? You may answer, as the manager, “Yes, of course.”  But what do your employees say about this?  There is often a disconnect between what employees experience in career development and what the company policy is said to be.  Do this:  Check it out. Find out what employees believe and what they experience on the job relating to career development. Most often, you, as the boss, will not like what you hear.
  • Ensure that compensation is competitive. Eliminating any gap in compensation with the market is a great short-term neutralizer of negative energy.
  • Pay for performance.  Do you reward better performance or is everyone at a similar grade-level paid about the same?  If everyone is paid the same, it is not very enticing for the highest performers when they know they are not appreciated in a financial way for their unique contribution to the organization. [Note: Plan pay-for-performance very carefully; these plans can have little or no positive effect if structured in the wrong way.]
  • Pay attention to your stars, your top-performers.  Really! Stars will not wait around to be given authority, more responsibility, the opportunity to make decisions, or be promoted.
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate.  Find ways to let employees know you care about them as individuals.


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