The 4 Pillars of Improving Employee Retention

employee retention

The lifeblood of any company is its employees. A company that is constantly replacing its workers is not healthy; it is stagnating and is likely unable or having difficulties growing. 

Constantly replacing employees is not a cost-effective way to run a business and it requires extra resources expended on recruitment and training. It could negatively affect company culture as employees are not growing with the company but are constantly kept at a stage of infancy.

It is, thus, vital for any company to do their best to retain their workers, create a situation in which their workers can grow and develop along with the company, as well as solidify company culture and allow the company to dedicate more of its resources toward growth instead of constant rebirth.

1. The Recruitment Process

During the recruitment of new employees, have a clear and well-defined plan for that employee’s growth – what the onboarding process consists of, what the next 6 months of development will look like, the conditions and expectations for promotion and/or growth that will follow after a year or two.

Communicate this strategy to the candidate. It’s not enough to regurgitate the overly used question: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ask him or her about the areas they would like to improve in during their first six months to a year with the company. Ask them what skills or know-how they feel they lack to achieve their long-term goals. 

Ask about the areas of expertise they would like to develop that are more long-term. These new or improved skill sets and expanded areas of expertise often imply a higher position. See if the candidate’s ambitions correspond to the training, the challenges, and the promotions down the line the company can provide. If they do, then include concrete steps toward acquiring these skills into your employee development strategy.

2. Continuous Training

To increase the chances of an employee wanting to invest themselves in a company long term, that employee needs to feel and experience growth. Monotony and stagnation can provoke an employee to leave an organization more often than not. To combat potential feelings of stagnation and to stimulate feelings and experiences of growth, make sure your employees are provided with or even obliged to follow continuous training courses.

The specific type of training you provide will be determined, in large part, by the sector of activity your company works in. It will also depend on the position or role within the company a given employee holds.

While there are many online platforms designed to facilitate continuous training  – Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera – it is more advisable to offer training that is unique to your company. Those above-mentioned online platforms are accessible to anyone, regardless of the company they work for. And although offering to pay for the courses is an attractive perk, providing training that is accessible only to employees of your company is an unmatchable advantage.

Make sure the training you offer your employees is in line with the development strategy you’ve created and communicated with the employee during the recruitment process. This will ensure that the employee is on track with their long-term development and is on track to meet their long-term goals. 

Putting your employees in a position where they are on the way toward reaching their long-term goals – those that they communicated to you during the recruitment process and have confirmed over the initial six months of their employment – will greatly increase the chances that your employee is happy with their job, that they are in a better position to more effectively contribute and bring value to the company, and that they will stay with the company for years to come.

Employees who wish to level up their career with training will be encouraged to stay with your company. It is also worth noting that the training you offer them should lead to promotion opportunities within your company. It would be counteractive to provide your employees with training only to make them overqualified for the job you hired them to do and thus provoke them to look elsewhere for career satisfaction.

3. Promoting Ownership

To create the circumstances in which an employee is satisfied with their job and with the company they work for, it is important to encourage and empower them with a sense of ownership of their work. A happy employee feels a sense of pride in what they do and in the value, they bring to their organization. They will take ownership of an idea, action, or initiative. They will gladly sign their name to – figuratively or literally – the product or service they are working to design, promote, or sell.

A good way to encourage an employee to take ownership of their work is by having them literally put their name to it. If your team uses collaborative tools – for example, one of the many online collaboration tools and software on the market – it is a good idea to attach their name in a visible way to the contributions they make. 

Additionally, in a teamwork environment, it is a good idea to make each role clearly identified with a team member’s name. That way, the employee associates the role they play or the contributions they make with their name. Thus, the value they bring to the company becomes a part of their identity. 

It is worth pointing out, that if an employee refuses to take ownership of an idea, action, product, or service, and they prefer rather give credit to the team as a whole, this could be an act of humility and solidarity. 

However, another likely reason they are not taking ownership of their work is that they wish to distance themselves from their contribution. This is a problematic sign. It could potentially mean the employee is dissatisfied with their contribution or role, or that they do not see the value they bring to a project or the company. This is a red flag and could mean that your employee is not long for your company.

4. Identifying the Signs of an Unhappy Employee

As mentioned above, a refusal or unwillingness to take ownership of one’s work is one of the major signs of an unhappy employee. On a similar front, an employee who shows a refusal or unwillingness to take initiative is a possible tell that they are not happy with their job.

It is worth noting that there are other possible, more benign reasons an employee might not take initiative.

  • The employee is timid or reserved by natural
  • The employee is more at ease in a hierarchical or authoritarian structure 
  • The employee has doubts about their skill level and they are simply waiting to acquire more know-how and gain more experience before acting independently

However, there are other, perhaps more likely reasons an employee does not take initiative.

  • The employee is unhappy in their job and with the role they play within the organization
  • The employee feels the consequences of a mistake are too severe and they far outweigh the benefit of risking an independent action
  • The employee has a low level of confidence in their work, and they do not want to expose themselves to criticism 
  • The employee has a low assessment of the company’s internal communication, and they feel that any attempt to implement change or act independently will go unnoticed or will not be given its due consideration
  • The employee lacks a clear understanding of their specific role, how it fits in with the big picture of what the company is doing as a whole

An employee who does not take initiative – whether that is offering constructive criticism, suggesting new approaches or methods, or simply tackling a problem or implementing an improvement without being prompted to – is likely to indicate that the employee is not happy and is, thus, not long for the company. 

When you notice that an employee is not taking any initiative, talk with them and try to determine if:

  • They understand their role
  • They feel they have the tools, the skills, and the know-how to carry out their tasks
  • They feel the level of criticism they receive when they make a mistake is fair and not too high
  • They understand and appreciate the communication channels that are available to them

Furthermore, if you want to motivate an employee to take initiative, try expressing a problem – preferably a relatively minor one and one that is relevant to their role in the organization – and do not provide any suggestions as to the solution to the problem. 

Tell them you are not looking for proposals but rather invite them to try out a few of their ideas on their own. This requires a certain level of trust in the employee. But at the end of the day, if you cannot trust an employee to take initiative to solve a minor problem, the chances are that this is not an employee you are interested in retaining in the long term.

Taking initiate and taking ownership of one’s work are the pillars of employee engagement. Without a high level of employee engagement, it is unlikely that a specific employee will want to stay with the company for an extended period of time. And soon, you will once again be spending resources on recruiting, onboarding, and training a new employee. It is best to look for and identify the signs of an unhappy employee and take the necessary corrective measure while you can.

The Takeaway

Employee retention starts with recruitment. Communicate a short-, mid-, and long-term strategy you have for the recruit. Make sure this strategy includes – if not emphasizes –  development, growth, and promotion opportunities. Verify that these strategies are in line with what the prospective employee is looking for. If there are discrepancies, consider making amendments to your strategy, as long as they correspond to the interests of the company.

Put those short-, mid-, and long-term strategies into action by ensuring that the employee receives continuous training. It is preferred that the training you provide be accessible only to your employees – uniqueness is a strong selling point.

Encourage – if not require – your employees to take ownership of their work. Consider having them put their name, literally, to the contributions they make. And encourage – if not require – them to take initiative. Empower them with the skills they need to make a valuable contribution then thank them when they do.

And lastly, stay vigilant for the signs that your employee is not happy. If you catch the problem in its early stages, the chances of correcting or solving the problem are much greater. 

If you succeed in having a high employee retention rate, this means that your employees are happy, productive, and bringing noticeable value to the organization. This is a huge plus for both the employees and the company. Additionally, a high employee retention rate means you can allocate more resources to growth as opposed to spending them on personnel turnover. That’s akin to treading water. And treading water doesn’t get anyone very far.


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