Engage your employees before the labor market heats back up.
By Tom Hartley
The job of retaining talent for an organization can best be described as a rollercoaster ride. In boom times, talented employees leave, and companies focus on retention. In hard times, when employees are more likely to stay, many businesses take employees for granted.
Now is the time to get ahead of the curve: Attack the causes of an exodus of talent while employees are still uncomfortable changing jobs. Companies can take lessons from past busts and boom times and apply them in the new economy.
The GfK Employee Engagement benchmark survey, based on more than a 1,000 interviews with employees in retail, restaurants, and hospitality, focused on the drivers of attrition, defined as employees who would prefer to leave if they were offered another good job. At the tail-end of the recession, that is where our focus needs to be. The survey uncovered two important tactics in order to retain employees in today’s economy: performance-oriented teamwork and individual employee contribution.
Consider one business, where collective wisdom says that you cannot climb the organizational ladder by staying within the company. Instead, to gain seniority you must job hop from one company to another. Employees learned this by observing that the people in higher positions were mostly hired from outside of the company.
Right now, of course, employee turnover is relatively low. However, this company is still losing talented employees from its ranks. Not every employee wants to climb the ladder, but talented employees are disproportionately interested in advancement. Thinking ahead, the leadership at this company realized that to "stop the bleeding" they would need to do something different.
Conventional wisdom says their focus should be on strengthening the ties between employees and their managers as well as building the bonds between team members. But in today’s economy the focus should now be on performance-oriented teamwork and individual employee contribution.
Not surprisingly, teamwork is still vital to retaining talent, but with a twist. Now, the focus is on performance-oriented teamwork. Employees say they would take another job if their current team does not take responsibility for achieving their goals, if employees can’t rely on support from their colleagues, and if they don’t respect each other.
- Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of employees whose teammates do not take responsibility for achieving their goals would take another job, compared to only 30 percent of employees who are neutral.
- Employees want to leave their job (67 percent) if people on their team don’t respect one another, compared to only 27 percent of others.
- While 66 percent of employees who say they can’t count on support from their team members would take another job, only 28 percent of those who are neutral toward this comment would leave their job.
- Team-building has taken on a different focus, with an emphasis on performance. Talented employees want to stay on a team where people respect each other and support each other. But they also want to be on a team where everyone takes responsibility for achieving the team’s goals. Employees have seen firsthand how work units that contribute to the bottom line enjoy better job security.
- Individual employee contribution to the company’s success is emerging as a key characteristic of the new economy. Employees have come to understand that a demonstrable contribution to success is paramount.
- A majority (84 percent) of employees who do not have a clear understanding of their contribution to achieving their store/restaurant/property’s objectives would take another job if they had an alternative, compared to only 34 percent of those who are neutral towards this statement. Employees who are left wondering how they contribute are more likely to leave their jobs.
- Similarly, 64 percent of employees whose work does not enable them to fully use their skills would take another job, compared with only 29 percent of those who are neutral.
- In addition, individual performance is the strongest single driver of employees’ wanting to stay in their current job even if they have an attractive alternative. Employees also want to be in a job that uses their particular skills. The lesson here is to recognize employees’ special skills, make sure they have the opportunity to put those skills to use and ensure that they understand the organization recognizes their individual contribution to the success of the business as a whole.
Therefore, if companies want to eliminate the root causes of attrition before more competitive employment options grow, the company must focus on the two different drivers: employee contribution to company success and goal-oriented teamwork.
Tom Hartley, Ph.D., is vice president of GfK Customer Loyalty