Low turnover is the result of high morale, which leads to outstanding performance of an organization. If acceptance of this is so widespread, then why aren’t more companies working harder to keep employees happy? Many might retaliate with a smirk and the reply, “Employee loyalty is dead.” But experts disagree.
The secrets of employee retention are more basic than you can imagine, and if applied properly, can result in smoother management of a more motivated team. As a manager or supervisor, fostering satisfaction among subordinates is often largely affected by your abilities. “When people leave their job because they’re unhappy, they don’t leave their job and their company - they divorce their supervisor,” explains Larry Johnson, president, Johnson Training Group, Scottsdale, AZ.
If your department has experienced higher-than-average turnover, it’s important to analyze which factors are affecting retention and correct them immediately. The financial implications can be significant. “On average, the cost of losing an employee is about 150 percent. It’s one-and-a-half times the person’s compensation,” says David Sirota, chairman emeritus, Purchase, NY-based Sirota Survey Intelligence and coauthor of The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. (To tally the specific costs to your organization, read Calculating Turnover.)
What do employees want?
Although your team may reflect many different demographics, most employees find that the following five characteristics make longevity with a company/department more attractive:
- Equity and job security. Employees want to be treated fairly and, just as importantly, compensated fairly. To find out if you’re offering competitive pay, complete an evaluation of actual market salaries. Sirota also adds, “These days, employees are especially interested in medical benefits. On the non-financial side, employees want to be treated respectfully.”
They also want job security. While some old-school managers might find that instilling fear by threatening job security is motivating, most employees don’t. Companies must demonstrate more than the minimum obligations to people. The climate has changed, and while most companies are chanting the mantra that its employees are its biggest asset, actions and reactions reflect more of a philosophy that staff is the biggest cost. “When there is a slowdown, or to increase profits of an already highly profitable company, the first thing that’s done is lay people off,” says Sirota. “If people feel that a company is indifferent to them, why would they feel any differently about the company?”
- Communication. When authors of First, Break All the Rules Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of The Gallup Organization surveyed employees to measure the strength of the workplace, the first question they asked was: “Do I know what is expected of me at work?” Individuals want to understand management’s expectations so they have a clear idea of how their work will be judged. This boils down to honest, effective, and frequent communication. It’s important to set measurable goals and evaluate an employee’s performance against them.
Equally important is management’s ability to communicate the goals and vision of the organization or department. If these aren’t being shared, employees may feel like passengers who discover that their pilot doesn’t have a flight plan once they board the airplane. “People aren’t staying because they don’t know where they’re headed,” says Will Helmlinger, president, Your Hire Authority, Gladstone, OR. Sharing your strategic vision empowers people to work toward the organization’s goals and communicates trust.
- Pride and teamwork. Employees want to feel good about their jobs, have a sense of achievement, and be proud of their accomplishments. This requires that all obstacles and impediments be removed. Individuals should be properly trained and provided with adequate materials and equipment to complete their jobs successfully.
Employees also want to work with teammates who are as enthusiastic and competent as they are. “One of the marks of companies that lose good employees is that they don’t take action against non-performers,” says Johnson. “It’s the old adage that says ‘Eagles want to fly with eagles, not with turkeys.’ ” Failure to address problem employees communicates to team members that management views substandard performance as acceptable, which only intensifies frustrations.
- Fun. While it’s important that attempts at creating a fun work environment don’t disrupt the overall productivity of employees, making the job enjoyable is beneficial. “Typically, we have these tapes playing in our heads that say, ‘We can go outside and play when all our work’s done,’ ” explains Robin Thompson, speaker, Thompson Training & Keynote Presentations Inc., Daniels, WV. “But, today, our work is never done.” By never taking time to celebrate, employees are more likely to experience elevated stress and burn-out. Thompson, who frequently presents a seminar titled “Making Work Fun,” notes that fun shouldn’t be limited to the annual company picnic.
- Recognition. When was the last time you complimented an employee on a job well done? If a specific example doesn’t come to mind, then you can count yourself among the supervisors whose employees are probably feeling underappreciated. “People want to do good work and they want to be recognized for it,” says Johnson. Sure, it’s possible to praise individuals too much. It’s also possible to give empty praise. Johnson recommends that recognition be significant, specific, and sincere - the three “Ss.” For example, telling an employee “you’re great” isn’t nearly as meaningful as saying that his/her innovative ideas and work to satisfy a particular tenant or to keep a specific project on budget was terrific.
How do I know if my employees are happy?
The most basic way to find out if employees are content is to ask. Assure subordinates that they are free to express their opinions without fear of negative repercussions. Employees may or may not be forthcoming with answers.
Consider seeking the services of a third party to survey staff. Much like you would survey tenants or occupants, the results of this written assessment can help you chart a path for improvement. If you make this an annual practice, you can benchmark the morale and satisfaction of the team from year to year. Be prepared to share the survey findings and a plan of action with the team. If management ignores their opinions, morale will suffer.
Employee retention is largely based on satisfaction. If you can determine why employees are not happy, it’s likely you can prevent them from leaving by changing practices, culture, and sometimes even your management style. The success of the department is largely dependent on your ability to retain top performers - don’t ignore their concerns. That mistake is just too expensive to make.