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If there is anything harder than finding the right employees, it is keeping them. No matter what you do, it’s inevitable that you’ll lose employees, but high rates of turnover are a disruption to any business. It is only wise to try to avoid this. Here are five strategies that’ll help you keep your employees and avoid high turnover.
1. Think Twice about Who You Want to Keep
Turnover is bad, but keeping the wrong people is simply detrimental.
In one of my jobs, after many employees left because of a rapidly deteriorating work environment, the boss decided to raise the salaries of those who stayed. In theory, this is a smart move, but not in this situation — the boss ended up spending more money to reward the parasites that caused quality employees to leave.
This happened because the owner didn’t have any idea who contributed and who didn’t. He trusted the managers (and they abused his naive trust) to run his business for him, and they took advantage of their position to cover their mistakes and to blame every misfortune on those who left.
The owner wasn’t aware of the real reasons why people left — he was probably told they were offered more money somewhere else and how ungrateful of them, they chose to leave.
To avoid this, have direct impressions about your workforce and don’t trust your managers blindly. Get to know your employees, and have a good idea of who is contributing what through your own experience.
2. Offer Appropriate Pay and Benefits
Good pay and benefits are certainly very important in order to keep your employees. You need to pay well — market rates or above. You might think you can offer other perks (like a friendly working environment, or good career prospects) to compensate for the low pay. But the high performers won’t stay for the perks alone: they can find other jobs that offer perks and pay.
On the other hand, money alone isn’t enough to keep the really talented guys. No matter how much you pay, there are always companies who can pay more. Getting the balance right is a tightrope that you must walk.
Don’t pay enough and you lose the talent, pay more than is deserved and you’ll keep the parasites. It’s tricky, but you can find the right figures. As I mentioned, market rates for your area or industry (or above) is usually safe ground.
3. Maintain a Safe, Healthy, and Friendly Work Environment
Money isn’t everything and the wise ones know it.
No matter how much you pay, quality employees don’t stay for long, if at all, in an unsafe and/or unhealthy working environment. It isn’t rocket science to figure out why: nobody in their right mind will work in an environment where their health, or even life, is at risk simply because the necessary precautions to prevent damage haven’t been taken (not to mention it is usually illegal to offer such unsafe and unhealthy conditions, which could lead to fines, lawsuits and the closure of your business).
A hostile work environment will do no favors for turnover — and contrary to the belief among some managers, it is no better for productivity. When some of your friends and coworkers get cancer or have heart attacks because of the constant stress on the job, created not by the job itself, but by the hostile work environment, you learn that no job is worth the toxicity.
I can think of at least three friends of mine who developed tumors in their mid-twenties after spending a year or two in a very hostile working environment. The ill effects of chronically elevated cortisol are very real. Fortunately, all of them survived, but this could easily have led to another, much darker form of employee turnover.
While you can’t create the perfect work environment — there is no such thing — you can at least try to make the environment as pleasant as possible.
For instance, some bosses encourage intrigue because they think a “divide and conquer” strategy keeps the situation under control. They believe this prevents employees from uniting against them. Needless to say, this doesn’t work — when somebody is an enemy because your boss wants it that way, he or she is an enemy not only when the boss says so but at all times and you don’t miss the chance to strike.
Very little gets done in an office dominated political games. On a typical day you spend one hour doing real work and six or seven hours ‘at war’. If you opt out, you will become collateral damage anyway. This is hardly a productive way to run an office, and it’s certainly not a good way to reduce turnover.
4. Offer Longterm Prospects
Longterm prospects might not be as important as money and good working conditions, but they matter. Promotion opportunities, training, and pre-defined rules for increasing salary/benefits over time are all factors that help to keep your employees happy.
On the other hand, not everybody cares a lot about longterm prospects. If I know I can find another, better job overnight, I wouldn’t care that it’ll take three years to get promoted and earn another $5,000 because by that time I will have found a better situation.
That might work for me, but it won’t help your turnover numbers.
5. Offer Flexibility and Small Perks
Flexibility and small perks are two more ways to keep your employees. Similarly to longterm prospects, they come secondary to money and a good work environment, but they do matter.
Flexible work hours (if the job permits it), extra vacation (if possible), and food/beverages at reduced prices (or free) are all options for you. You should know what your employees need and appreciate.
For instance, a friend of mine had free food not only at the office but as a takeaway for home. Most of the single guys loved this because they didn’t have to think about what to cook and eat at home, while for me personally (and probably for most females and married guys) this isn’t much of a perk. As with marketing, know your audience.
There is a lot you can do to keep your talented employees, and these are the basics you need to have handled. Unfortunately, business realities can get in the way — maybe you can’t offer top salaries when your business isn’t making enough, nor can you make everybody a VP just to keep them happy.
Sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t keep your best talent. But this isn’t a reason not to try. The moment you start losing your best employees, you’re in a potentially fatal situation and it must be your top priority to break the cycle before it’s too late.
Don’t resort to desperate means to prevent somebody from leaving. While there are times when you can keep an employee who intends to leave by fixing the problem within reason, it often doesn’t make sense to do it. If an employee doesn’t want to stay, even if you manage to get him or her back, this will only last until the next time they get a better offer.