Employee Retention: Why do employees leave?

Employee Retention: Why do employees leave?
Before exploring how to keep employees the best starting point surely is to ask: why do staff consider leaving in the first place? Oddly, more often than not it’s not about (or just concerned with) money. Of course, it is important to correctly value your staff but a lucrative salary isn’t enough alone to demonstrate this.

Employees leave for a multitude of different reasons: to seek a new challenge, to secure a better work-life balance, not aligning with company values or ethics, a lack of development opportunities, or even bad leadership and a lack of respect. 

So what can you do?

1. Talk to your employees

The significance of communication at any stage of the employment lifecycle from recruitment through to exit cannot be underestimated. 

Take for example, the dreaded annual appraisal. If your performance management process revolves around an annual appraisal- you need to urgently rethink. This strategy neither benefits the employee, nor the business because in short. If you are only giving your employees the opportunity to talk about their job once a year, how will they be motivated to contribute towards company objectives (if they are even aware of them), or highlight issues affecting their team, or even let you know they are thinking about next steps before it’s too late to change their minds?

This is not an article about performance management but all this to say; a culture that keeps employees engaged and in the business is one that encourages them to speak about the challenges they are facing. If you want to retain employees you need to be checking in with them regularly and not just inviting them to a formal meeting when you have a problem with their performance. If this is the case, they won’t trust that they can come to you for advice which could have prevented the issue occurring in the first place.

A happy employee is a high performer, and will be most likely to stay. Employees want to feel that their work is meaningful and of value: so keeping them up to date with company developments and making them aware of how they contribute to the company’s mission and how they fit in is pivotal to any retention strategy.

And if an employee has already handed in their resignation? Treat it as a data gathering exercise, hold an exit interview to ask them why. 

Without talking to employees and giving them a voice you can’t know what the problem is, you can only guess. You can’t prevent a problem if you don’t know the main reason behind it. 

2. Identify your high performers

As with everything, the narrower your focus the higher the chance of success. This also feeds into creating and performing a High Performance Working culture. Knowing how to identify high performing employees enables you to recruit, manage, and retain top performers. 

A common pitfall however, is not investing in them to learn new skills because things are working well as they are or keeping these employees in the job that they’re doing because they’re good at doing it .Understandably, you can’t always do what’s best for your employees as a successful business but neither should you overly depend on keeping the status quo as it is.

So how do you inspire your top performers? You can’t always promote everyone who is good at what they do, but you can give them more opportunities to both push the business forward and give them the opportunity to develop. Therefore resulting in them feeling that their work, contribution, and ideas are valued. For example; you could explore getting them to mentor other employees, or introducing a commission scheme to reward them for hitting targets. Or you could look at introducing Professional Development Plans so employees are encouraged and supported to move forward. Exploring horizontal as well as vertical career pathways to avoid those employees you want to keep falling into a rut or inadvertently restricting their contribution, skills and abilities to one department or area within your organisation - the result being that it is not just the employee that benefits but the organisation and its working culture and employer brand as a whole. 

3. Understand the importance of development

Multiple studies have been conducted which clearly show training alone is not enough to keep an employee. It is not unusual for managers to avoid offering training to their employees for fear that they will use it to find a higher-paying job elsewhere. So why do employees leave after successfully completing their training? 

The simple truth is that training is not the same as learning and development. An engaged and loyal employee is one who is allowed to grow and therefore see’s what they get from the organisation more than just what’s on their payslip. Training does not encourage loyalty alone because once it’s finished an employee can feel deflated and without a new challenge. 

It has become a cliche in HR circles that investing in an employee equals them investing in your organisation. However if the knowledge and skills you invested in leaves with an employee then notwithstanding your retention strategy failing it also leaves your organisation in a position where they are having to buy skills in rather than allowing an employee to grow into a role which also makes recruitment far harder and turnover difficult to manage.

A good and proactive learning and development strategy (and an organisational culture that supports it) should break this cycle: by allowing employees to feel that they are taking away as much from being employed by your specific organisation (compared to one of your competitors) the more they feel motivated to contribute to the organisation. Employees need to feel both challenged and supported in order to reach their potential - in short, if you are helping them achieve this they will be far more likely to stay.

4. Understand flexible working requests should not be unfairly dismissed 

There is no avoiding the fact that reward including benefits and perks into a remuneration package is often central to big corporate employer branding - to both attract and retain talent. 

However, allowing your employees to have a say on where they work and how they work is attractive to every candidate and employee. This doesn’t always mean promoting home working - some employees do prefer working in social, open-plan offices but again it’s a case of asking your employees how they like to work. This doesn’t mean you need to bend completely to your employees wishes (or not keep one eye how productive they are in different environments) but hybrid working arrangements are proving a big success for many SMEs and big corporations alike. It also works to foster the trust needed to ensure employees see their needs recognised.

Encouraging employees to ask themselves how they work best is a well-evidenced method of keeping the workforce engaged and productive and having an open dialogue about the potential for remote working is a key aspect to this conversation. 

At the crux of it: many people leave jobs due to a desire to achieve a healthy and fulfilling work-life balance and avoiding the pitfalls of stress, burnout, and poor mental health and wellbeing. It’s never been more important for employers to engage, support, and listen to their staff with issues they are facing and often that personal touch makes all the difference and knowing where to point staff if they need further help. However, embracing a flexible working culture is a step towards ensuring retention in promoting work-life balance.

So how do you solve employee retention?

All of the above points centre around good communication: maintaining a two-way open dialogue to ask who, what, when, where, and why when it comes to all aspects considered in the article is the best way to retain talent. 

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