We’ve all seen it happen or experienced it ourselves: A new hire is brought on after an exhaustive search. They’ve got the skills and expertise to succeed in their role, and after a few months on the job, they’re performing at a high level and working well across their team and cross-functionally. But unbeknownst to their hiring manager or the HR team, the new hire has been on the job hunt since they walked in the door — and now they’ve snagged a new offer and have given their two weeks notice.
Recruiters approaching employees with enticing job offers and workers departing for new opportunities is nothing new, but in today’s job market it seems to be happening with greater frequency. “Even before COVID, our employees would be [contacted] once or twice a week by recruiters who had new opportunities or better compensation,” said Emily Meekins, SPHR, PHR, founder, CEO, and Head of Fractional Talent at Workstrat, a recruiting firm and career coaching service. “[The market for talent] was competitive before, but it’s only been amplified now.”
Amplified, indeed. Lattice research into the trends of the Great Resignation found that more than half (52%) of employees with tenures of less than three months are looking to leave their current position, and that figure jumps to 60% for employees with tenures between three and six months. Overall, the most at-risk employees for leaving have been at their companies for 7-11 months (62%).
The most effective way to retain employees is to make sure they never want to leave in the first place, and this is done by engaging employees from day one. Here’s how to engage employees so they’re happy and fulfilled at your organization — and won’t be constantly keeping an eye out for the next opportunity elsewhere.
3 Ways to Boost Retention from Day One
1. Understand what motivates employees.
The factors that make work fulfilling tend to be the same ones that make people want to stay with an organization: a blend of purpose, meaning, challenge, growth, connection, and belonging that we derive from our jobs.
In their research, Clodagh Beaty and Marisa Elizundia, cofounders of The Emotional Salary Barometer (ESB), an online tool to measure emotional salary (or the non-financial gains we obtain from working) identified 10 factors of emotional salary. These factors include autonomy, belonging, mastery, purpose, and more. Different people value some elements more than others, and the way we weigh these factors throughout our careers often changes.
As leaders, the first step to emphasizing these factors in the employee experience is to communicate with employees, and then incorporate these elements where possible. Here’s where to start:
Help employees gain an awareness of the emotional benefits of their work.
Beaty said that a key to retaining employees is shedding light on the holistic value they get from their job. “It’s about helping people gain an awareness of the emotional benefits they get from their work,” said Beaty.
HR teams and managers can gather these types of insights through formal employee surveys, as well as informally through conversations with employees about their goals, motivators, and preferences from the beginning — starting with the hiring and onboarding processes — and continuing throughout their tenure at the company via regularly scheduled one-on-ones, performance reviews, and other check-ins.
“We shouldn't be waiting until people get another job [to begin engaging them in this way],” said Beaty. “We should start with onboarding, helping people recognize the emotional benefits they get from their work and creating a culture where it’s normal to talk about this [kind of development].”
Use one-on-ones to facilitate conversations about goals and values.
Given the collective trauma of the past few years, including the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing social unrest, and the recent multiple mass shootings, people everywhere are reflecting on what they value; reprioritizing their time; and reconsidering their futures, goals, and career trajectories.
“The pandemic encouraged a lot of introspection, and employees are reflecting on their accomplishments. People don’t want to feel as though they never achieved anything and so they’re seeking out more meaningful opportunities for growth,” said Jennifer Hill, consultant, cofounder of consulting firm Metabizics, and host of LA-area radio show Get Yourself the Job. “It’s important now more than ever as a manager to ask [your direct reports], ‘What matters to you?’”
One-on-ones between managers and their direct reports held at a regular cadence can provide invaluable information about the employee experience — and give leaders insights that can help keep workers engaged and retained. While some weeks there will be more to talk about than others, the regularity of the meeting builds trust and fosters connection, which makes these essential, deeper conversations possible.
2. Make the growth opportunities at your organization clear.
The opportunity for advancement within a company is a nonnegotiable for employees today. People want to know that they have a career pathway to progress at their organization, and more importantly, they want to know specifically what that looks like.
For employees who don’t see an opportunity for mobility, chances are good they’ll look for a new job. In their recent research on the Great Resignation, Pew Research Center found that of workers who quit a job in 2021, 63% cited “no opportunities for advancement” as a minor or major reason for leaving.
Conversely, employees who have a solid idea from day one of what their tenure at their current company might look like and are offered the career development to get there may be more inclined to stay in their current job. Lattice’s research revealed that career growth and guidance ranked highly in importance among Millennials, with 41% of this demographic rating “opportunities for mentorship” as extremely important.
Highlight the robust and rewarding career opportunities at your organizations with a few easy steps:
Communicate ideas and plans for career progression fully and clearly.
Sometimes managers may have ideas or plans for employees in their minds or even that are shared among leadership — but that message isn’t communicated to the employee so the person it affects most remains unaware.
“As leaders, we have to be open and candid with what the career track looks like for employees in order to ensure that when the phone rings or when the LinkedIn message comes in [from a recruiter for another company], we're engaged enough with our current team members that they know what the future at the company has in store for them,” said Thad Price, CEO of Talroo, a job advertising platform for essential workers.
Unfortunately, all too often these plans and ideas are left unsaid. “You have an idea of where [an employee] could progress [and] where they could go within the company, but you haven’t shared that with the team member and all of a sudden they leave,” lamented Price. Make sure this doesn’t happen at your organization by encouraging managers to have regular, development-focused conversations with direct reports.
Use tools that integrate with your one-on-one software to keep track of progress.
Tools to support employee career pathing and development, like Lattice Grow, can be essential for tracking competencies, advancing in individual development plans, and mapping career tracks. With technology streaming the process, employee career path planning is built into a workflow and the information is integrated automatically with one-on-ones — rather than just being an extra item on the to-do list of leaders that easily gets overlooked or forgotten.
Celebrate internal successes.
Hiring from within and celebrating employee growth within the company are other ways to message that mobility is a cornerstone of the company ethos.
“Celebrate employee success stories,” advised Price. As CEO, Price noted that he’s worked across the entire organization at Talroo: “I’ve been in product, I’ve been in engineering, and now I’m in leadership,” he said. “I’m a testimonial for supporting careers at Talroo and I think it’s powerful to celebrate that.”
For example, HR teams could consider launching a communications campaign for internal promotions. This could be a company-wide email that congratulates the employee who has been promoted and shares their story, as long as the employee is comfortable with this (be sure to ask!). Additionally, HR could equip managers with information on other internal promotions and advancement stories that they can draw on as proof points during development conversations with employees — and even during hiring and onboarding.
3. Pay employees competitively and be transparent about compensation.
Meekins spent a stretch of her career working with advertising agencies where it was common knowledge the companies wouldn’t be able to pay “as much [as larger corporations],” but that the experience alone of working at a prestigious company would make it worthwhile for the new hire. That’s not cutting it anymore, she said.
“Now people [feel] like, ‘But I can make so much more…and work less,’” said Meekins. “So compensation is hugely important to remaining competitive.”
As a recent article on Microsoft’s WorkLab site put it, in the aftermath of the events that have transpired over the last two years during the pandemic, “employees’ ‘worth it’ equation — what people want from work and what they’re willing to give in return — has changed.” For many young workers, the idea of “paying one's dues” at a lower salary to gain experience or work with prestigious companies isn’t worth it anymore in our current post-COVID world.
Pay transparency is the new norm. Workers want fair and equitable wages — and better yet, to understand how pay is determined. If your company wants to leverage compensation as part of its retention strategy, start by paying competitive wages and opting for more salary transparency.
At Talroo, Price said that transparency, pay and otherwise, is a significant part of their retention strategy. “Our sales team, for example, has very transparent titles and pay. You know what level of the business you’re at, what you’ll be paid, what your base salary is, what your OTE (on-target earnings) is, and what the next step forward would be,” he said. “Businesses need to be more transparent about what’s in it for the job seeker.” Price noted that with a clear pathway forward for career progression and an understanding of how much money employees could earn, offers from potential employers won’t be as enticing.
The past two years have been a time of tremendous upheaval — and the increased turnover of the Great Resignation reflects that. But this unique moment also presents an opportunity to change the work world for the better; we’ve already seen that borne out in all the benefits that have come from the shift to more flexible work arrangements, the growth in popularity of remote and hybrid models, and the boost in wages and benefits for many hourly workers.
Learn what your employees’ most important values and motivators are — and then be sure to support your workers and what matters most to them through your company’s culture, values, manager-employee interactions, initiatives and programs, and more. Openly communicate your vision for their future at the company, as well as how you’ll work together to make it happen. And share your compensation process transparently to support fair and equitable pay for all. With initiatives like these in place, you may find you won’t need to convince your employees to want to stay at your organization after all.