Remembering Retention

While you can (and most are) debate whether the recession is actually ‘over,’ I would caution employers against exhaling too soon. If you’re like most, you’ve been looking at employees through the lens of cost-cutting and termination. Times are changing and it’s time to look through the lens of retention.

I would argue you should never shift focus away from retention, but this is perhaps for another blog post. The reality is that retention has simply not been a priority for most businesses in the past 18 months and that needs to change.

An extraordinary legacy of the recent economic downturn is its creation of a new kind of employee; one who has seen, felt and experienced first-hand the trauma of working inside an organization when the economic world outside is crumbling. These employees are the witnesses. The survivors. And while they’ve been seriously disgruntled for months now (Great Recessions will do that), they’ve stuck around because of limited options elsewhere.

That’s changing.

Now, as the economic storm is ending, companies are hiring again. And so the fear of unemployment which held your workforce together is fading (it may be already gone). Your employees are polishing their resumes, getting in touch with contacts, sharpening their interview skills, and emotionally have one foot out the door. They’ve just been waiting for the skies to clear and for the storm to pass.

And – of the utmost importance to understand — they’re not doing this out of disloyalty. They’re doing this because they aren’t happy (to put it mildly) with what they saw, or how they were treated.

That means, frankly, that some of your best performers – the ones you kept — are poised to walk out the door, take their knowledge capital with them, and leave you with the costs of hiring and training new staff.

Your challenge? Stop this scenario before it happens by implementing smart retention strategies that work.

The Retention Strategies

The old “3-R’s” of realistic expectations, rewards and recognition all still matter, and not even a Great Recession can shake that.

Yet in addition to these staples of retention wisdom, you need to modify your approach in light of what has transpired in the workforce; both in your unique workplace, and in the overall sector/market.

Below are four best practices that can shape and direct your retention efforts.

  • Communicate effectively and honestly. Times have been tough and stress has influenced your’s and your colleagues’ behaviour in a lot of undesirable (okay, ugly) ways. Now that things are calmer and cooler, don’t behave as if “nothing happened.” Talk about decisions with your employees; explain some of the reasons behind them, and be open about where the company is and where it’s going.
  • Accept responsibility (or at least take ownership) of regrettable actions. If your employees respond to your authentic communication efforts with sadness or anger, take it – own up to it. Your goal is to leave as little room for rumour and fear as possible.  If you — or your company, of which you were the unlucky representative — made decisions which weren’t “employee friendly” (you know the ones we’re talking about), the blunt fact is you can’t do much to make up for that. The wound is there; it can’t be undone. However, you can and should own up to the actions and be prepared to accept some unhappy, hurt, and angry responses.
  • Focus on supervisor-employee relationships.  Broad retention strategies have their place, but the relationship between an employee and his/her boss is what really counts. One of the cruelest consequences of the economic turmoil has been an erosion of personal relationships and trust. By fostering supervisor-employee relationships, you help restore this bond – and keep a valued employee from leaving for greener pastures.
  • Focus on compensation.  Many non-financial factors influence retention and you should focus on those. However, don’t delude yourself into thinking they replace compensation. They merely enhance it. In short: compensation matters. If it’s time for you to give employees a bump or a bonus, now is the time to do it.

Context is Everything

In closing, remember: while these practices are all good ideas under any circumstances, your challenge is to apply them in context of what has transpired over the past months. So in other words, if after reading the best practices above you figure that you’re “doing all of this stuff already and have been for years,” then re-visit this belief and ask yourself: am I modifying these to reflect the new, post-recession labour market reality?

Chances are, you aren’t.

However, that’s no cause for alarm – not yet. Because you’ve identified a critical retention issue in your company before it becomes an expensive, time consuming and possibly un-solvable problem. That’s something to feel good about.

Your clear top priority now is to implement retention strategies that work and make sense in the new “recession aftermath” world. Be assured: it can be done, and the sooner you start, the safer, stronger, and more successful your company will be.

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