How Do You Keep Them?

You invest a lot in your employees. You spend money recruiting them, then you integrate them into your business which takes time and often money. There’s a sunk cost associated with hiring new employees, and it’s helpful to avoid sinking it again.

So, once you have got ’em, how do you keep ’em?

Well, you need to find out what they want. What is important to your employees, especially to those you think are the met important to retain? And once you figure that out, you need to decide if it is something you an offer.

A lot of people are looking to grow in their jobs. Figuring out how to do that in evolving industries can be tricky. Bureaucracies often have defined career paths, but your more creative employees tend to have more individualized goals that cannot be as easily defined and do not always fit a pattern. That reinforces the need for you to understand not only their skills but also the changes they have gone through — remember, the person you are retaining is not the same person you recruited.

Among the popular retention tools are training and education. From the employees’ perspective this helps them develop their skills and become more marketable, which does not mean they are necessarily going to leave, but it is always nice to have options. This points to a problem, though: you offer development opportunities, they take them, and then they leave. Consider some sort of contract that requires them to stay with the company for a minimum time in exchange for classes. You may not be able to afford to put people through degree programs, but consider individual courses or certification programs.

A lot of people are looking for advancement to convince them to stay. For some, this means moving into new positions with more responsibility and opportunities for leadership. For others, it means the chance to expand into different fields…maybe your interior designer wants to shift from residences to corporate offices. Sometimes advancement can be horizontal rather than vertical, even though here in Asia we often think of career advancement as only an upward thing (it would be good if we could change this mindset among employees and employers). Understanding what will help you retain people requires you to actually talk to people to figure what is important to them, since there is no one-size-fits-all concept of progression.

The old standby, of course, is improving compensation and benefits. This seems like a no-brainer. But remember, by doing this, you are setting new expectations. If you are offering some kind of one-time bonus you need to make sure they understand it is one-time, or they will be expecting it again. Likewise, be careful that other employees do not get the idea that they are automatically getting the same thing as soon as they have enough time under their belts, because a broken promise (even if only one person thought there was a promise) can lead someone to quit. Permanent changes in comp are probably best. So consider raises and increased vacation time, with a very clear understanding of why they are being offered. One thing, though: avoid using flex-time as a retention perk. Flex-time is not a benefit, it is a way of doing business, but too many people wave that around as an enticement to stay.

Do not get wrapped up in the idea that you have to retain everyone. Some people you do not mind losing, so do not offer them inducements to stay. Unless you have made some contractual obligation, you do not have to offer raises and other benefits to people unless you want to. When you create programs designed to retain employees, make sure you tailor them so you only keep the ones you really want.

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