Three Keys to Retaining Your Best Employees

Slash turnover without spending more by mastering these strategies.
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Keeping good employees is just as important as hiring new ones. Make sure you're doing everything you can retain your best employees. (Photo: mavo/Shutterstock)

Running a small business is a more-than-full-time job, which means the less time you need to spend finding and training new employees the better. But hiring the right employee is only half the battle. Once you get a good person in the door, you have to keep him there. And that’s increasingly difficult.

According to a 2016 CareerBuilder study, 76 percent of full-time employees are looking for a new job or open to being hired away.

Benefits and wages are the easiest ways to keep staff on board, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to employee retention. And some of the strategies that work the best cost the least.

Mary Simmons, HR director for Portnoy, Messinger and Pearl Associates, a New York-based human resources consulting firm, offered these tips.

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Monthly birthday cupcakes for staff is a cheap and easy way to cultivate a friendly office culture. (Photo: Unsplash/Pixabay)

Cultivate a great culture

Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage, “People leave bosses, they don’t leave jobs.” It’s true. When it comes to stemming employee turnover, ask yourself: What kind of boss are you?

But there’s more than your management style to consider. HR experts say in today’s employment matrix, employees often quit a culture in addition to quitting a bad boss. You can fix that problem before it starts by creating a work culture that makes people feel wanted and safe.

“Retention has everything to do with engaging your population, and to engage them you have to have a good culture,” said Simmons. “There is no one quick fix; it has to come from the top.”

She pointed to Google’s culture. From cooked breakfasts and lunches to yogurt and fresh fruit in the break room, Google shows its employees it values healthy eating and well-fed workers. You can work harder and faster if you don’t have to leave to hunt down lunch or a decent snack.

Easy-to-adopt ideas for small businesses include healthy snacks in the fridge, occasional bonus vacation days and letting people leave early on a slow day or a day when weather will make the commute home dangerous or difficult. A business can offer pizza on Fridays, occasional Starbucks runs or birthday cupcakes once a month for staff.

Doing good for the community as well as each other can also help foster positive feelings about the company and the team. Organizing a blood drive after a local disaster is one example of a way to show employees, and the world, the company cares.

Creating the right culture is especially important for snagging and retaining millennials, said Simmons. “[The business] has to have a culture they can call their own and that employees can be a part of. But, a company has to create it and then they have to live it.”

Research shows that millennials in particular want to work for companies that practice corporate social responsibility.

Prioritize clear, open communication

No one wants to be left guessing when it comes to their responsibilities, their job performance or the company’s goals or policies.

Targeted written and verbal communication that details everything from customer service expectations to what to do in case of emergencies sets the tone for employees, said Simmons. Such communications drive home the company culture and also provide much-needed information on the basics.

“Communications is important no matter what the size of the organization is,” she said. “In a smaller organization they can still have an employee handbook. I have a client with three employees and she uses the employee handbook constantly. But more importantly, management and owners need to communicate verbally and in writing on a consistent basis with employees to let them know the goals, mission and vision of the company and engage the employees to work as a team to achieve those initiatives. When the employees are engaged they are less likely to leave.”

Set a tone that allows for and encourages two-way communication, which helps build trust. That way, a worker knows that if a problem occurs, he can ask for help. If a problem is identified, a good owner should do his best to fix it. Ignoring an issue that negatively affects an employee is a great way to push someone out the door.

“Communications also keeps you out of trouble because employees need to know they can come to you and say, ‘I’m having a problem,’ before they go to the Department of Labor or another governing body to say ‘I’m being sexually harassed,’ or ‘I’m being discriminated against,’” says Simmons, whose firm offers HR consulting to businesses.

Provide training

Studies have shown that when employees are given training, their level of commitment grows, productivity rises and job satisfaction increases.

“Training has a lot to do with retention because employees want to learn, and they want to be better at their job,” said Simmons. “Every time I do a training, people say thank you. And I say, thank your employer.”

Formal trainings, weekly brown-bag lunches or even a mentorship program might be just what you need to improve morale, increase output, positively influence customer service and in turn, increase profits.

Training doesn’t need to cost you. If you have older, more experienced workers they may be able to train other staff.

And if you have an employee who wants to learn a new skill, ask someone on staff who’s already an expert to teach them, or have the employee shadow that person. As the Small Business Administration notes, cross-training employees “is common practice in businesses that need an agile workforce ready and equipped to take on other roles should business requirements change.” It’s a win-win for everyone.

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