How to create a workplace where staff want to stay and grow
There’s been a flurry of articles lately about why people are leaving their jobs at much higher levels than before. Including this one from the Harvard Business Review. This trend has been labelled The Great Resignation. There is clear evidence of this in the USA, Western Europe and China.
Josh Bersin calls it the Great Migration. He makes the point that employees are seeking employers who offer a more strategic and holistic view of employee wellbeing.
As a result, employers are giving a lot of focus to understanding the reasons people leave. And that’s very important to do.
However, let’s look at this from a different angle. Not enough attention is being paid to why people stay (also known as job embeddedness).
If employers have a good idea why staff choose to stay with their company, they can actively work on those factors to increase their attractiveness to such staff. And they can work on getting dissatisfied staff to become satisfied and stay.
So, let’s turn the question on its head. Why do some staff choose to stay? What ties them to the organization? And what can employers do to increase those ties?
Let’s examine four distinct categories of reasons why staff choose to stay rather than leave. In turn I’ll unpack the role of social ties, purpose, pay & prospects and inertia in keeping valued staff onboard.
Four ways how social ties bind us to our workplace
The bonds that people form with their co-workers and leaders rarely get enough airtime. In this category let’s examine four distinct aspects of social ties that bind people to an organization.
a) Strong supportive manager
A recent Gallup survey indicated that 52% of existing employees stated their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them leaving their job.
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. Employees may join a company for its perceived image; however, an unsatisfactory relationship with a boss can sour this relationship very quickly.
When an employee has a positive relationship with their manager, they are much more likely to continue their career within the company for the duration that the manager stays with the company. If the manager leaves, the likelihood of the employee leaving increases dramatically.
The implication for employers is that strong effective managers are much more important than you think for the longevity of employee service. If you analyze turnover statistics per manager, you may come up with some surprising facts. And that’s a good reason to include voluntary employee turnover as a performance indicator for managers!
Managers who inspire loyalty and commitment from their staff should be given adequate support and flexibility to nurture these relationships. And unpopular managers may need some additional training and coaching to become better at providing positive leadership.
- b) Relationships with co-workers
There’s a lot of interesting research happening on how people bond with their co-workers and the impact it has on them staying on in their jobs. It seems that when there’s a strong community bond, or a tightknit team, people will stay on even if other aspects of the job are not great.
A few years ago, I conducted research into job embeddedness in the pharmaceutical company. I found that strong ties between an employee and an organization greatly reduced any intention to quit.
It just makes sense. Being surrounded by like-minded colleagues can be a powerful buffer that reduces the impact of a less favourable job environment.
It’s fitting that most companies actively encourage teamwork and the building of shared experiences amongst their workforces. Tight workplace relationships enhance employee wellbeing and positivity.
- c) Trust in leadership
Trust in leadership is much wider than having a strong relationship with a specific manager. If an employee trusts the strength of leadership that is demonstrated within the company, and if they perceive the company’s leadership team to have integrity and vision, they are far more likely to stack up the long service awards.
To this end, smart organizations ensure that leadership is visible. They put effort into regular, proactive and clear communication. You can’t trust what you don’t see or experience. That’s why leaders walking the talk is a critical part of building faith in leadership.
- d) Sense of belonging and inclusion
If you feel you belong in a place, you’re more likely to commit your energy and investment to making the place a success. And you’ll want to have a say in creating that success.
Employees who feel they have a voice in shaping events in their team or department are more likely to be loyal to the company. So genuine inclusion counts. If this is paired with a sense of belonging to a winning team and to a tribe of like-minded people, the probability of an unexpected resignation reduces dramatically.
This also applies to giving employees with an opportunity to provide feedback. And to experience first-hand that their feedback makes a difference.
Surveys have found that most employees want to provide their employers with feedback. And more importantly they want to see that this feedback instils positive change in the workplace. When they provide feedback and see no results, this negatively impacts on their intention to stay with an organization.
Four ways how a sense of purpose keeps employees from resigning
Every company needs a clear purpose or reason for its existence, and this purpose needs to ring true to employees. Let’s unpack four aspects of purpose that create employee embeddedness.
- a) Belief in the company mission and values
Most of us can spot the difference between hot air and sincere direction. Where employees believe in and subscribe to the company’s mission and values, they are much more likely to stick around. Where the mission and values are a lot of empty fluff and grandstanding, employees are likely to be cynical and to distance themselves from the PR blurb.
An authentic, shared sense of purpose and direction is powerful in attracting and retaining quality staff who believe in and sign up for the mission.
- b) Satisfying and fulfilling work
Heard of the term, “bullshit jobs”? The phrase was coined by anthropologist David Graeber and it refers to the existence of jobs which are meaningless and have the potential to create social harm. These jobs may provide a paycheck. But they don’t provide anything else, other than misplaced power and a creeping sense of dissatisfaction and frustration.
The current global pandemic has led many people to re-examine their lifestyle and their values. Many jobs have been found wanting. And many employees have bailed for greener, more fulfilling pastures.
Companies who spend time designing meaningful jobs with impactful outcomes are far more likely to be employers of choice. Most of us want to feel that we’re spending our days doing something worthwhile and creating value to some-one down the line.
Which jobs could your company eliminate tomorrow without leaving a ripple? And which jobs should be valued far more?
- c) Cultural affiliation to the company
Cultural alienation is often a hidden but significant factor in employee turnover. If an employee feels that the predominant culture of the company is not something they can identify with, they already have half a leg out the door. All they need is a better opportunity elsewhere before they’re gone.
Genuine appreciation of diversity is an important aspect of cultural affiliation. Implicit questions new employees ask themselves are, “Does this place value me? Are these my type of people? Do they do things in a way that I feel comfortable about? What barriers exist and for whom?”.
There’s an art to creating a workplace that encourages and appreciates diversity of view, opinions, and outlooks. A workplace where differences are seen as benefits. Where healthy conflict is seen as a way to build a better and smarter solution for all.
Building an inclusive workplace is an ongoing project which requires regular dialogue and a willingness to let employees shape the future.
- d) Emotional investment in the company
This may sound a bit fuzzy and woo-woo, but each employee makes an implicit decision about how much emotional energy they’re prepared to give their employer. If they feel a strong identity with the organization and its direction, they’re more likely to care about the company and go the extra mile.
If they don’t identify with the company, they’ll check out emotionally – just as in an interpersonal relationship. They’re likely to give just enough effort to keep their jobs going but will have an eye out for other opportunities and will jump ship when a better offer presents itself.
Companies which have a clear and exciting direction that is well communicated are much more likely to have employees who invest emotionally in the company. And this has a knock-on effect on those around them. Fans create more fans.
PAY AND PROSPECTS
Four ways how pay & prospects can make or break employee loyalty
Show me the money, honey! Most employers wrestle with the topics of pay parity and growth opportunities. Let’s unpack this into four different areas of potential dissatisfaction.
- a) Perceived fair compensation
Research has shown that most people believe they are underpaid even when this is not the case. So that leaves all of us somewhat unhappy!
Smart employers have sophisticated job grading systems and well-calibrated pay scales to ensure internal equity and external market parity. A lot of effort goes into maintaining and communicating these systems.
Problem is it’s hard to get these systems to produce the desired results.
Add high turnover, coupled with difficulties in finding suitable experienced staff, all exerts pressure to increase pay levels and sign-on benefits for new hires. And this in turn creates inequity for the loyal staff who stayed behind to keep things moving forward.
Where employees perceive that their pay and benefits are fair, and that the company takes extra efforts to reward them appropriately, they are far more likely to remain with the company rather than risk disruption and potential inequity elsewhere. The more variety a company can offer in pay packages to accommodate different needs, the more likely they are to retain staff.
Employers can use tools like transparency and communication to dispel misconceptions around pay and compensation.
- b) Opportunities for growth and development
A survey by an experience management firm found that 41% of all employees are looking for a job – and this rises to 53% for millennial employees.
Millennials and Gen Z want to know what’s on offer with regard to growing their skills and abilities. This is a key value to many of them. Ambitious staff at all career levels place strong value on the extent to which the company invests in them.
This leads us to the issue of the missing middle. Employers tend to spend the larger part of their training budget on induction processes for new staff, as well as providing elaborate management development and HiPo development programs for the selected elite. That leaves a large part of the workforce with very little investment in their future. And those are exactly the employees that an organization should value because they are less likely to move on a whim.
Employers who provide a wide variety of customized opportunities to all employees find themselves ahead of the game in creating a compelling reason for employees to stay. And these growth and development opportunities need not be expensive. They can range from stretch assignments, to study support, to online learning or in-house formal training. Rising in popularity is the emergence of action-based micro-learning focused on building specific skills which have been proven to advance careers.
What’s important is that employers provide flexible, customized solutions for everyone who wishes to use the opportunity – and that no one gets left behind.
People stay in their jobs if they have chances to grow and develop with their existing employer. It’s that simple.
- c) Recognition and appreciation
If you’re a manager reading this, hands up when last you gave a sincere and well thought out compliment to a staff member. If it wasn’t today, or even this week, you’ve failed this test.
If you’re an employee, when last did your manager, or anyone else in your work environment for that matter, give you a sincere and well thought out compliment? If you can’t remember when last that happened, sadly you’re not alone.
Even those of us who are fueled largely by intrinsic motivation feel pleased when we get genuine recognition of our efforts from some-one whose opinion counts to us. So why does it happen so infrequently and why do we find it so hard to verbalize our appreciation of others?
Employees who feel recognized and appreciated stick around. I can give you fifty more reasons why we should all be doing this a lot more often, but that will have to wait for another blog.
How about setting yourself a goal to give a sincere compliment once a day? To anyone whom you think deserves it. It could change a life.
- d) Clear career path
The rise of talent marketplace platforms support internal mobility by giving employees opportunities to explore career paths, focus their skill-building efforts and market themselves internally.
However, many employers are unable to provide sophisticated artificial intelligence-driven systems to enable such career pathing.
All is not lost, however. What employees value greatly is a face-to-face discussion with a line manager, mentor or coach who will listen to their needs and who will help them to craft a career path which incorporates their strengths, ambitions, skills and abilities. And then help them build their skills to take the next step.
Gone are the days where companies would craft rigid career paths that suited them and their purpose. Now employees are central to the process and require unique and customized paths to realize their own dreams and aspirations - which we hope will be matched by job opportunities the company makes available. It’s all about flexibility and adaptability – because both employees and companies are in a constant state of change regarding the future.
Employees who have clear evidence of their company’s investment in them will stick around. Because the company provides fair compensation and professional development opportunities.
Four reasons why your talent sticks around even if the grass is greener elsewhere
We’ve dealt with the action-driven reasons for employee embeddedness. Now let’s look at the issue from a very different perspective – namely why people stick around even if they don’t feel that it’s in their best interests. Let’s unpack a few of these.
a) Job security
Some employees place a high value on predictability and job security. These employees are generally averse to change. And there’s nothing wrong with that. They provide a solid foundation and ongoing institutional expertise for which they don’t get enough credit.
Employees who are not unhappy in their jobs and who work to the best of their ability should be valued. Smart employers design specific retention strategies around these employees, focused on their unique needs, to keep them satisfied and in place.
- b) Convenience
Other employees stay because the location of the company is good in relation to where they live, or it’s easy to reach transport wise, or similar reasons.
These employees are unlikely to look for other employment unless the work environment turns sour. To ensure longevity of these employees, it helps to do internal branding and marketing to provide reminders of the benefits of working for that specific company. In addition, providing recognition and appreciation of their ongoing commitment and loyalty to the company goes a long way.
- c) Perceived lack of opportunity elsewhere
If staff feel they are unlikely to find better employment elsewhere, they’ll stick around. The challenge is that there are happy stayers and unhappy stayers. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy employee who feels stuck and resentful – it’s a contaminating attitude.
For this reason, some managers encourage employees to benchmark their skills and abilities to external opportunities. At worst an employee may find a better opportunity and leave. At best the employee has a more grounded understanding of what’s on offer at their current company compared to the marketplace. This allows them to make a conscious decision to stay where they are and commit to their position.
- d) Golden chains
Golden chains refer to significant benefits that employees may lose out on if they jump ship. These could include pension benefits, bonuses, long service leave, exercising of stock options etc.
These employees are in it for the long term. However, the story doesn’t end there. Employers should not rely on these factors to motivate employees as chains provide a negative rather than a positive reason to stay. Smart employers acknowledge that golden chains may reduce turnover of valued staff. Yet those same staff should continue to be nurtured and developed through factors that are important to them – such as recognition, opportunities for advancement and development, interesting projects if that’s what they want.
What to watch out for
If any of your valued talent is with you due to inertia, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The organization’s role in relation to these staff is twofold:
a) To ensure that there is sufficient internal promotion of the things the company does well (highlighting reasons to stay)
b) To remove any potential dissatisfiers, such as lack of recognition or development opportunities. Don’t assume that inertia is permanent.
So now what?
The 16 reasons provided above why employees stay in their jobs are not overly complex. Nor do they require significant deployment of resources.
A strategy of “pick the low-hanging fruit first” can reap quick rewards. Employers can create stronger ties if they carefully select and work on factors within their control.
Which of the above reasons is within reasonable reach of your employer to action? And how much will this reduce the likelihood of employee turnover?