Workplace Fundamentals: Staff Retention

Dr. Purushothaman
December 5, 2013

Staff retention is an interesting topic. The word retention isn't exactly a word we use often, what is retention? Retention is commonly mentioned when someone is talking about bladder control but not business. However the word is used in business, by some, to mean the process of 'keeping staff'. What we believe we should actually be looking at, instead of this 'retention' is the word “attention.” What are you doing as a manager, or what is the organisation doing as a whole, to hold an employees attention in their current role?

A quick answer is often "If we pay them more money, we'll get their attention". We think that does work to a degree, but you generally only get their attention once a month when they get their pay slip, the rest of the month they're just going through the motions.

So, what do you need to do? You need to engage them in their role and ensure they want to give it their attention. For example, what is it they're passionate about? If you have an employee or your employees that are passionate about customer satisfaction then you should look to create an opportunity by which they are able to deliver and be involved in that on a regular basis and at a high level. Maybe they're passionate about employee benefits? Employee benefits is not always healthcare and the like. Employee benefits can be almost anything...

For example, say you're producing boxes and in the process there are cutoffs, the waste product that's left over. There are probably employees who have kids and cardboard cutoffs would be ideal for their class project, or for the class as materials. Letting an employee take those cutoffs rather than insisting that they throw them away (or recycle them actually) is a form of employee benefits. The Christmas barbecue, the conference you go away on and bring back two bottles of wine. They can get home and say “Hey honey, we've got some wine.” Or you send your employees a hamper at Christmas, or your boss does, or the owner does. Sometimes those things really mean a lot to people and as a reward or an incentive to motivate staff they don't cost a lot in the long term.

What you should be looking at doing is maintaining your staff's attention. Of course, with attention, people struggle, we don't hold our attention on anything for very long. A good example being a YouTube clip or perhaps an article that you're reading...if it appears to go on for more than 4 minutes or there seem to be too many paragraphs you may well be tempted to think “I’m done” and move on. These days we're at a traffic lights and straightaway we have to go to our phone because we're bored; it’s illegal, but we'll still do it for a couple of seconds to capture our attention.

As employees, as people, we need constant new stimulation (some more than others) and so that's why you need to think about a comprehensive game plan right through an entire year. You can't just offer ad-hoc attention grabbers “We're going to have this one little highlight and that'll keep them happy” - it doesn't work like that. All the partners at Workplace Incentives and myself and Peter at the Centre for Ubuntu Leadership, we all come from the same angle, the same approach. The same fundamental understanding is that you need to put a game plan in place because people will leave an environment that's dysfunctional. With a plan you can not only get their attention, you can keep it.

If your kids were in a dysfunctional school, you’d take them out. As an individual, as an adult, because you've got some financial responsibilities, you'll stay in a job for a while. If a role doesn't really serve you well, you'll look around at where else you can go, what else you can do, it's natural. Some will even happily go elsewhere for less money, but perhaps they feel that their growth, their importance, their opportunity to evolve, to become more, to contribute, were facilitated better there.

As an organisation, as a company, and as a company specifically, you've got to think about how you can develop employees, how to offer development to an individual. That doesn't just mean in terms of career progression, it means in terms of skills, learning opportunities, the chance to prove themselves, or experience something new within their role. You really need to think about that from a comprehensive point of view. You can't have the mentality that a quick infrequent chat will keep everyone onside.

If youâ're in a situation where you've got good people but you maybe don't know how to manage them or handle the situation that is growing within the office, then you need to ask for help. It's not a sign of weakness. Workplace Incentives deliver a wide variety of on-site work-based products & solutions that can help and they offer free information on their website too. Their blog contains short videos from me Mark Dobson, and their site has free downloadable information. You need to hold the attention of your staff if you want to retain them. It'll save you a fortune in the long term if you can keep the majority of your staff, especially the ones who care about their role, but most people already know that, they just don't action it.

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