Today’s War for Talent – How Do You Keep Your Best Employees?

by Laurie D. Battaglia

Employee Retention

The meeting was unexpected — your right-hand person, the one you’ve been grooming to take on your role someday, just gave notice. 

You didn’t see it coming. She seemed happy at work. As a matter of fact, she told you so in the last one-on-one meeting two months ago. 

She was recruited on LinkedIn, by a competitor who made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. And now you have two weeks to figure things out, and make plans to hire, onboard and train her replacement. But it will be a long time until that replacement is up to speed and fully functioning.

Statistics say that it will cost you about 200 percent of her salary to replace her in the soft costs involved in getting her replacement ramped up. More if she’s a key employee. 

What would you do if this happened to you later today? Are you ready? 

Competing in Today’s Job Market

If your company is hiring, you probably have stories about how hard it is to find the right people, how sometimes prospective employees are “ghosting” you by not responding or showing up for interviews or work itself, and how difficult it is to retain your best people. 

The national unemployment rate is 3.9 percent for August 2018, and that means your best employees may be looking for work, and not with you. 

How do you keep your top talent satisfied and engaged at work? Foster a sense of belonging.

People want to feel like they belong at the job and workplace they’ve chosen. It’s a feeling or intuitive hit, not always logical, that tells us if we’re in the right place or not. 

Here are some things that erode the sense of belonging for employees:

  1. They don’t feel like their opinion is valued. When they speak up, no one listens. Or no one asks them for their opinion if they remain quiet. They are talked over in meetings, and disregarded when they speak. 
  2. Their talents and skills that they bring to the job are not, or no longer, valued. Sometimes it’s a change of leadership with different standards or the company makes a culture shift. 
  3. Candor is not valued by the team or company. Problems are talked around, rather than talked about. Conflict is quickly shut down, rather than valued for bringing problems and issue to the surface.
  4. Employees feel like they can’t bring all of themselves to work. They cover who they really are to fit in. The masking is difficult to maintain, and your top performers will go where they can be fully themselves. More workplaces are rewarding this, and they are your competition.

What Can You, the Leader, Do?

There are simple things that you, the leader, can do every day. 

First, check your own biases about how the workplace “should” be. Our own experiences color how we lead and what our expectations are. Will your leadership work well in the future, given the diversity of experiences, race, religion, sexual orientation and identity, and political leanings that are prevalent in our workforce of today? Expecting people to fit a mold is archaic in today’s workplace, and it keeps women, people of color, LGBTQ people and others out of the conversations that matter at work. 

Second, treat people like they want to be treated. As a great mentor once said to me, “Not everyone thinks like you.” At Aligned at Work®, we’ve developed a model for effective work/life integration. It explores the things that are important to people, like vocation, relationships, finances, wellbeing and spirit, from each one’s perspective.

As a leader, you can help people explore what makes them tick, if they don’t already know. Trust comes from getting to know someone well, and it’s usually the things that we like outside of work that cause us to bond with co-workers. 

Here are five things that you can do, today or tomorrow, to retain your best performers: 

  1. Encourage role experimentation. Allow people to intern in different roles and to take on projects that stretch them. This is how we determine what works for each of us.
  2. Create community among team members. Help team members bond in their daily work by allowing time for them to get to know each other better. 
  3. Help team members understand the benefits your company provides. Most don’t understand their 401K, their health benefits, or other parts of their total compensation package. Ask your human resources contact to speak at a team meeting or bring in someone from the company who manages your 401K. Educate yourself and others.
  4. Allow people to be who they are, to the greatest extent possible. Outdated dress codes and workplace practices should be examined for relevance in today’s marketplace. Use the power you do have to make it a better, more inclusive place to work. 
  5. Be a respectful, inclusive and approachable leader. Little things make a difference, like saying “hello” and “goodbye” and sharing employees’ milestones. People want to see your humanity and they will reward you with their trust. 

Laurie D Battaglia is CEO of Aligned at Work® in Scottsdale, Ariz. Companies hire her when their people problems are creating profit problems.

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