Seven Concepts to Improve Employee Retention

Fostering increased employee engagement is a challenge for virtually every company. Holistic gathered top HR leaders from around Chicago to discuss techniques that have wide application for businesses. Below are seven themes that are accessible to virtually any company interested in fostering employee retention.


Small Things Can Have a Big Impact.  And, You Don’t Have to Monitor Everything.

Too frequently we become obsessed with monitoring and measuring the success or the value of everything. But you don’t have to. Stacey Boeke told us about a program at CFSI where every employee gets a $150 gift card to spend on each other. That’s it. That’s the extent of the instructions. There’s no reporting, there’s no monitoring. It’s a demonstration of trust by the organization into the individual members and an opportunity for them to opt-in and be creative about supporting one another. Stacey reports that there are tremendous stories coming out of this endeavor: employees working with one another, buying each other coffee, a group of people going to a baseball game, etc. Employees can self-report their cool stories about what they’ve done. Any organization can do something in this vein, where they create an opportunity for employee retention and employee engagement but also make an investment in the trust between the organization and the employees. It becomes a win-win situation.

Be Proactive

Here’s one thing that I can say unequivocally -- you need to work on employee retention. There is no company in the world that is not worried about keeping their employees interested and engaged. You don’t need an employee survey to tell you that and you certainly don’t need a crisis or a bad situation to inspire action. Being proactive in addressing issues before they occur is a great way of fostering increase engagement. Morningstar has a program in which it divides employees into categories and is able to identify employees with a lot of growth potential. The Morningstar leadership team meets regularly to discuss opportunities to engage these employees: bigger projects, advancement opportunities, and the like., Make sure your company isn’t reactive.  Employees that are forced to exert a lot of the energy for their own advancement may decide it’s a better use of their time to look elsewhere.

Make Sure All Projects and Initiatives Have a Deadline

Several HR leaders, including Emily Barron and Bevin Desmond, indicated that having deadlines, or even more specifically finish lines, made a ton of sense. After all, the reason that employees are high potential is that they are great at their day-to-day job. They’re not looking for a zillion new projects or another permanent obligation. Building ad hoc committees or specific projects around employee retention initiatives that have deadlines and reporting and sunsets is a very valuable way to engage people without increasing their stress level.

Make Your Values Accessible

Organizations are constantly talking about values, purpose, mission, and culture, but in many cases, these concepts are so obtuse that it’s hard for employees to understand how their individual efforts tie into the broader objectives of the organization. That’s a shame. At ThoughtWorks, where there is a huge emphasis on learning and development, they also make sure that their values around the community are folded in and baked into the DNA of everything that they’re doing. “We don’t do any L&D programs without a community component attached, said Staci Larock, “Community and connection are really important to us.”

You Don’t Need a Huge Budget

While many of the conversations around employee retention cost additional money – launching the student loan repayment program is expensive - there are many things that companies can do for free that will foster increased engagement. Tamiya Aurel of United Way Metropolitan Chicago, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to donate money to programs and external organizations, points out that there are many things that organizations can do to pay attention to their employees and be really thoughtful about how they can advance within the organization without costing money.

Go Back to Basics

Liana Bran from the IHCC points out that the first two points on the Gallup findings of company interaction are very straightforward: do you understand your role? And do you have the resources to do your job? The report is that most employees actually don’t fully understand their role and they don’t feel like they have the resources to do their job, so doing anything additional is by definition very challenging. So Bran suggests that companies focused on specific support of employees in their current role ensure that up, as that is the basis for strong employee retention and that will build the foundation for all of the above-mentioned activities.

Help People Leave

This seems counterintuitive when talking about employee retention, but the fact remains, people will leave.  Being thoughtful about how you’re talking with employees about their future, and specifically being supportive of them after they leave your organization, is a critical opportunity. Amy Cwalina, of A-to-Z Consultants, says that companies should build an alumni board or community for their employees. “If you don’t do it for them, they’re going to do it themselves,” she says. The opportunity to create a simple alumni community - LinkedIn or Facebook are solid options - where former employees can stay in touch.  There is value in staying in touch with former employees. You want their exit to be amicable. Some can be great ambassadors for your organization. Others can be clients. Some may come back (Boomerangs!) But at a minimum, you want them to avoid trashing your company on Glassdoor when they leave.

We want to know your thoughts. Please share them with us at