There’s a reason why industry experts, and the surveys they produce, can’t agree on exactly which employee retention solutions are best at keeping key them from fleeing: Different approaches work for different people. Plus, the importance of each will fluctuate over time. The 401(k) plan offered to a worker in his 40s may carry much more weight than to an employee in their 20s. But once the younger person reaches their 30s, the corporate game room will have lost much of its attraction, and the 401(k) will take on all new importance.
The best employee retention solution is almost always a combination of factors. Above-average salary is typically at the top of the list, but it’s what you combine with a paycheck that makes the difference. While employment law and fairness may require the same retention benefits be available to all, you may be able to tailor the final package to each person on your team by offering them choices (telecommuting options, 4-day work week, gym memberships, etc).
The first step is a sit-down meeting with each team member. Ask open-ended questions, and allow each person to talk freely about what motivates them, their desires for the future, their preferred benefits and more. Some managers call these “stay interviews” and offer them at regular intervals. By offering an amount of flexibility, you can better address the needs of individual employees, and determine their overall likelihood to remain with your company long-term based on their goals and work-life priorities.
One way to keep workers from leaving for a competing company at a later date is to have them to sign a non- compete agreement when hired. Once reserved for top executives, these agreements are now being used for lower level workers, as companies fight to protect their technology trade secrets and key employees.
These are powerful agreements that have proven very successful at not only keeping secrets secret, but also limiting the ability of competitors to poach high-value employees. However, they can also have a chilling effect on industry innovation. While beneficial for the companies that use them, entire industries can suffer when a big contingent of skilled and experienced workers are restricted from advancing their careers with positions at other companies. Therefore, some states (like California) have restrictions on their use, and others (like New Hampshire and Massachusetts) are considering the same.
Not All Workers Should be Retained
Just because you have an employee retention program, that doesn’t mean you should always use it. Some employees may never be happy working in your department. Others should be replaced with more skilled or productive employees. We all like to think that good overpowers evil. But according to the research of noted social psychologist Roy Baumeister, negative people and actions are far more impactful and memorable for those who experience them than positive people and positive actions. In other words, damage done by just one bad employee can spoil the best efforts of a whole variety of programs designed to inspire productivity.
A workplace study by Baumeister and two other professors found:
- Negative interactions with peers and coworkers have five times the impact on an employee’s mood as positive interactions.
- Employees recall the negative actions of their boss “more readily, more intensely and in more detail than positive actions.”
- Work teams with leaders who are rude, arrogant or overbearing will be less productive, less creative and less successful than work teams with “persistently positive” leaders.
A separate workplace study performed by three different professors seems to confirm the underlying premise. They found that just one employee with bad behavior, or an outwardly negative attitude, can slash the measurable performance for the rest of the work team by 30% to 40%.
Rigorous Screen is Your Best Defense
The employee impact of negative interactions compared to positive interactions
The best way to guard against a negative influence is to make sure you always hire happy, productive people. Of course, that’s easier said than done. It requires a rigorous screening of all the leading candidates during the interview stage. Combining forces with an experienced staffing partner is one of the most effective ways to quickly screen for attitude, work habits and other candidate soft skills. For a reputable staffing firm, candidate screening is a core skill. Other screening suggestions include:
- Going beyond the references provided by the candidate to speak with others who have worked or interacted with the person (another task a reputable staffing partner can help with).
- Invite the candidate in for a day or two of on-site work and ask them to complete some simple tasks that involve problem-solving, time pressure and interaction with team members.
Limiting the Fallout
Even the best screening will occasionally allow entry to a negative influence. And some workers turn into bad apples only after they’re hired. However it happens, when faced with a negative influence, you must act quickly and decisively to limit the impact and lasting fallout. Make it clear to the offending employee that bad attitudes are unacceptable. Detail the person’s actions in writing. And draw up a plan the employee can use to improve their behavior.
For hard workers who simply aren’t a good fit, you might offer them a different position within your department, or a spot in another department. For those who are truly talented and productive, but can’t seem to get along well with 10 others, consider assigning them independent projects and having them work from home. These extra efforts can go a long way towards demonstrating your employee loyalty and leadership values.
You should not, however, let a gifted employee with a bad attitude continue disrupting the work of their co-workers. Superstars with bad attitudes who are “too important to fire” can, because of their position, power and influence, have an even greater impact (negatively) on their co-workers than the department manager or anyone else in a senior leadership position.
As fantastic as it would be to find a simple one-size-fits-all approach to employee retention solution, the reality is that this is a combination that each company must find on its own. Perhaps in your case it’s as simple as installing a used pinball machine in the break room, or providing a few “cool” perks to your employees.
But in all reality, the ideal formula is likely more complex than that, including some combination of these superficial benefits done so in conjunction with much more organizational elements such as feedback loops, recognition