When addressing retention issues, consider what has changed and whether any solution is something that the organization can or should do.
Before you begin coming up with solutions or initiatives to improve retention, it's important to remember that retention is a symptom, not a cause. Retention, like engagement, reflects how people are responding to the work environment and their feelings about the organization, as well as their individual role within it. Retention is also influenced by outside factors such as the larger economy and the local job market.
So, before you decide what action to take, step back and look at the bigger picture. There are two key questions before working out your action plan.
1. What has changed lately?
Look at changes to the market, the organization and what's affecting employees in general.
Market: What is happening in the overall and local economy? Did a competitor come or go? Are there regular seasonal cycles for your industry? Have there been changes in laws or regulations that affect the organization? Have there been natural disasters that affected the housing market? Is the cost of living rising and causing people to leave the area, change careers or need more money to stay?
Organization: Has there been a change in leadership? Has there been a reorganization? Is the organization going through stress or threats from competitors, disruption or power struggles? Have there been significant internal changes in policy or strategy? Are you at the end or beginning of a fiscal year? Are there particular locations, divisions or managers where turnover or tenure is changing or increasing? Do you have opportunities for development and promotion?
Employee: Are there significant groups of your employees going through life changes, such as caring for others or retiring? Are the problems you're seeing related to individual needs and choices, rather than to the organization?
2. Is the problem something we can address?
Once you have insights about what's causing retention issues and have considered the bigger context, look at whether it is something the organization can control.
For example, if the organization just went through a merger, there will be higher turnover for a while as people get used to the new leadership, changes in process and different approaches. There may be specific interventions you want to do to retain key people, but higher overall turnover is natural and expected. In this situation, it may also be harder to see what is happening with your data because you will have a sudden influx of new employees.
With many issues relating to turnover and retention, an organization only has limited influence. So, focus on the things you can change. Then consider what you want to or should change.
Does the Change Align With Business Strategy?
Sometimes you know what change would help, like raising pay in a particular job or grade, but the organization has other priorities that also require significant expense, such as capital investments. In these circumstances, it's important to know what resources you need, what the budget is and how it fits with the overall strategy, so you can make an effective business case for any initiatives. Also understand what the potential consequences of not making the change will be and how that affects the organization.
Other times, there may be creative solutions, such as offering more time off or a one-time bonus to address the issues in the short term. The important thing is to look at the wants, needs, limitations and priorities so that any plan to improve retention is realistic, doable and makes sense in the big picture.
Not all plans to address turnover and retention require a lot of resources. At the individual level, sometimes just letting someone know they are needed, appreciated and understood can make a big difference.
If many employees are feeling flat and your turnover rates are rising, consider whether a different approach to performance management might help. Look at offering more flexible schedules or remote work. If you're not sure whether a new policy or approach will work, test it on a specific group and track what you're doing and whether it's working before rolling it out across the organization.
Do More of What Makes People Stay
It's easy to focus on turnover, but don't forget that retention is about helping people stay. Part of your analysis and investigation should always include an assessment of what you're doing well that people like and want more of. How can you improve what is already working? Is there something else that can be added, shifted or changed to make it even better?
Addressing retention requires an analysis of the data and problems, an assessment of what is working, then coming back to the bigger picture of the organization's business strategy, resources and what you can actually control.
Download the report: Getting Your Retention Strategy Right.
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