Management: Five Ways To Keep Your Best Employees

An article in January’s issue shared recruiting ideas for finding good hires in today’s tight job market. This month we’re focusing on some ideas for retaining your best employees as the market continues.

In a strong economy, your business could be at risk of losing its best employees as your competitors work to lure them away. Maybe your employees are just looking around for a higher salary and more opportunities. Or maybe they’re just plain unhappy where they are.

A 2018 Conference Board survey reported that only 43 percent of employees are happy in their current positions. That number is up slightly from previous years, but the percentage of happy employees still represents the minority of the workforce.

So how do you keep your best people without breaking the bank? This, too, is a complex issue with no simple solution. There are some steps, though, that you can take to increase retention. And the good news is they don’t all involve big salary increases.  

Invest time and dollars in your managers and supervisors. According to a recent survey (and lots of other surveys, too), the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs is because of bad supervisors and managers. “Bad” supervision and management comes in all shapes and sizes. Employees may feel their work is not recognized or appreciated, they may not be given clear direction, or they may receive little to no feedback on their performance until appraisal time, when a host of issues that might easily have been addressed sooner suddenly appear.

To be fair, employees who are promoted into supervisory and management positions often lack the skills to succeed and aren’t given enough guidance and support by their supervisors and managers. And if they’re not successful and leave the organization or move to another position, that means another new, inexperienced supervisor may assume the role. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to hear employees say, “I’ve had six different supervisors in the past 18 months and I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.” Investing in your managers and supervisors can help your organization avoid this chronic problem.

Be proactive. Often, employees don’t get asked about their intentions for staying with an organization until they announce they’re leaving. Being pre-emptive and proactive—through regular employee communication using both formal and informal channels—can help identify employees who may be thinking of leaving. In 2014, recruiters at Credit Suisse started calling employees identified as being at risk of leaving and notifying them of openings within the company. By taking this action, the company estimates they successfully retained 300 employees and saved $75 - $100 million in recruiting and training costs.

Start thinking—and communicating—total compensation. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thinking about and communicating total compensation to employees. A typical total benefits package is worth 30 to 35 percent of base salary, and a robust package may be worth almost 50 percent. Add in incentive and profit-sharing plans, and your total compensation package may actually exceed that of your competitors. Make sure your employees understand that. And just like it’s possible to create a customized benefits package for a potential new hire, offerings like an extra week of paid vacation or an increased contribution to health insurance can be useful tools for retaining an employee you don’t want to lose.

Restructure jobs. If you’re balking at giving each of your customer service reps a $10,000 raise to match the salary of that new CSR, consider restructuring or adding more responsibility to their jobs. Do they handle more complex calls? Do they work more closely with the sales representatives? They may already be functioning as senior CSRs but without the pay. However you choose to address this type of issue, be sure that you are rewarding them with something tangible and meaningful. Most importantly, be transparent. Remember, your employees will talk about it.

Offer a variety of training and development opportunities. According to the same Fortune survey cited above, after bad bosses and compensation, the third most frequent reason for employees to leave their jobs is lack of opportunity. There are multiple ways to provide your employees with training and education to prepare them for new opportunities. These may include formal training courses, industry conferences, webinars and online learning or inexpensive alternatives such as providing a mentor or a cross-training opportunity.  

An increasing number of employers are also offering tuition reimbursement for education not related to an individual’s current position. Many traditional tuition reimbursement plans limit reimbursement to course work related to a current position, but a 2015 International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey reported that 46 percent of survey respondents offer tuition reimbursement for any course work, regardless if it is related to the work currently being performed.

The bottom line is to get creative and ahead of the game to keep your best employees. 

Susan Palé is a contributor for Affinity HR Group, Inc., PPAI’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations, such as PPAI, and their member companies.


For more than 30 years, the Gallup Organization has studied the key elements that highly-engaged employees say are most important to them at work. This has resulted in the Q12 Indexthe 12 elements that are tied most closely to job engagement and business performance. They are listed under order of importance.

I know what's expected of me at work.

I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

In the past seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.

There is someone at work who encourages my development.

At work, my opinions seem to count.

The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.

My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing good-quality work.

I have a best friend at work.

In the past six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

This last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow.


Ask your employees what matters most to them. You already have amazing employees. What do they love most about their jobs? Is it the autonomy? Is it the delish food you put out in the lunch room? Is it the wonderful clients you have? Promote what makes yours a great company and get your employees engaged in recruiting more talent just like them. And if you offer an employee referral program (and you should), make it meaningful. By that I mean $500 - $1,000 if the hire lasts a year. Use promo products and make prospects feel a part of the team before you’ve even hired them.

Help your talent alleviate their debt. Whether it’s an entry-level blue-collar worker or a recent grad with an MBA, young workers today are saddled with incredible debt, either in the form of credit card debt or student loans. They also question whether Social Security will be there for them when it’s their time to retire. Offer to help pay for their debt once they meet certain milestones such as length of service or performance level. You may even be able to offer a little less in salary for that huge peace of mind. There are companies to help you structure the benefit such as, and Vault.  And if you offer a retirement plan, teach your young workers about it and the massive benefits of compound interest. Chances are, they may not know how it works.

Offer flexibility. Study after study show that employees truly value the ability to work from home on occasion and most would like to be able to do so one day a week. Offer this as a perk. When a child gets sick or a family emergency arises, factory workers often become a no-call, no-show because they know there are no benefits allowing them to take time to take care of what’s happening in their life. Reach out to them. Let them know you understand and that if their situation changes, you would like to have them back.

Remember the dream manager. In his wonderful book, The Dream Manager, Matthew Kelly describes a real-life situation where a janitorial company dramatically reduced the turnover of its cleaning crew simply by hiring someone to listen to the dreams of employees and help them develop a strategy to make those dreams a reality. The act of listening is a powerful tool that can truly transform lives and corporate culture. Ask your prospective employees what their dreams are and help them achieve those dreams. They may leave you in the end, but they will appreciate you forever, and you’ll have no trouble attracting new employees with fresh dreams.

Offer sabbaticals. I know, I know. I get grief every time I raise this but hear me out.  What if, after five years of service, you were offered the opportunity to take some time off? Say a month or six weeks for employees to do anything they want—travel, study painting, visit long-lost family or write a book. They could stay with the company. The employer would have no added costs (payroll would remain the same, but you would need to realign duties for a period of time). Your company would create loyalty and memories for a lifetime. Who doesn’t want that?

I'm sorry if you thought I was going to talk about zip lines in the warehouse or baristas in the break room. But really, when it comes to attracting and retaining employees, it starts with listening to employees. Today talented people can get any job. Make them want yours. Your commitment to them, their dreams and their needs will do just that.


Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, Inc.

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