“Fun” and “happiness” are the bullshit red herrings of employee satisfaction. Still, many companies go for the free beer company culture band-aid instead of defining their real problems. You’re not going to solve employee attrition with team-building games, an office slide, and a forced, over-articulated sense of “culture” (although nap pods would be nice — we can all agree on that).
One study shows that a third of all new hires leave within the first six months of a new job. An employee attrition rate that steep can mean losing thousands of dollars in personnel investments and spending hours every week trying to fill the gaps.
But when you look closer at your turnover rate, you’ll probably find that not all turnover is bad. Redundancies and poor performance, for example, are two great reasons to let folks go. Not only that, but some employees don’t live up to expectations, despite our best efforts to nurture and grow them. You can bring the horse to water, but you can’t make him finish his TPS reports on time.
The importance of free beer is overstated; people don’t come to work for the beer. So why do they come to work, other than to earn a living? And what makes people stop doing their work, leave companies, or get fired? Turns out, psychologists and human resources professionals have been working on this for years, and they’ve found some answers. We just need to listen and implement.
1. Analyze Your Workforce
Because we spend so much of our lives and workdays on computers now, we have the power to use workforce analytics to find out what goes wrong in high turnover departments and how high retention managers can transfer skills. Make sure you’re building your models based on standardized metrics across the company; don’t use different rules for different groups. Analysis can also happen through conversations with managers in those same high and low performing groups, if you don’t have a system in place for crunching numbers yet.
2. Build Teams According to Personalities
This doesn’t mean you should give your employees a Buzzfeed personality test before hiring, but understanding how people work and what motivates them can help you get projects going faster.
If you build a team that only includes risk-taking leaders, you may get a lot of projects started, but the chance that those same folks can suss out the details are slim. Likewise, if you fill your teams with detail-oriented task masters, you may never innovate. Take advantage of leadership personalities to get decisions made and move projects forward, but also build teams that include people with an eye for detail. To round things out, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of people-oriented relationship builders to help different personalities work together.
3. Goal Setting and Engagement
We wish all of our employees were intrinsically motivated to do a good job for its own sake, but without goals to meet and exceed, many of us struggle to get started. And you can’t solve the problem just by throwing money at it. Instead of raising salaries 10 percent across the board, set aggressive but attainable goals to get people moving. When it comes to evaluation time, use these same goals to measure what works for your teams.
Engagement is a little harder to get right, but satisfied employees feel like they contribute to the good of the company and have a sense of choice in their projects. A company shouldn’t run like a democracy, but perhaps a little bit of republican (yes, little “r”) decision-making won’t hurt. Employees want to feel like their voices matter, that they have a hand in moving the company toward its larger goals, and they want to choose (to some extent) the projects they work on. These all contribute to those top levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which any Psychology 101 student will remind you lead directly to a sense of well-being and higher engagement.
4. Learning and Training Metrics
How much of their workweek do your employees spend on learning? Overworked employees have little time for learning, and learning increases engagement, so that’s bad. A company that values learning and development sends the signal to its employees that they want people to build careers, not just do a job. Learning and training can also pay off for the company, making it easier to promote from within.
Learning fosters a work environment where employees feel safe to experiment and even fail at some projects. Google famously budgets 20 percent of employee time to let people work on projects “they think will most benefit Google,” a program that Google employees said didn’t work in the ways it intended. The policy did give employees permission to try creative projects without needing their boss to sign off. Most employees actually pursued their creative projects outside of normal working hours, but it was the sense of accomplishment, learning, autonomy, and creativity that made them work this hard — not the free beer.
5. Hire and Fire the Right People
This may sound reductive, but spend more time finding and engaging the right people and ensuring that the benefits and pay you offer line up with regional and industry benchmarks. Spend time defining the skills, values, and personalities that work best for the roles you need to fill. The right fit could stay for years. The wrong fit can cause trouble, cost revenue in stalled projects, and waste time trying to find a replacement.
Get rid of these people before they poison the waterhole.
It’s not easy, but you have to be willing to fire people who don’t “get it.” Whether they can’t handle the workload, values, culture, whatever; get rid of these people before they poison the waterhole. Engaged and productive employees will leave and find a better environment when surrounded by ineffective co-workers who frustrate their efforts to make progress.
6. Offer Flexibility
Turns out, your employees are adults. Working from home, working remotely, flexible time off for family needs, paternity and maternity leave — all of these increase employee satisfaction, and good employees stay productive anyway.
Good managers know that flexibility doesn’t equate with loss of control. In fact, a Boston College Center for Work & Family study found that 76 percent of managers and 80 percent of employees believe flexible work arrangements have positive effects on retention. Why? Because a flexible work environment shows that managers trust employees to get their work done, even when life gets in the way. If you find that employees start to take advantage of a flexible work environment, maybe you need to revisit the previous point.
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If you want to reduce employee attrition, concentrate on employee engagement through meaningful work, goal-setting, and communication of worth. Respect and recognition are helpful too, but not just a pat on the back. Giving folks more responsibility and building their skill sets works even better.
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Guide to Employee Engagement
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