Worrying news this week in the shape of research from Investors in People (IIP), which shows that six out of ten UK workers are not happy in their jobs.

The organisation’s annual Jobs Exodus survey found a 10% increase in people who are considering jumping ship compared to this time last year. Lack of job satisfaction, pay, and not feeling valued are cited as the main reason for employees’ itchy feet.

As any HR person will tell you, we are now in an extremely active job market where talent is at a premium and the best people can pretty much name their price.

So, what can HR do to help the business hang onto its best people while all around are losing theirs?

Encourage managers to say thank-you more often

A little while ago, I came back to my desk to find that someone had left me a chocolate bar. It was a thank-you for staying late the night before to finish an important project – just a small gesture, but it meant a lot and made me feel my efforts had been appreciated. Sadly, in business, we don’t say thank-you enough. Managers tend to concentrate on the people who are causing trouble or not doing their job properly, while those who are head down and performing well are just left to get on with it. HR has a key role to play in helping managers improve engagement levels in their teams, and saying thank-you more often would be a simple but effective start. It’s not just about making people feel valued and running a happy ship – it’s a business imperative. Research from Hay has found that firms with high levels of employee engagement have a revenue stream on average 4.5 times higher than those who score poorly on this front.

Get people feeling positive about the future

People have a tendency to get hung up on the bad stuff about their job. Their boss keeps dumping more work on them, departments are fighting each other over turf, there’s a restructuring afoot, everyone’s worried and no-one knows what’s really happening. If this kind of negative atmosphere is allowed to flourish, it makes people feel stressed and unhappy, and it doesn’t take much for them to start looking over the fence to see if the grass is greener. Creating a ‘glass half full’ culture can do much to raise levels of happiness and satisfaction in the business. Concerns and problems do of course have to be addressed – but HR can use mechanisms like staff meetings, internal portals, and in-house newsletters to emphasise what’s going well in the business. All these internal communication vehicles provide an opportunity to talk about new business wins, great client feedback, and exciting plans for the future. It’s about making the shift from what’s going wrong and whose fault it is, to what’s going well and how we can do more of it.

Actively seek staff input

If people feel involved in planning the future of the business, they are much more likely to care about it, and much more likely to want to stay and be part of it. Good ideas can come from anywhere in the organisation, and it’s the people on the front line who often know best how to solve problems and understand what clients really want. The latest generation HR systems allow HR people to be the instigators of a much more open culture where employees are encouraged to contribute their ideas and give feedback. The social portals that come as an integral part of some HR software solutions, for example, make it easy for employees to collaborate, innovate, and play a genuine role in driving the business forward. The recent Hay research points out, however, that it’s not enough for employees just to be engaged. If they are to help the business succeed, they also need to be enabled. Four out of ten employees questioned for the survey reported that a lack of resources was holding them back. Actively seeking staff feedback is a good way to pinpoint areas where more resources, more up-to-date technology, or more training can help improve employee job satisfaction and performance.

Fight for the training and development budget

In a fluid job market (and an improving economy) it’s more important than ever to provide the training and development people need to keep their skills up-to-date. Employees who may be feeling unsettled are less likely to leave if they can see opportunities ahead for them to learn, grow, and develop their careers. HR needs to fight for a decent training and development budget, and to convince senior management of the important role this can play in helping to retain key staff. The profession also needs to get creative about the way training is delivered, stretching the budget by supplementing formal courses with secondments, projects, mentoring and short, focused, in-house sessions. Of course line managers also have a role to play in helping people develop their careers. HR needs to equip the line with the skills they need to hold meaningful career conversations and to identify ways of developing their people that meet both individual aspirations and the needs of the business.

What else can HR people do to discourage talent from heading out of the door? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box.

You may be interested in reading about why HR software is a vital tool for manager retention.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.

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