The best ways to keep good employees

January is generally seen as a time for new beginnings – and never more so when it comes to a career shake-up. A survey out this week from Glassdoor shows that the first few weeks of the New Year is prime job-hopping time, with almost one in five admitting it’s the month they are most likely to be found polishing their CVs, scanning the online job sites and working their network.

Low salary was cited as the top reason employees were getting itchy feet, followed by the need to find a new challenge or do more interesting work. Younger workers also valued camaraderie highly, with 18 per cent of 16-24 year-olds citing poor relationships with colleagues as a reason for leaving a previous role.

Some staff churn is of course inevitable at this time of year. There will always be people who, for a variety of reasons, want to move to pastures new and nothing an employer can do or say will change that decision. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the right recruitment processes and technology are in place, employers can use the opportunity to quickly bring in new talent who can add a fresh perspective to the business.

Of course no company wants to lose its best people unnecessarily. So, what can you do to pinpoint those employees who may be thinking the grass is greener elsewhere and encourage them to stay?

1. Identify and engage with key staff

Identifying those who are ‘flight risks’ isn’t always easy. Formal processes, such as appraisals, don’t necessarily pick up staff who are disengaged and no-one is likely to fess up to job-hunting until an offer’s in the bag, by which time it’s too late. The key is to think about who your most valuable people are and look at what you are doing to keep them motivated and engaged. When did they last have a pay rise or promotion? What training have they had over the past year? Are they getting opportunities to develop within their role? An informal chat can often highlight areas you may not otherwise be aware of. An employee with caring responsibilities may be struggling to juggle everything and would welcome a shift to a more flexible role, for example. One of the team may be struggling with a long commute and would appreciate the opportunity to work from home a couple of days a week. The key to keeping hold of good people is often to have these informal, one-to-one conversations so you can find out what really makes them tick and would encourage them to stay.

2. Draw up an at risk register

Once you’re armed with information – or strong suspicions – about those who may be looking elsewhere, it can be useful to draw up an ‘at risk’ register to discuss with the senior management team. What would the implications be of a key person leaving? Would anyone else have the skills and knowledge to pick up their work? Are relationships with an important client dependent on that one person? This kind of intel and analysis can help to inform succession planning and identify areas where the business may be putting itself at risk. But it is also a good way to underline the value of your key people and to get approval for what needs to be done – in terms of salary, working arrangements or promotions – to keep them on the team.

3. Look at leaver history

Leaver history can provide important clues to what prompts people to leave and who might be vulnerable to a tempting offer elsewhere. If you are not already doing exit interviews, consider introducing these as standard and make sure the data is recorded on your HR system. Make sure whoever is doing the interviews follows a standard structure, so that you can extract comparable data. Bear in mind that employees need to trust the conversation is confidential, or they won’t open up and tell you the real reasons they are leaving. You may find that some patterns emerge from the data – not just around the causes of dissatisfaction but possibly also around areas such as length of service, age and salary level. Think about how you can use this information to have the right conversations with the right people at the right time.

4. Benchmark salaries

Budgets may be tight, but if you want to keep good people, you have to pay attention to salaries. Research from specialist recruitment agency Robert Half showed a quarter of UK employees would look elsewhere if told they couldn’t have a pay rise. Benchmark salaries regularly so you are aware of how you compare against other companies in your sector and location. You don’t want to overpay people, but you also don’t want to put yourself at a disadvantage against your competitors. Make sure staff are aware of the overall value of their salary package – research has shown that people consistently under-value benefits such as pension, health cover, child care vouchers or shopping discounts. Think about what additional benefits you may be able to offer and bear generational differences in mind. People value different things at different stages of their lives and careers – so take a look at your benefits to make sure what you are offering is what people actually want.

5. Monitor absence levels

Absence levels can also help to highlight areas of unrest or people who may be becoming disengaged. Use the data on your HR system to see if any worrying trends are emerging. Is absence particularly high in one team or department? If so, does this point to high stress levels within the team that need to be tackled? Are you suffering from short term absence on particular days of the week or times of the year? Are individuals with previously good attendance records taking an increasing amount of time off? Increased absence levels usually tell a story. Cezanne HR’s recent survey into absence found, for example, that younger employers were more likely to throw ‘sickies’ in order to attend interviews.

6. Learn from others

People are complicated, and it’s not always easy to identify why it is that some employees stay – and others leave. It can be helpful to take a step back from time to time and look at what other organisations are doing- both good and bad – that you could learn from. For example, SnackNation recently took a look at staff retention in five organisations, including Netflix and Amazon, and concluded that there are some themes, such as trust, collaboration, value and purpose, that crop up over and over again.

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