Even if your company has the best hiring program on the planet, it will still use employee retention strategies to keep its best performers.
There are several tactics you can use to make your organisation the kind of place where people want to work, stay and grow. From compensation to recognition and advancement to workplace culture, combining multiple approaches can give your employees compelling reasons to stick around.
In this article, we’ve outlined 19 employee retention strategies. Beyond the list itself, we’ve also provided concrete actions that you can take to implement each one.
Why Employee Retention Is Important
Every company needs talented employees to succeed, making employee retention crucial. If you don’t make a concerted effort to keep your best ones, you risk them leaving for another opportunity. Although some sectors are experiencing layoffs, many others simply don’t have enough qualified candidates ready to take on available roles. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that there were still two job openings for every job seeker at the end of December 2022.
If a good employee leaves, it starts a costly cycle. For one thing, hiring a new employee is expensive. The numbers vary depending on the research, but one study by Society for Human Resources Management found that it costs around $4,700 to hire a new worker.
A departing employee also leads to a substantial loss of productivity and company knowledge, as the hiring process can take weeks, if not longer. Plus, it can take up to a year for the new employee to reach their full potential in a given role.
In the meantime, the departed employee’s team takes on the extra work that results from their absence. That can cause remaining team members to feel burned out, which can spur them to look for new work themselves.
Being purposeful with your strategies for employee retention can help you avoid this cycle altogether.
What Are Examples of Employee Retention?
Here are 19 of our favourite employee retention ideas. Some will take time to get right, while others you can start putting into practice as soon as you’re done reading.
A strong employee retention strategy starts with hiring the right person.
1. Be Transparent in Your Job Description
The last thing you want is for a role’s top candidate to be surprised by the job they’re asked to do. How do you prevent that from happening? Perfect your job description from the beginning so there are no surprises.
A 2017 survey by CareerBuilder found that around two-thirds of employees said that they had taken a job and realised after the fact that it was a bad fit. Of those employees, half said they quit the poorly fitting role within six months.
Solution: Invest some time and energy into revamping your job posting process. Does your job posting look like a hundred others on job boards? Try setting yourself apart with a video. Take the opportunity to demonstrate your company culture with the language you use while also giving prospective employees an idea of the team they’ll be working for.
“A lot of companies offer similar benefits,” says Rosanne Holmes, D2L’s learning and development manager. “So, show your candidates: what is it that sets your company apart?”
Above all, be honest. If you hire someone for a job and they don’t learn that they’re expected to be on call until after they start, they’ll feel duped or even resentful. As for the role’s duties, none of them should come as a surprise to the employee, but it’s important to balance being thorough with overwhelming prospective candidates with information.
2. Nail Employee Experience Early On
Employee retention has a lot to do with reputation, and that begins before a candidate even signs the offer. If your organisation leads candidates on, ghosts them or otherwise treats them poorly during the interview process, what does that say about the application process?
“The employee experience actually begins the day the person has an interaction with a company they’re interested in,” says Holmes. That means keeping candidates in the loop regardless of their stage in the application process.
Once a candidate becomes an employee, there’s a lot they’ll need to catch up on. Making the onboarding process smooth, thorough and interesting is a surefire way to get new hires started on the right foot. You can incorporate videos, quizzes and even games to make onboarding more enjoyable and to help make information stick for learners who absorb information in different ways.
Compliance may not always be the part of training that people look forward to, but conveying its importance to new employees can separate it from programs at other organisations. Help employees understand why completing this training is important and consider giving employees role-specific examples so they can truly understand the gravity of compliance training.
Solution: Communicate often with recent hires and prospects. Get feedback on your hiring and onboarding processes from them along the way, too.
When it comes to your onboarding process, review it often. Set up regular reviews, survey new employees and see how they found it. Do so again after a set period—maybe after three months, six months and a year. That should help determine how effective your onboarding was at getting them set up with your company and how well it prepared them for their actual job duties.
3. Maximise Internal Mobility
Great companies don’t just hire an employee once and be done with it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of all wage and salary employees in the U.S. was about 4.1 years in January 2022. But there’s evidence to show that younger generations are changing jobs more often.
For instance, the tenure is much higher among older employees (the median tenure for employees over 55 is nearly 10 years). But among younger ones, that number drops significantly—those aged 25 to 34 had a median tenure of just 2.8 years. And a report from Gallup noted that millennials (whom the study author calls the “job-hopping generation”) “are said to move freely from company to company, more so than any other generation.”
If your company doesn’t insist on making internal hiring a priority, you’re all but ensuring that employees who want to advance will leave.
Solution: Make internal hires a priority by setting targets to achieve by understanding your internal hiring rate. That’s the number of open roles divided by the number of open roles filled by an internal candidate. For every person who takes a new job within the organisation, that’s one less talented employee who may leave to join one of your competitors.
Internal hiring is a great segue into thinking about your employees’ careers rather than their jobs. In a sense, that’s what employee retention is all about- recognising your employees as people in careers rather than workers in jobs.
4. Encourage Career Growth
A 2021 study by McKinsey & Company found that the most-cited reason people gave for leaving their jobs was a lack of career development. That answer was more common than compensation, work expectations or leadership. The data paints a compelling picture: if you don’t give your team the opportunity to grow, they’ll leave to do so.
Career growth means something different to everyone. For one person, it might look like a promotion or raise; for another, it might be an opportunity to learn a new skill through professional development (PD).
“While we usually think about career growth vertically, a lot of growth actually happens horizontally,” says Holmes.
Our research, which we outlined in our white paper Enabling Upskilling at Scale, shows that the vast majority of employees want access to PD opportunities. Enabling your employees to take PD can pay dividends. It can:
- help people become experts in their fields and improve their performance at work
- foster innovation and break down silos when team members understand each other’s roles
- encourage internal mobility, prompting employees who are feeling restless to explore internal roles rather than external ones
Solution: During the research for our white paper, employees told us that the biggest barriers to taking PD opportunities were the time and the cost. Yet very few employers pay or give time off for these activities—and it’s a rare combination indeed to find one that does both.
Set your business apart by going above encouragement. Give employees the time to pursue learning, and, if you can, cover the expenses of doing so. Make it easier for your company and your employees by working with a professional development solution that works with your existing budget and has direct company billing.
5. Foster Employee Engagement
In its 2022 State of the Global Workforce report, Gallup found that just 33% of employees in Canada and the U.S. were engaged at work. And as low as that number is, it was enough to rank those employees in that region as the most engaged in the world.
That’s a big problem. In separate research, Gallup found that companies with the highest-quartile engagement rates had significantly lower turnover rates than those in the bottom quartile of engagement. In simple terms, the more engaged a company’s employees are, the lower the company’s turnover rate.
Solution: Make your vision and values central to everything you do. More than ever, employees want more than a paycheck; in fact, many employees say they’d take less money to do meaningful work.
When it comes to engaging your employees, don’t leave it solely to human resources. Successfully moving the needle on engagement and retention means getting all leaders involved.
6. Encourage Mentorship Opportunities
Starting a new job is hard. There’s so much to learn, even if an employee is fully qualified for the role they’ve accepted. Office dynamics and politics, specific product and market information, and the chain of command are a few things that new employees need to adjust to.
Early mentorship programs can help ensure that new employees start out on the right foot. Especially for younger employees, mentoring can make a big difference. A 2016 report by Deloitte noted that millennials who planned to stay at their company for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor as those who did not plan to stay for five years.
Mentorship isn’t just for new employees, either. It can also help more tenured employees grow their careers or prepare for a promotion (see “Maximise Internal Mobility” above). Additionally, the value of being a mentee can’t be overstated. More senior employees who become mentees reap the benefits of connecting with new employees, sharing their expertise and demonstrating their own leadership qualities.
Solution: Identify employees who would make good mentors and then employees who could gain from them. Focus on people who have shown interest in learning, advancing and growing, or those who might be struggling but could use a mentor to help get them on the right track.
Then, focus on formalising a mentorship program, with clear goals and benchmarks as well as measurable outcomes. This will help ensure your program is meeting its objectives and will help you improve it over time.
7. Challenge Your Employees
Many people are comfortable with where they are, but many others get bored when things get too easy. A 2017 report from office snack company SnackNation (which has since rebranded to Caroo) found that 61% of employees who report being engaged also say they’re challenged at work.
Challenging an employee doesn’t mean setting unrealistic goals or assigning projects that they will fail at. Instead, a challenge could be an opportunity for someone to improve a skill or take on a project outside the scope of their job, but one that they’re passionate about. Internal committees, for example, are great opportunities to challenge employees and to have them challenge themselves.
Solution: Encourage your employees to take on stretch projects and work that includes elements they’re unfamiliar with. These present opportunities for them to develop a more robust skill set and can help them become subject-matter experts. And, as mentioned, employee-led committees can be great opportunities for employees to challenge themselves, grow their internal network and build new skills.
8. Learn From Exit Interviews
An exit interview may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to retaining employees. But exit interviews are a valuable opportunity to make life better for your current and future employees; some may even argue that exit interviews are one of the most important employee retention strategies at your disposal.
After all, who better to teach you where your organisation’s retention strategy is falling short than people whom you haven’t been able to retain?
The reality is that even if you implement each one of these employee retention strategies, some good people will leave your organisation. When that happens, take the opportunity to earnestly find out why and what your company could have done better.
Solution: You can’t treat an exit interview as a box to check. Put thought into creating meaningful questions that invite clear and actionable answers. Then, commit to improving on the feedback that departing employees give. If a majority of exiting employees cite a particular reason for leaving, fixing it should become one of your top priorities.
Culture contributes to so much of an employee’s day-to-day experience. And a bad culture is a big deal: according to a 2022 survey by remote job site FlexJobs, 62% of people who quit their jobs said they left because of toxic company culture.
9. Focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
We could write a book on the importance and benefits of DEI: why it’s the right thing to do, why it’s overdue, and how it benefits companies and their employees. For the purposes of this blog post and as it relates to retention, the reality is that people want to work for companies that align with their personal values.
“They want to be able to work for an organisation that values and supports their people, one that allows them to bring their authentic self to work,” says Meagan Good, director of talent and inclusion at D2L.
“We know people are constantly reevaluating all the aspects of their work, from the what and the where to the how. They’re looking for opportunities that are more aligned with what is important to them.”
Having teams that represent the diverse users of your products makes you better equipped to create solutions that meet their needs. Companies invested in building an inclusive and equitable culture that values diversity are better at retaining employees. Research from Gartner found that a diverse workforce improves employees’ intent to stay in their roles by 20%.
While the benefits in employee happiness and the ethical reasons to focus on DEI are clear, it may take some convincing to get resources allocated to improve in this area. There’s a strong business case for diversity in the workplace, too.
Research by McKinsey found that employers with the highest quartile of diversity on their executive teams consistently had better financial performance than those in the bottom quartile.
Solution: DEI can’t be an afterthought; it needs to be built into the very fibre of your company. But the work takes time to have a meaningful impact on culture. Depending on the resources you have at your disposal, consider hiring an in-house DEI expert or an outside consultant.
“You can also conduct a diversity, equity and inclusion audit to understand where you’re doing well and where you have opportunities for improvement,” says Good.
“Leverage that data to identify representation gaps across various stages of the employee life cycles and understand where you’re starting from. Then you can set meaningful goals and, most importantly, track your progress.”
10. Create a Learning Culture
Learning supports many aspects of a business. It keeps employees curious, improves innovation and helps lead to job satisfaction. It can also directly impact an employee’s job performance, especially if the learning is related to a certain skill they use often that they’d like to improve. But if your organisation doesn’t already focus on learning, it can require a mindset shift.
“Some companies are reluctant to really commit to learning and development because they know that someday, that employee might move on. Some see that as an investment walking out the door,” Holmes explains.
Aside from the benefits the employee may realise in their day-to-day role, your former employees can be your biggest advocates—or your worst critics.
“Build them up and give them everything while they’re with your company. If they have that positive experience, they’re going to end up being brand ambassadors for your company even after they leave,” Holmes adds.
It’s not as simple as announcing a learning program and waiting for the results to roll in.
The reality is that many employees feel that they’re too busy to take on structured, formal learning. That’s where a learning culture comes in: making education part of your company’s fabric means that it gets the same priority as job duties, which in turn will reward you and your employees alike.
Solution: Clearly communicate that learning is just as important as other duties and then back it up with your actions. Insist that employees learn. You don’t have to go as far as to mandate it, but making time in employees’ calendars for them to learn can go a long way toward ensuring they do so.
11. Give and Receive Feedback
The only way to improve is to measure progress and get feedback.
“Especially in a hybrid work environment, ensuring employees have feedback on how they’re doing or if they’re offside on something is really critical,” says Holmes.
We often think of feedback as difficult. Not necessarily: while it does include constructive comments and reprimands, it also includes kudos and recognition for a job well done.
It’s not always easy. But it’s important to ensure that teams in your organisation have built-in opportunities to give and receive feedback.
Solution: Feedback sessions can feel daunting, especially because different people give and take feedback differently. Show your workforce you’re committed to a culture of feedback by training them to do so effectively. As with anything, practice getting and receiving feedback from the outset. Offer channels for employees to give feedback so they feel comfortable doing so.
On the team level, leaders can create dedicated feedback sessions with their teams so that they reflect and share often, rather than letting things build up. Ideally, feedback should never come as a surprise.
You can also take a professional development course or courses as a team to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to giving and receiving feedback.
12. Trust Your Employees
When it comes to culture, there are few things more important than trust. And trust runs both ways: leaders need to trust their direct reports and those direct reports need to trust their leaders.
“Trust is a big contributor to your employees’ psychological safety,” Holmes says. “If they don’t feel like they have the autonomy they need to do certain things, it’s going to be hard for them to feel all-in and feel like they’re succeeding in their role. It also relates highly to job satisfaction.”
People don’t want to be micromanaged. Trust your employees to execute what they say they will—and if they trip up along the way, your effective feedback and communication strategies will better equip them for next time.
Belief in one another is also imperative between colleagues: when someone asks for help or agrees to do something, others need to count on them to deliver what they’ve promised. If those relationships lack trust, then collaboration will suffer and employees will become more siloed in their roles.
Solution: Outline what trust means at a high level and encourage teammates to clearly communicate how they rely on each other. Have them refer to it often and ensure the lines of communication are open so that people can verbalise if they feel they don’t have the trust they need or deserve.
13. Make Work Meaningful
Every company has a mission and a set of values. Here at D2L, for example, we’re on a mission to transform the way the world learns.
For employees, it can be easy to lose track of that mission as they’re carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities. That’s especially the case for larger companies that hire people for more specialised roles. Someone who works on internal processes and tasks, for example, may forget that their job is connected to something much higher. But frequently reminding people of the impact they’re having—even if it’s indirect—is important to making work more fulfilling.
Solution: First, ensure everyone understands what the company’s mission is. Then, connect the dots: how does this individual activity help drive forward the mission, vision and values? What is the actual impact that this activity has? If it’s an indirect impact, who are they helping have a direct impact? Whose job couldn’t be done effectively without them?
Adding the weight of a company’s mission to even the most mundane tasks can help make them more interesting and fulfilling.
14. Foster Communication
Employees need to be able to communicate issues they’re having or else they’ll never improve. If your organisation is a place where people don’t feel comfortable speaking up, you’ll see employees leaving over issues that could have been resolved.
Communication from leadership is also crucial. Major organisational changes, good or bad, should be:
- communicated as early and broadly as possible
- celebrated or mourned as appropriate
- updated as frequently as is reasonable so employees have the latest information
No one likes to feel caught unaware, and as we’ve established, trust is imperative to an organisation’s success. Treating your employees with empathy and as mature adults can be a fine line to walk but an important one.
Solution: Plan lunch-and-learns, webinars or professional development opportunities to help people improve their communication skills. Being clear in your communication is a difficult skill to ace, so bringing in experts or outside sources can help people take steps to actively improve their abilities.
Compensation is more than just a paycheck. It also includes things like how your employees are treated and the other benefits that come with a particular role or company.
15. Provide Flexibility
Hundreds of thousands of workers got a crash course in remote work in early 2020. Since then, hybrid and remote work is in. A 2022 article by NPR noted that some companies have used flexible work as a bargaining chip, even offering it to employees in lieu of pay raises.
Not every industry can offer remote or hybrid work, though. It’s difficult, for example, to build a car from the comfort of your dining room table. But there are other ways to offer flexibility in a physical workplace:
- be accommodating of childcare or other disruptions
- give employees autonomy and control over work
- offer asynchronous work
- introduce a four-day work-week
Solution: If possible, offer your employees the option to work irregular hours, meet asynchronously, and/or work in a hybrid or remote capacity. If that’s not feasible for your organisation, you can still let your employees know that you’ll accommodate their flexibility needs. Most importantly, you have to make good on that promise.
16. Value Work-Life Balance
With a great portion of the population working from home, it can be easy to answer emails after hours or check in on things during the weekend. Ensuring that your team has the chance to fully disconnect is a good way to promote retention.
Work-life balance ties heavily into flexibility. But there are other ways that you can promote it as well. Encourage people to work when it’s convenient for them, but outline what the expectations are if they’re working during atypical business hours.
Another way to encourage work-life balance: let people experiment and try things. Foster a workplace where people can start committees and recreational sports teams and musical jam sessions, for example, to tie their passions to their work.
Solution: This messaging can and should start from the top, with leaders demonstrating that it’s OK not to answer right away and then practising what they preach.
“This is going to look different for different industries,” Holmes says. “But every company can ensure its employees can have a break, can take time for themselves to disconnect.”
17. Get Recognition Right
People like to know that their hard work is being recognised. And yet a 2022 Gallup-Workhuman study found that 40% of employees felt they weren’t being recognised enough by their leaders. The “bare minimum” amount of recognition to have an impact, the study suggests, is a few times per month. And more than half of employees who felt that the recognition they were getting wasn’t genuine or equitable were actively looking to leave their jobs.
As for retention, employees who felt that their employers were doing a good job of recognition were 56% less likely to be looking or watching for a new job.
The takeaway? Genuine appreciation for work well done is key to keeping employees happy and engaged at work.
Solution: “Recognition” means different things to different people. To really deliver a meaningful recognition program, consider how your employees want to be recognised. For some, it may be callouts in larger team meetings; others may prefer one-on-one meetings with their managers. For some, a few words may go a long way; for others, a gift card or a token of gratitude may be the most effective sign of appreciation.
Learn how your employees want to have their work appreciated so you can plan a recognition program that impacts them.
18. Prioritise Employee Wellness
Employee wellness encompasses a lot of things, including mental health, physical health and happiness.
A 2022 survey conducted by Indeed found that employees at companies that measure employee wellness were 80% more likely to stay with their company the following year than employees at companies that don’t. A separate survey by Modern Health and Forrester Consulting found that 73% of employees said they’d be more likely to stay at their company if the organisation offered their employees mental health resources.
And what better way to improve employee health than by offering health-improving options? Dental care, vision, or even a healthy lifestyle spending account for employees to sign up for a gym membership or fitness classes. These options can empower people to prioritise their health, which can make them happier, more productive and less absent at work.
Wellness also goes beyond wellness programs. Understanding that people’s lives are busy and unexpected things can happen can go a long way toward your overall organisation’s wellness. When people know their boss will understand if they need a mental health day, for example, it can add a lot to their psychological safety.
Solution: Devote company time and money to wellness and actively encourage employees to make use of these resources. Tie some compensation to wellness (e.g., a wellness stipend), so employees feel that if they don’t take advantage of the offer, they’re leaving money on the table. In the case of a wellness stipend, make it flexible enough that all employees can access it, even those who aren’t able to join a gym or participate in fitness classes.
19. Offer Perks (That Employees Care About)
Imagine that your employer has announced an exciting new company perk: starting next week, each employee will get $3,000 to build a jungle gym in their backyard. How fun!
The only problem is that most employees won’t be able to make use of this perk. It relies on a number of assumptions: that most of your employees have kids; that those kids want a jungle gym (or that your employees want a jungle gym as an adult); that they have a home with a backyard (or any yard); that they want to use that space to put a permanent jungle gym; that their town or city will allow it; that they have the time and mental energy to arrange to have it built; and that they don’t already live near a neighbourhood playground.
In this case, an employer could advertise their $3,000 family benefit, but if nobody wants a jungle gym in their backyard, then it’s nothing more than a gesture.
Solution: Survey employees to get a sense of what perks they actually want. It’s unlikely you’ll find a perk that 100% of your employees want, but offering several in which the majority are interested can ensure you’re covering most of your bases. Then, find the best way to actually provide those perks and make sure you’re marketing them effectively to your employees.
Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.
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