Brands That Keep Their Employees Are Doing These Four Things

By Tina Mulqueen

I don’t want to quit my job. Granted, as a business owner, it would be difficult (and certainly not in my best interest). But study after study suggests that I’m in the minority.

Employment retention rates are grim. An astounding three out of four employees would leave their current job for greener pastures, and forty percent of businesses acknowledge employee turnover as a major concern. It’s no wonder, given that the costs associated with losing an employee are significant, ranging anywhere from thirty to four-hundred percent of that employee’s current salary. The numbers add up to an estimated eleven billion dollars in loss every year.

Given this unstable employment culture, I wanted to find out what the outliers are doing. What are the businesses doing that have maintained high retention rates in this turbulent employment environment? To get to the bottom of it, I reached out to Autumn Manning, CEO of YouEarnedIt, a software company dedicated to helping brands create “happiness at work” through an intuitive employee engagement and reward platform. Manning let me know the four things brands need to do if they want to keep their employees…well, employed:

1. Develop Leadership Skills

While nearly three quarters of employees may be inclined to leave for a higher salary, salary alone won’t keep them. Research points to developing employees into leaders as integral to retention. In fact, turnover, employee engagement and employee succession planning are cited as the top three challenges that HR managers face.

Understandably, these challenges are interrelated. Seventy-one percent of Millennials who self-reported a likeliness to leave their jobs within the next two years cited a lack of leadership skill development, or succession planning, as the reason. To make matters worse, sixty-percent of HR managers feel that they offer a clear career path for employees, but a meager thirty-six percent of employees agree.

What could account for this vast difference in perception? How can it be that employers think that that they are offering something that employees believe they simply aren’t getting? Perhaps, Autumn Manning suggests, employers are missing the mark because they aren’t paying attention to what today’s employees want most—opportunities to learn and grow.

“Employees today aren’t asking for more rewards and more money despite what many of today’s reward programs are offering. Instead, they are asking for a rewarding and fulfilling experience at work each day,” Manning explains. “Access to more learning and development opportunities or involvement in key conversations across the business so they have more insight into what’s going on; these are examples of rewarding experiences for employees and things companies benefit from as well – win, win!”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of American adults spend about one third of each weekday at work. That comes out to about 8.8 hours each day investing time and energy into work or work-related activities—like commuting, researching, and communicating. Today’s employees want to feel like those hours are well-spent.

Rather than being the proverbial “cog in the machine”, Manning believes that employees want to feel as though they can grow with and influence companies, evolve in their roles, and enrich their careers.

“Many of our customers are offering rewards that include a discount to continuing education, access to executive leadership and mentoring, and even sending people back to school to get their enhanced degrees,” Manning explains. “It’s inspiring to watch, and further validates that employees want to be more involved at all the right levels, and today’s best companies are listening and enabling this to happen.”

2. Listen And Adapt

Recognizing the value of employees and engaging them meaningfully is critical to the long-term success of the modern business. A 2012 study conducted by the American Psychological Association reports that employees are 93 percent more likely to do their best work, and recommend their workplace to other talent when they feel valued by their employers.

OK. Valuing employees is important. Got it… But how do we let them know we care?

It turns out that keeping employees engaged and happy begins with understanding their wants and needs. While employers can attempt to simply predict what those might be, we already know that this isn’t a foolproof approach. When it comes to keeping employees engaged for the long-term, making assumptions without listening mindfully is a formula for falling short.

Instead of relying on prescience to predict what employees are thinking, managers should consider implementing a system that allows them to send and receive feedback in real-time. Though awareness of industry trends, competitor behavior and personal preference can certainly help managers make decisions about how they engage—and retain—their employees, there is no voice that can tell you about what your employees need and want more accurately than the employees themselves.

Manning points to The Motley Fool, a multimedia financial services company that also happens to be a client of YouEarnedIt.

The Motley Fool names open mindedness and communication as top priorities at their company, regularly looking to find what’s working for them and what challenges need to be addressed using employee engagement surveys. That’s how management determined that their employees wanted benefits that supported their growth and engagement—like tuition reimbursement and a peer-to-peer employee recognition platform.

3. Empower Your Team

Traditional management structures typically maintain a top-down approach that places heavy emphasis on titles and a chain-of-command hierarchy, but many businesses are finding success by leaving this conventional approach behind in favor of a more lateral management structure.

Typically when people hear the term “lateral” in relation to work, the connotation isn’t a positive one. “Lateral career moves”, for example, suggest that an employee is merely moving from one position to another without growth in the scope of their duties or compensation.

Lateral management structures challenge the idea that businesses should be built on hierarchies or big titles. Rather than closing executives off in corner offices and leaving all of the decision making to them, lateral management strategies put the onus of ownership onto every single employee—respecting each contributor equally and trusting them to make choices that benefit the company each day.

The benefits of this approach are manifold. Besides reinforcing the idea that all employees are important stakeholders at the company, a “flat hierarchy” model broadens the lines of communication between employees and managers; they can experiment with offering their employees new tasks, give and take feedback more readily, and more carefully observe the talents of their team—better situating them to understand and groom employees for long term growth.

All of these elements come together to form a workplace that prioritizes engagement, investment, and communication—all factors which contribute positively to retaining top talent.

4. Celebrate Wins Together

Joyce E. A. Russell, the dean of Villanova’s School of Business, lets us know that managers who prioritize recognition have a distinct strategic advantage over the vast population of managers that don’t. Why? Because, Russell argues, employee recognition helps to build a “cheering culture” at work that keeps employees invested in the company’s success—and in one another.

Managers, according to Russell’s research, shouldn’t focus solely on a team’s big wins, either. It turns out that focusing on small victories helps teams to understand the importance of their incremental efforts, and, in the long term, helps employees understand that it’s the small things that work together to add up to big victories.

An appreciation for these small wins—and timely, specific recognition for the employees that pull them off—is a critical foundation for employee engagement, appreciation and success.

More than money, more than gifts, and more than fancy titles, people want to feel like their efforts mean something in the grand scheme of things. People want to feel that their efforts have an impact on their teams, the organizations for which they work, and the community. Managers don’t necessarily have to be relentless cheerleaders shouting words of praise at their employees from the sidelines to get this feeling across. They just have to say, in a timely manner: “I see you. I recognize what you’re doing, and I’m so happy that you’re here.”

Want to attract and keep the best of the best? Help your employees grow, and let them know you care.

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Tina Mulqueen

Tina Mulqueen is the founder and managing editor of Et al. Media and the CEO of Kindred PR, a full service marketing and public relations company devoted to representing socially responsible brands in entertainment, media, retail and technology. A sought after tech communicator, non-profit founder, and avid advocate for women in tech, Mulqueen is a writer with a regular column on Forbes, and has been seen in INC, Adweek, TheStreet, Today, Huffington Post and Thrive Global, among other publications and media outlets. She's worked alongside CBS and Vanity Fair to get news coverage to trend online, and consulted with Marie Claire and other media companies on creating new revenue streams through influencer and affiliate collaborations.