The old axiom really is true: People leave managers, not companies. Especially in a strong economy, employees are in control; they have options, and they're not afraid to exercise them. Managers and supervisors with direct working relationships with employees have arguably the greatest impact — and the greatest responsibility — in retaining talented employees.
A recent Work Institute study of more than 234,000 exit interviews found that 77% of voluntary turnover is avoidable. According to the report, the top reason workers leave is career development, followed by work-life balance and manager behavior. Years of industry research reveal that the key drivers of engagement, turnover and retention are consistent from study to study, and relate to factors heavily influenced by managers, including leadership, recognition, learning and development, growth and advancement, and work-life balance.
A manager's job, above all, is to know what motivates employees to perform their best. The job is to understand, not to be right. That understanding is what it takes to build and retain great teams with high morale and high engagement, teams where individual skills and personalities complement. Highly effective managers have a number of hallmarks, and each requires repressing ego for the benefit of employees:
- Keep focused on employee engagement: This is a priority for every level of leadership, down to front-line managers. Engaged employees are productive and efficient. Their engagement predicts their quality of work and likelihood of staying with the company, and no one has better visibility into individual employee engagement than managers. Consider the statistics:
- 85% of employees are not engaged in the workplace
- 81% of employees are thinking of leaving their jobs
- Low engagement costs companies $450 billion to $500 billion each year
- Companies with a highly engaged workforce are 21% more profitable
- Employees who believe their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work
- 91% of employees think their leaders lack communication skills
- Set employees up for early success with onboarding: About 80% of employees say the onboarding process is important, yet 25% of workers say they receive no clear onboarding and 20% believe they were not fully onboarded after three months on the job. This is a critical failure at many organizations, because when the onboarding experience is not positive, new hires are twice as likely to quit.
- New employees should receive a comprehensive orientation on the company culture and ways they can contribute. They should get introduced to key staff members, learn the parameters and expectations of their roles, and be trained on the tools they will use.
- Provide consistent feedback and recognition: Most employees need regular confirmation that they are on the right track. Without feedback, including constructive negative comments when necessary, employees may stew over whether they are valued or even noticed. Positive feedback is especially important for employees' well-being and sense of job security.
In one study, 37% of employees cited recognition as the most important method of support. Individual employees have unique preferences about how they want to be recognized, with 43% preferring a one-on-one session with a manager, 10% preferring public praise in front of peers, and 9% wanting private, written recognition. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority want to keep recognition private.
- Develop your employees as leaders: On any team, conscientious employees reveal their leadership talents in a variety of ways. Some are organizational leaders, some are creative outside-the-box thinkers with unique problem-solving abilities, some are great at steering meetings, and some quietly help others on the team one on one. Recognize the individual strengths of each type of leader and advocate for her or his professional development within the company. Not all leaders are highly visible or assertive, but all have organizational value. When you help an employee discover a relevant career path, you create loyalty.
- Be an open communicator: Your direct employees should feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns, ideas or questions. Communicate with subordinates regularly in group and one-on-one sessions so they can develop a rapport with you. Resist the temptation to ignore employees with whom you share the least in common. Consider that your communications with each employee are observed by all of your employees and that your willingness to be inclusive and considerate affects each worker's loyalty.
- Open communication extends beyond the work itself. Recognize workers as people with needs that should be reasonably accommodated, such as employees with disabilities. Show empathy and concern for each employee as a person, not just a resource.
It takes a lot more than an attractive salary and benefits to retain top talent, especially in a strong economy. As a front-line manager or supervisor, you have great influence in employee engagement and retention, and the responsibility to exercise it.
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