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Tips for Retaining Top Talent

The old axiom really is true: People leave managers, not companies. Especially in a strong economy, employees are in control — they have options and are 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.

Turnover peaked during the “Great Resignation” of the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of employees left their jobs in search of more rewarding or meaningful work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 70% of turnover (“separations”) in 2022 were voluntary (“quits”).

A great deal of this voluntary turnover is avoidable. Common reasons why workers leave their jobs include low pay, lack of career development and advancement opportunities, low levels of job flexibility and manager behavior. Key drivers of engagement, turnover and retention often 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 and teams where individual skills and personalities complement. Studying leadership, organizational behavior and management through degree programs like the online Master of Business Administration (MBA) General program from the University of South Carolina Aiken can be an excellent way for professionals to hone the employee-centric management attributes that foster retention, team cohesion and business success.

The following are five tips that can help the modern manager maximize retention while creating strong teams and workplace cultures.

1. 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 these statistics aggregated by Built In:

  • More than two thirds of employees are disengaged in the workplace.
  • Roughly 74% of disengaged employees sought new employment in 2021.
  • Low-engagement teams correlate with an 18-43% increase in turnover.
  • Roughly 70% of variability in team engagement can be attributed to managers.
  • Employees who feel ignored by their manager are twice as likely to report being actively disengaged in their work.
  • Over 80% of employees would consider leaving a job because of a bad manager.

2. Set Employees up for Early Success With Onboarding

The onboarding process is crucial for developing engaged employees. Employees who have a positive onboarding experience are exponentially more likely to feel “extremely satisfied” on the job. Yet, many workers say they receive no clear onboarding or the onboarding they do receive is slow and incomplete. This is a critical failure at many organizations because when the onboarding experience is not positive, new hires are eight times as likely to be disengaged, leading to high rates of turnover.

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. The culture fit is increasingly important, as well over 50% of today’s job seekers care more about company culture than they do salary.

3. Provide Consistent Feedback and Recognition

Most employees need regular confirmation that they are on the right track. Without feedback — including critical, constructive feedback 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.

Giving feedback and demonstrating employees are valued also strongly correlate with turnover statistics. Feeling undervalued and feeling underappreciated are factors in over 50% and nearly 80% of quits, respectively. Conversely, instituting formal recognition programs can lead to a 31% decrease in voluntary turnover.

4. 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 their 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.

5. 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 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. 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. As a front-line manager or supervisor, you have great influence in employee engagement and retention and the responsibility to exercise it.

Learn more about the University of South Carolina Aiken online MBA General program.

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