Working Smarter

The Best Retention Tool on the Planet

Posted by Joe Robinson

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Anyone who has ever waded through scads of resumes or interviewees to fill a position knows something most of us don’t: Talent doesn’t grow on trees. Finding the right skills combined with the right fit can be like staring at a fitting room mirror and wondering whether the new shirt or dress will work on you, or whether you’ll be back in a couple days to return something you have no idea why you bought.

There’s a lot on the line to get it right the first time, every time. Hiring the best talent is a painstaking art, and it’s expensive, replacing the most valuable people even more so. The costs run from recruiting and training to lost productivity while the position in unfilled. The tab to replace an employee earning under $50,000 is 20% of salary, reports a study by the Center for American Progress that examined 31 company case studies.

TURNOVER CONTAGION

It’s a bigger hit when it comes to hiring a new executive. The Center for American Progress found that it can run 213% of an executive’s salary to put someone new in a management chair.

High-turnover companies hemorrhage cash, but they rarely take into account the cost of the revolving door. Poor retention doesn't just hurt the bottom line, it also affects employee morale and commitment, as trusted colleagues leave. It can become a contagious, toxic cycle. 

The way out: Keep your people in the fold. Doing that isn’t rocket science. In fact, we have more knowledge than ever before about job satisfaction and how to keep employees happy—and better than that, engaged. 

First, there are companies that have already solved the retention issue, organizations whose employees love being there and seldom leave. The common thread at these firms is one consistent habit: Companies that take work-life balance seriously and walk the walk don’t have turnover problems.

SAS Institute, a $3 billion software company in Cary, North Carolina, has long topped the best places to work charts. Their turnover rate has ranged from 2% to 5% over the last four years in an industry that averages more than 16%. How do they do it? With exceptional work-life balance policies—37.5 hour workweeks, three-week vacations, on-site fully-paid daycare so you can have lunch with your kids, and on-site fitness center. You would have to have your noggin examined to leave a company like that.

WORK-LIFE FLEXIBILITY = INCREASED COMMITMENT

Policies that help employees take care of their responsibilities on both sides of the work-life ledger make people very loyal. It’s why study after study shows that flexible work programs increase satisfaction and engagement.

Researchers in several studies (Aryee, Luk, Stone; Halpern; and Houston, Waumsley) found that work schedule flexibility resulted in increased organizational commitment and reduced turnover intentions. Teleworkers are so happy with having some control over their schedules that they work longer than colleagues at the office and are 10% to 30% more productive (Pitt-Catsouphes, Marchetta, 1991). People who love their jobs do more willingly. That’s the definition of employee engagement.

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Modeling the behavior of companies that have great retention numbers can help improve loyalty, as can bringing work-life balance programs and practices to your organization, something we do here at Optimal Performance Strategies. The vast majority of management and staff have never received training in how to work in a way that aids work-life, and as a result operate in a retaliatory, reflex mode, which drives the opposite of engagement, stress and burnout.

Human nature is the same at every company. We feel appreciated and grateful when we feel valued. That’s what good work-life balance practices do. They tell employees the organization cares, and, as a result, so do employees.

ASK FOR NO PAYOFF, AND YOU GET ONE

Valuing employees brings us to the second strategy available to help keep talent on board—the science of human need gratification. It’s not widely known, but over the last couple of decades researchers have decoded the mystery of motivation. What makes people want to achieve? What makes them satisfied? If you know the answers to those questions, you're going to have happy employees. 

For a long time, it was thought that motivation was a simple carrot-and-stick affair. Offer an incentive, a bonus or promotion, and people would do what you want them to.

It turns out that, yes, people like money, but monetary and external rewards are not an engagement driver—because they are very ephemeral. The money wears off quickly, since we are all built with a been-there, done-that inner curmudgeon called habituation. We adapt to the new circumstance and get tired of it. The thrill is gone for a job promotion in two weeks, the research shows. Then you have to get another external boost to stay pumped up. Promoting people every two weeks would be great for business card printers, but not so much for the company.

There’s another kind of motivation, though, that lasts, and it’s one of the keys to employee gratification and effort: intrinsic motivation. You do something, not for an external gain but for an internal one—excellence, fun, learning, challenge, service, craft. When employees are intrinsically motivated, they are continuously interested in the work they are doing (Harackiewicz, Elliott).

UNLEASHING SELF-MOTIVATION

This is where human aspiration and company goals come together in work-life balance and engagement. As the University of Rochester’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan have documented in their pioneering work, we all have three core psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness, or connection with others. We can only satisfy those needs if we have the right goal, an intrinsic goal.

Help employees satisfy those needs at work with an intrinsic approach, and you have staff more than satisfied; they feel gratified and aligned with aspirations at a core level. They won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

This is something we help organizations do through our employee engagement programs. We show how to unleash the most potent motivation in your employees through the science of intrinsic motivation. We build the behaviors that make people feel valued, engaged, and competent—self-responsibility, initiative, shared decisions, perceived choice, and internalizing the meaning behind tasks.

We all have a job we have to do, but how we do it is where we can build in the flexibility that allows employees to gratify core needs like autonomy and competence. By tapping the needs of employees and communicating in a less controlling and more informational way, we can get employees to do what we want—because they want to do it.

Retention problems flourish when folks are too busy to do any managing or when the managing is based on the opposite of what motivates people. It all boils down to understanding what it is people really want, and the right way to communicate to them and empower them so that they are getting what they’re here for. And what’s that? Participation and involvement. They are not here to spectate.

Great work-life balance unlocks employee engagement, and great employee engagement opens the door to work-life policies that let people feel they can manage the full spectrum of their lives. That gratifies autonomy and competence in a big way, something that touches off satisfaction and its chemical victory dance by the brain’s party drug, dopamine. It's a sensation that makes them think it would be crazy to work anywhere else.

If you would like to find out more about our work-life balance and employee engagement trainings, click the button below for details.

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Tags: employee retention, employee engagement, job satisfaction, human resources, employee turnover

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