All too often, employee retention is spoken about in vague, jargon-heavy terms. Buzzwords like “company culture,” “engagement,” and “professional fulfillment” are tossed around as if their meanings were clear.
The assumption is if your employees are happy they’ll stick around. If not, they won’t.
That’s true. But it’s not exactly helpful.
Let’s demystify employee retention by looking at the numbers, research, and solutions. What makes employees stay? What might propel them to leave? And why should employers worry?
In a blaze of glory
People who identify as being consistently stressed at work are considered to be experiencing burnout. According to the State of Workplace Mental Health report published by Beyond Blue, one in five Australians (21%) have taken a day off due to stress or mental health issues. This directly impacts workplace productivity; however only 13% of people who consider their workplace as being mentally healthy will self-report such absenteeism.
Unreasonable workload and lack of management support are two of the main causes leading to burnout.
Looking for ways to maximise productivity, while also reducing on-the-job stress may seem at odds. It’s not.
Tried and true methods that bring them together for the purpose of employee retention include:
- Reducing noise and distractions
- Allowing employees greater autonomy
- Co-creating performance metrics instead of handing them down
- Measuring productivity first and only then looking for ways to improve it
- Providing employees easy and inviting spots to collaborate and connect with colleagues
- Introducing more natural light into the workspace, which has been shown to increase employee productivity and decrease the presence of negative moods
Let’s do lunch
According to research by TSheets (now QuickBooks Time), 48% of the Australian workforce gets a 30-minute lunch. While that isn’t bad, it’s not the hour-long lunch that seems to be as much a part of the workday myth as 9-to-5.
However, with 50% stating that having a lunch break—especially if it permits them to leave the office—makes them more productive, it’s worth paying closer attention to this refuelling stop in the middle of the day.
Of those who said they do not take a lunch break, 75% cited overwork as the main culprit.
The lesson here is everybody needs a break.
If 5 out of 10 of your employees feel better once they’ve stepped out for lunch and returned to their desks, sacrificing a full 60 minutes of the workday is a small price to pay. Additionally, a lack of breaks lead to the real productivity and retention killer: burn-out.
Free time doesn’t mean wasted time
Over the last decade, the perception that giving employees free time at work has changed from being a sign of sponsored waste to an example of workload management.
Different organisations have approached the problem differently: some (like Google) have allowed employees to allot 20% of their work week to projects they choose; while others have encouraged employees to seek outside training or take the time to learn a new skill.
Why this shift? Because more work doesn’t mean better work. According to research at Stanford University, once an employee works more than 49 hours in a week, per hour productivity starts to drop.
In fact, it’s been estimated that a person who works a 70-hour workweek on paper, actually only gets the equivalent of 56 hours of work completed. Talk about wasted time and extra stress.
Along these lines, employee retention means valuing their time and the quality work they are capable of by loosening demands on over-40-hour work weeks.
Your team needs time away from the daily grind, just like you. Without it, they will not only lose perspective on their work but also the motivation that propelled them to do it in the first place.
Don’t overlook inclusivity
One of the biggest buzzwords for the past couple of decades has been diversity. While many managers and organisations understand the broad strokes of making their companies more diverse, they might be overlooking diversity’s long-lost cousin, inclusion.
Research from LinkedIn has shown that 50% of employees feel they belong if they can be themselves at work.
Inclusivity is allowing your employees to be who they are.
Sometimes referred to as “identity cover,” think of inclusion this way—your company is having its annual BBQ and family is welcome to come. Does that mean Mike can bring his same-sex partner? What will the reception be like? Or if Sherry avoids putting up pictures of her kids for fear that she’ll be seen as “less serious” about her career, what kind of stress does that add to her work life?
While these may seem like small issues, the more comfortable an employee feels in the workplace, the more engaged and motivated they will be. If you’ve ever spent any time keeping a secret, even about something as benign as a surprise party, you know how exhausting it can be. Imagine trying to keep a secret about your core self from the people you work with 40 or more hours a week.
For managers and business owners, the biggest roadblock to inclusion might be the employee themselves. Depending on their past workplace experiences, it might be difficult for Mike or Sherry to genuinely accept that this office is different.
The best way to approach these discussions is via one-on-one interviews with employees or surveys. However, a word of caution on the former—if you’re going to sit down with a handful of employees, make a plan to sit down with all of them. Nothing zaps an employee’s motivation faster than seeing the boss dote on someone else.
Sit down and talk it through
As a final insight, a Qualtrics study from 2018 identified two major factors relating to employee retention.
Being happy with their work-life balance was the number one element of employee satisfaction. However, the number one number driver for employee retention was having a manager who helps to oversee their employees’ workload.
It’s obvious these two things are related. A manager that clearly and accurately helps an employee to prioritise tasks—especially when overwork is so rampant in the marketplace—will also impact that employee’s work-life balance.
As a leader, consider covering the following issues in a weekly or bi-weekly meeting:
- Review upcoming tasks and benchmarks as well as big-picture thinking regarding long-term projects
- Discuss any current setbacks to the employee’s workload: malfunctioning equipment, unresponsive co-worker, supply issue, etc.
- Allow the employee plenty of time to ask questions; while you want to get an update on their workload, the meeting is really for them to learn how to manage their time
- Set actionable and achievable goals; ending a meeting with ambiguity and not action items is a recipe for further work overload
Employee retention never goes out of style
It’s not easy to keep employees happy, five days, forty hours per week. However, it’s easy to see that doing so will result in less expenses for your company, and that hiring and retaining the right employees directly impacts your bottom line.