14 min read
Feb 14, 2017

Improve employee retention: How to stop your workers from quitting their jobs

It can cost up to 400 percent of a worker's annual salary to replace them, which means finding out how to improve employee retention practices is crucial.

Karen McCandlessContent Analyst

A quarter of Americans feel unmotivated and indifferent about their jobs. The same research says that almost half of employees in the US were thinking about changing jobs in 2016. Given that it can cost up to 400 percent of a talented employee’s annual salary to replace them, finding out how to improve employee retention practices are crucial.

“Employers feel the real cost of losing talent, which goes beyond just hard costs of promoting vacant positions and onboarding and training, and includes lost productivity and engagement,” says Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of digital coaching software PILOT.

While most companies pay lip service to the importance of their employees, how many have put practices in place to stop unhappy employees heading towards the exit? This is further complicated by the diverse needs of different generations, with millennials showing less loyalty to their companies and jobs.

“Today’s modern workforce is comprised of three different generations that each have their own unique set of demands,” says Una Lawlor, HR technology content manager at workforce management software provider Advance Systems. “Although Boomers have a strong traditional sense of employee loyalty, both Gen X and millennials are more inclined to change jobs on a much higher scale.”

According to Lawlor, this is due to factors that include:

  • Employee disengagement

  • Outdated workforce management practices

  • Inflexible scheduling

  • Lack of career progression.

In this article, we’ll explain how you can stop your best employees walking out the door, and profile companies that have implemented solutions to help them retain talent.

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Modern workstyles

With different generations of workers demanding diverse working environments, to keep employees happy, you need to be more flexible in the way you allow them to work.

According to predictions from research firm Gartner, by 2020, organizations that support a choose your own workstyle (CYOW) culture will boost employee retention rates by more than 10 percent.

The research says: “Done well, a CYOW program can boost employee engagement levels, which can translate to higher employee retention rates. Workforce issues repeatedly rank in the top three business priorities for CEOs, and employee retention and engagement are specifically called out as critical for business success.”

Karen Gordon, CEO of 5 Dynamics, a team performance and collaboration tool, agrees that workstyles and work environments can boost employee retention rates.

“While many companies look to office perks and vacation policies to attract talent, critical retention of those employees ultimately comes down to how well managers and companies can create a collaborative environment that values and fosters each person’s unique abilities and preferred work styles,” says Gordon. “According to our recent survey, nearly one third of employees have considered leaving their job due to negative team environments, and almost one in six are currently considering leaving.”

Gordon advises that: “To prevent talent loss, costly turnover, and unproductive work environments, managers need to start thinking about optimizing team relationships using tools and technology.”

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Employee engagement

Closely linked to the idea of choosing your own workstyles, employee engagement is a key way to improve employee retention. By 2020, Gartner predicts that 20 percent of organizations will include employee engagement improvement as a shared performance objective for HR and IT groups.

Employee engagement has traditionally spanned everything from surveys and quizzes to regular feedback sessions to better bonuses and rewards, and more recognition (especially socially). The challenge is to cater for the needs and desires of all generations.

According to a report from analyst firm Deloitte, these traditional employee engagement activities need to expand to:

  • Meaningful work

  • Hands-on management

  • A positive work environment

  • Opportunities for growth

  • Trust in organizational leadership.

It goes on to add that: “employees value “culture” and “career growth” at almost twice the rate at which they value “compensation and benefits” when selecting an employer.”

Chris Dornfeld, president and co-founder of employee engagement platform Bonfyre, says:

"One way to engage your employees in the workplace is to encourage them to build personal relationships with one another, and with management teams, through various activities, events and communication tools.

He adds: “Communication tools, for example, can be used to share photos, big news, and other exciting aspects of one’s life. Once these relationships start forming, employees are more likely to be more satisfied with their jobs and work environment, which helps boost retention.”

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Performance management

We’ve said it time and time again, performance management should not comprise of once-a-year, box-ticking exercises that do nothing to engage employees or assess how they are really performing.

Michael Papay, co-founder and CEO of employee feedback platform Waggl, believes that companies need to establish a way to collect continuous feedback if they are to provide performance management in a way that benefits employees. He says

"In order to be successful in an environment of constant change and disruption, you need to have your finger on the pulse continually, in order to gather quick and real-time feedback from your people on a variety of issues," says Papay.

Papay adds: “Pulse surveys provide an easy, efficient way to keep the channels of communication open, but it’s even more important to create an open forum for a richer, ongoing two-way dialogue between that builds connection, collaboration, and alignment across the organization, facilitating forward momentum and growth. “

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Training and development

Waggl’s recent Voice of the Workplace pulse indicated that only a third of HR and business leaders feel that their current training programs are meeting their development needs. Additional research says that in North America, the average manager accepts their first managerial role at age 30, but they don’t typically receive leadership training until the age of 42.

“That 12-year gap isn’t helping companies grow,” says Papay. “Organizations that do have effective training programs in place are better able to retain talent, which ultimately cuts down on the churn and disruption, and eliminates the need to constantly recruit for new talent. But perhaps more importantly, it’s critical for employees to have opportunities to constantly learn on the job.”

He continues:

"If the organization is committed to actively developing managers and mentors, training can be an integral part of the work experience, rather than something that's done "on the side."

Gordon believes that ongoing training and resources in areas such as inter-company relationships and collaborations - which are key in creating a work environment with high morale and retention - have largely fallen by the wayside.

“Companies expect to be constantly teaching and training their workforce to improve technical skills, but this is far less common for the skills needed to interact with coworkers and manage employees effectively,” she says. “Dedicating resources to tools and technology that ultimately help individuals (at all levels in a company) understand and work better with each other leads to happier employees who are more productive and less likely to leave.”

Ira S Wolfe, president of

Success Performance Solutions

recruiting software, provides three tips to improve employee retention:

  1. Engaging people still flows from the top-down. You can't delegate culture.

  2. Identify your purpose and then hire people who believe in it. Purpose fuels passion; passion creates energy to deliver, which then transforms people to believe they can do what needs to get done.

  3. Provide feedback loops - give it, take it, use it. The best performance question ever is "tell me something you don't think I want to hear."

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Real world examples of effective employee retention

In a bid to improve employee retention, companies have turned to workforce management software to decrease turnover. Here we profile some leading examples.


Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of digital coaching software PILOT, started working with Cadillac after he tested the auto firm’s new luxury car subscription service.

Brooks explains: “I met Melody Lee, director of Brand Marketing, who has fielded a team of A-players from outside of the automobile industry. Cadillac is making waves in luxury so her team is highly visible and sought-after externally, and Melody wanted to maximize her odds of retaining such important talent.”

Lee explains: “As a brand tackling the deeply challenging task of a turnaround, we - more than anyone - appreciate partners in our journey who take the same approach of thinking in a bold, fresh and innovative way. Those three words aren’t ones we’d normally use with traditional professional development companies, which is exactly why PILOT stands apart.

“The Cadillac team that went through PILOT’s full experience found it truly engaging. PILOT ultimately helped them identify ways in which they could bring more value to their careers, as well as feel more valued in their careers.”

According to Brooks, PILOT’s partnership with Cadillac is already yielding positive results and improving retention.

“The brand strategy team has identified the personal and unique things that they need to optimize their jobs, and what they want to pursue outside of the office to further their careers,” he says. “One colleague, in particular, wove together a variety of “asks” into a thoughtful presentation to Melody, half of which were things Melody didn’t realize the colleague desired. Plus, we’ve armed Melody with a variety of data-driven insights she didn’t previously have about what she can do across her team.”

Steel King Industries

US manufacturer Steel King Industries implemented Advanced Systems workforce management solution across its three landmark manufacturing facilities to accurately measure employee time and attendance.

“Workers can easily view their shift schedules, access important HR documentation and manage their own timekeeping,” says Lawlor. “Since installation, Steel King has reported a 28 percent increase in employee retention which is singularly impressive given the skilled labor shortage currently affecting the manufacturing industry.”

First Command

US financial services company First Command, showed a decrease in turnover, improvement in workplace collaboration, and overall employee happiness after using the 5 Dynamics methodology to discover how teams work together and understand each other.

In addition to other features, First Command is now able to pull peer, manager, and employee reports from the 5 Dynamics platform that describe how team members can have an effective discussion or meeting based on their individual assessments.

“More than 1,600 employees at First Command have now taken the 5 Dynamics assessment and training course,” says Gordon. “Employees have better work-related conversations, managers can more effectively inform workflow improvements, and happier employees have led to lower turnover rates.”

Gordon adds: “You can’t put a number on that good feeling that comes from loving where you work.”

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What are you tips to help improve employee retention?

To remain competitive, businesses must value their human capital and adopt innovative workforce management strategies and tools to help engage and empower employees.

“Improved communication standards, fair performance tracking and an increased emphasis on career development will drive productivity and reduce the significant costs associated with employee turnover,” says Lawlor.

Several software vendors have already baked employee retention features into their HR solutions. These include:

Which HR software would you recommend for improving employee retention? Let us know in the comments below or email me at karen@getapp.com.


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