[Opinion] Employee retention demands attention

By Harvey Mackay

An estimated 50 million Americans quit their jobs last year, causing massive headaches and a tremendous amount of lost productivity and revenue for companies.

The reasons vary. A good salary is no longer enough. Work conditions and other factors are more important than ever. In addition to compensation, employees also want to have a sense of purpose, opportunities for career advancement, recognition, a culture of trust and flexibility to work from home where possible.

Every employee is different. That’s why companies need to start conducting “stay” interviews more than “exit” interviews to find out what matters most to employees.

When I started Mackay Envelope Company many years ago, I created a program we call “One-On-One” where I spent 20-30 minutes yearly with every employee and asked them what was on their mind. They were free to share any thoughts or concerns with no repercussions.

It was much easier when I was building the company, and we had fewer employees. When my partner Scott Mitchell came on board as president in the early 1990s, he kept the program going, even though we had grown to 400 employees. This program has been invaluable for our company in retaining employees at an extremely high rate. It’s important to get out from behind a desk and visit with every employee.

As author John le Carre said, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

We also have an open-door policy where employees can come in and talk with Scott, me or any manager about anything without ramifications. Remember, employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers.

I believe strongly in recognition and appreciation. Prompt, sincere and public recognition is so important in retaining and attracting employees. It’s human nature for everyone to want to be appreciated for doing a good job. When people humbly respond “I was just doing my job,” it’s fine to remind them they were doing their job well, and you are grateful for their effort.

I’ve always tried to give recognition in front of a group, and single people out among their peers. Why not give others something to strive for and show them how you value good performance?

Recognition programs create a positive work environment by reinforcing desired behaviours, motivating high performance, increasing morale and supporting organisational mission and values.

I am convinced that T-R-U-S-T is the most important five-letter word in business – not sales or money or any other replaceable commodities. Trust can be fragile, especially in the workplace.

At every level of every organisation, workers need to understand the importance of keeping their word. Employees want to know they can depend on management. Trust between managers and employees is crucial to the long-term enthusiasm, loyalty and productivity of the company. For any successful working relationship, trust is a must.

Employees want to feel that they are part of a team on a mission and that they have a purpose in achieving company goals. I recently wrote a column about Alan Mulally, the former CEO of the Ford Motor Company and his “Working Together” leadership and management system that states employees must have a clear sense of purpose in any organisation.

It’s important to know where you want to go; to have a purpose. Finding that purpose is among life’s biggest challenges. Discovering what is important to you, what you are passionate about and where you can make a difference – those are the factors that drive your purpose.

Career advancement is another factor for many in retaining employees because they feel undervalued and underdeveloped. Managers need to let employees know that there is room to grow and develop and progress in the organisation. Managers must take a personal interest in an employee’s career goals and promote training and development. That could mean rotating employee roles or suggesting a mentor or advisor.

No one wants a dead-end job. A 2021 report by Monster states that 45 percent of employees surveyed would have stayed at their current jobs if they were offered more training.

Employees who participate in professional development are more productive. Employee development also boosts profitability. Research from the MIT Sloan School of Management showed that an employer’s year-long soft skills training program led to a roughly 250 percent return on investment within eight months.

Bottom line: It is infinitely more productive to retain good employees in whom you have invested and who are invested in you. Nurture that relationship carefully to keep your business thriving.

Mackay’s Moral: Take care of your employees if you want them to take care of you.

Mackay is an American businessman and author

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