5 Creative Ways to Make Sure Your Best Employees Stick Around

Here are budget-friendly ways to retain your top talent.

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Show employees you value them personally and professionally

You’ve made a huge investment in talent: recruitment and training are only the beginning of the time and resources you’ve put into each staff member. Working together, to develop their skill set, experience, and network over time has helped them grow to become a valued member of the team. Like every asset your company has, you want to hold on to it for the future.

With staff members, like other tangible assets, there’s a risk for loss. Employees often wonder if there are greener pastures elsewhere. Professional media sites may bombard them with job postings. And recruiters may be actively trying to poach your top talent. To make sure your best employees aren’t tempted to jump ship, you’ll want an environment that lets them know there’s no place like home.  

1. Plan for their future

Nothing says we see you here for the long term like plans for the future, but don’t rely on “you’ll do big things around here” to suffice. Let your best workers know you have a tangible plan for them to grow, develop, and prosper. Once you’ve identified those staff members, get serious about their career — and their career within your company.

Start with a development plan:

  • Where are they now
  • Where do they want to be, and
  • What do you (collectively) need to do to get there?

Training, mentorship, stretch projects

It will be a team effort: the staffer, their current and potential managers, the HR team, and ownership. In some cases, an internal training plan will move them up the ladder. Come up with a timeline to start training, complete it, and reap the rewards of advancement together.

For some staff, outside training will be necessary: work with these employees to leverage your tuition reimbursement program to get them started on a more formal education pathway. Keep checking in on progress and be ready to celebrate any degrees received with a promotion or bump in salary.

For others, you may need to develop succession plans that outline where they are in the company today, and where you intend them to be in the future. With a clear path to growth, their long-term plan is within your company— not without. Remember to set specific timelines and follow up relentlessly.

Along every development pathway, mentor top talent to assure they have a sounding board for questions and a resource for growth. Someone should be there to offer guidance, support, and opportunities.

Stretch projects are another way to keep workers engaged. Allowing staff members from one department to assist another team helps them grow their overall knowledge base of the organization and the industry. With a broader background, staffers can show renewed interest in their own work, or even a desire to move laterally to an all new career pathway. 

2. Give them autonomy

People want to take ownership in the work they do, and that begins with allowing autonomy. Of course they’ll need to be trained and proficient in the role, but once they are, step back and let them take charge. Employees take pride in doing their job independently. Employers send a clear message when they allow staff to do so: we’re confident in your ability and trust you to get the job done.

Employees take pride in doing their job independently. Employers send a clear message when they allow staff to do so: we’re confident in your ability and trust you to get the job done.

Beyond the advantage of not having to micromanage staff, autonomy provides workers the opportunity to be creative and innovate. If they know you’re only confident in results, not processes, they’re free to perform their work in ways that work for them. They may come up with new ideas or solutions to existing problems — these benefit the company overall and the worker in particular. Make sure they know you’re anxious to hear about any innovation they create.

Part of autonomy is allowing staffers to take risk. We learn by doing and often by doing it wrong. No innovation has ever come without taking a chance. When employees are empowered to take risks, they can create. If they know their mistakes aren’t employment breakers, they’re willing to try new things. Often risks lead to innovation in products, processes, or services that can lead to wild success.

Remind your staff they own their position and they’ve got the power to take charge and take risks — you’ve got their back. 

3. Create an irresistible culture

Tempting staff members with outrageous perks may seem like a smart idea, but you really can’t buy love. Culture runs deeper than the free smoothie bar; it’s an environment that welcomes everyone, values them and their contribution, and encourages participation.

For many employees the “family” feel of their company is what keeps them loyal and in place. Knowing that the people you work with are part of your personal and professional team provides a sense of belonging — marry that with a paycheck and you’ve got a winning combination.

For management, creating an irresistible culture requires commitment to inclusivity and empowerment. Seeking diversity, for example, is just a beginning. Create an atmosphere where disparate people learn from each other, build on each person’s strengths and point of view, and shine as a team.

Culture is top-down: model the behaviors and environment you want for your company. If you spend all your time locked in your office, you emphasize separation. If your days are spent collaborating, you model team values. You lead by example; if you want them to do it, whatever it is, you’ll have to be first. 

4. Be a listener

Unless you own the company, having your dream job is often just that — a dream. Companies that want to retain top talent understand that actively listening is critical to making sure their employees create their dream jobs in your organization. Don’t just wait for someone to speak; schedule time to listen.

Ask employees what they like most about their job, and how you can help them maximize those experiences. Ask what they dread and brainstorm ways to make it better. Listen about the day-to-day and the long haul. Some days you may be able to brainstorm, others you may just be letting them vent. Active listening goes beyond “my door is always open” — it shifts to a preemptive “come in just to talk.”

When employees know they have a voice, they feel valued — which is critical to longevity on the job.

Being heard is important: in life and in work. When employees know they have a voice, they feel valued — which is critical to longevity on the job. When they know they’re able to use their authentic voice, to discuss issues and resolve them, they’ve empowered. Discuss their aspirations and dreams, with support and encouragement, and you may find they’re invested in collaborating with you for the good of their career and your business. 

5. Be supportive

Even the best, most reliable employee has downturn on occasion. Personal problems, illnesses, pressures at home can spill over into the workplace. Most employees try to minimize the fallout, but some can be inevitable. Businesses invested in their employees look for ways to help staffers over the bumps in the road today to salvage the relationship for the long term.

It can be as common as parental leave or as significant as extended leaves of absence to deal with personal matters. Companies that work with staffers during challenging personal times find loyal staffers return when the slump is over. It’s not a question of gratitude, it’s an understanding of who supported you when you were in need and repaying that support in kind.

Staffers don’t have to face personal or professional challenges to have your support. CSR — corporate social responsibility — rates high when it comes to employee loyalty. Your small business may sponsor a Little League team or donate to PTA auctions. If your employees have a vested interest in community activities, so should you. Many companies work on larger projects that get staff excited about volunteerism and service.

Ask staffers what organizations or service projects they’re passionate about, and help if you can. See if you can sponsor programs, provide goods or services, or allow staffers to use work time as service time. The more you help workers fulfill their desire to do good, the more they’ll see your company aligned with their own values. That’s a powerful motivation for employee longevity.

Retaining talent is a crucial strategic goal. Keeping employee’s career path top of mind and supporting them personally and professionally can help keep your staffers for the long term.

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