Rate Your Retention: Five Things Your Employees Want Most

When great front-line hourly employees quit, most managers take it personally--and with good reason. For more than 20 years, employee exit interview research has been telling us that the #1 reason the best people leave is because they feel they are being poorly managed. In other words, these folks joined the company and then quit the manager.

Just imagine how frustrated you would have to be with your job to decide to go elsewhere. That's how dissatisfied all the outstanding people who have left your organization have felt. If your people truly are your greatest assets, then the way your managers and supervisors manage those assets is the crucial key to your organization's success.

Whether you're recruiting field and area managers or hourly employees, there are five specific things everyone wants from their job, no matter what their position. If you can provide most or all of them, you'll be able to attract and retain the employees you deserve--the best!

For a quick evaluation of how well you deliver what your employees want most from their jobs, rank yourself on a scale of 0 to 5 on each of the items below (where 0 = Poor, 1 = Below Average, 2 = Average, 3 = Average, 4 = Above Average, and 5 = Excellent). Be honest. Before assigning a value, ask yourself how your employees would respond. If you can't give yourself at least a four for each category, what can you do to improve?

1. A great boss and co-workers. Who wouldn't prefer to work on a cohesive team where everyone pulls their weight and gets along? This is easier said than done. Sometimes the applicant who wowed in the interview turns out to be a dud on the job. When a hiring mistake is made, great managers know to cut their losses fast because their A-players won't stick around long if they have to carry or cover for slackers.

2. Interesting work. Great managers know how to make even routine tasks engaging. They create contests and reward things like increased productivity and They find ways to make work fun. In a recent survey of employees, 60 percent of the respondents reported their employers were not making use of all of their capabilities. Is that cashier a social media whiz-bang who could help you build a customer following? Could the purchasing agent/people-person be put in charge of organizing celebrations? Regularly survey employees to find out what other talents they have that would benefit the organization and keep them on board and engaged to boot.

3. Growth and opportunity. Not everyone wants ever-increasing responsibilities, but for those who do, great managers publicize opportunities and make the requirements and expectations clear. More than that, great companies and their managers do everything they can to help aspiring employees achieve their goals through tuition assistance, flexible hours to accommodate higher cross-training, seminars, special assignments, etc.

4. Family-friendly policies. Employers flexible enough to accommodate family-related special needs will have a competitive edge when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent.

5. Recognition, validation, appreciation. These are the most powerful, cost-effective management available, yet they're distressingly underutilized. Research verifies that recognition programs enhance employee engagement, performance, and retention. More effective than formalized programs, however, is a manager's sincere appreciation of a job well done, presented in the way that a particular employee will most appreciate. Some people love the spotlight and want to be acknowledged in front of their peers, while others would prefer a private acknowledgment. Some would love movie tickets and others would love a day off with pay. What you say is also important. "Thanks for taking the initiative and making sure that customer left happy" is far better than, "Thanks for the great job."

One caveat: Scrap that "Employee of the Month" program. If a manager is choosing "winners," the results will be seen either as acts of preferential treatment or as meaningless honors ("It's your turn this month."). For a formalized recognition program to work:

  1. publicize which specific achievements or goals will be recognized;
  2. make all employees eligible for the recognition; and
  3. make sure the recognition occurs as close to the accomplishment as possible so it reinforces the positive behavior.

In your recruitment ads, spell out what you offer that your competitors don't. If that includes great teammates, interesting work, opportunity, family-friendly policies, and recognition, the ad's headline could be: "Take This Job and Love It!"

Mel Kleiman is a consultant, author of five books, and a Certified Speaking Professional on strategies for hiring and retaining the best employees. He is president of Humetrics, a developer of systems, processes, and tools for recruiting, selecting, and retaining the best. His books include The 5 Firsts: A Simple System to Onboard and Engage Top Talent, and he publishes a regular blog (http://humetrics.com/blog/). You can reach him at 713-771-4401 or mkleiman@humetrics.com.

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