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Anne Holub
By
August 30, 2018

The Trick to Ace Employee Retention: Treat Them Like Your Best Customers

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Are employees in and out of your organization faster than you can say "Mandatory Quarterly Budget Meeting"? Then you might have an employee retention problem. Companies that excel at retaining talent aren't just making employees happy at work (though that helps a bit); they're also providing an environment that inspires them to stay.

Need numbers? Gallup’s 2016 meta-analysis report finds that firms with high levels of employee engagement report 21% higher profitability, 20% higher productivity, and 41% lower absenteeism rates.

It's about engagement…employee engagement.

You can measure customer engagement by seeing if someone abandons their cart vs. making a purchase, right? So if you're assessing employee engagement levels, you should be able to easily measure how many employees ditch their job for another employer, or how many not only stick around, but advance and refer others to join the organization.

Loving your job isn't just about perks. While perks might be a starting point, knowing that your company is offering value in the form of an employee experience is the most important aspect to promote employee retention.

Lindsay O'Brien recently started a new position as Senior Leasing Consultant at WS Development, a retail property leasing and development company, and remarked that during her job search she found time to really examine what would work for her at a new employer. Her new company's perks are complimented by their ability to stay engaged with employees.

"Recently they implemented a policy of full pay up to 14 weeks for maternity leave, plus a policy where mothers can come back onboard gradually," O'Brien said. "They do a lot of little things, like when an employee leaves, HR sends an email to the company wishing them luck, or the same with a major life event. It’s the small things like that makes it feel like you aren’t just a cog in the wheel!"

Employers that are doing it right:

Southwest Airlines:

Entrepreneur Magazine noted in 2016 that the company, "set the bar high -- from allowing existing employees from various departments to design their own uniform and giving them autonomy over aspects of their work life they’d never normally get a say in, to becoming a glowing example of customer service due to their collective of happy, committed employees."

Ben's Bells Project:

A nonprofit education group in Tucson, Arizona, Ben's Bells' mission is "to educate people about the positive impacts of intentional kindness, including teaching how our defensive brains work and how we can learn to practice intentional kindness as a skill. We offer a public, open art/ceramic studio and mosaic program in addition to our kindness education programs," said Director of Education, Laura Gronewold.

"Because of the work we do, we regularly spend time during staff meetings talking about the research that informs our work, discussing the difference between 'kind' and 'nice,' and problem-solving together using kindness to guide us through dilemmas," Gronewold said. "We talk about how to create a high-trust workplace, why it's important to be able to be vulnerable at work, and how we can practice gratitude. We back all this up with the researchers who we draw upon for our programming, as all of our stuff is evidence-based. So ... it's just kind of 'in the air' to create a kind workplace, and we try to practice it here on a weekly (even daily) basis. We are also actively participating in our organization's Kind Colleagues program, which is a fee-for-service curriculum that other workplaces can join."

Gronewold added, "Employers should and could approach the employee experience differently by recognizing staff members as individuals and as members of a team. Public recognition goes a long way toward helping a staff member feel grounded and invested in a workplace. Thanking individuals in small and large meetings is an underutilized tool for fostering a positive work environment. Employers should also offer flexibility whenever possible, especially with the options around telecommuting. If managers have not had any kind of social-emotional training, diversity and inclusion training, or opportunity to think about social location and identity, employers should also support their leadership team in doing so. There is a big difference between creating the appearance of diversity and people actually feeling included."

Dreamworks:

"Although employees at Dreamworks Animation are provided with perks such as free refreshments, paid opportunity to decorate workspaces and company parties after big projects are completed, a practice they really appreciate is that at such parties and events, they are encouraged to share their personal work and projects with their coworkers," writes Steffen Maier at Entrepreneur. "This opens up an appreciation of non-work related projects, boosts creativity and makes employees feel that they are more than just the work they do for the company."

Zingerman's:

The Michigan-based deli and bakery also operates a much loved catalogue service to ship its delicacies across the country, as well as ten (that's right TEN) other businesses related to food and education. For past Ann Arbor residents who hunger for a slice of their University of Michigan years, or just something different in the gift category, Zingerman's has a very loyal following.

"If you want the staff to give great service to customers, the leaders have to give great service to the staff," says Elizabeth Lindau, a past Zingermans employee and current Assistant Director of Development at Kalamazoo College. "This rule is less obvious and probably less widely accepted than some of the others. But it’s every bit as important."

"It’s one of the key tenets of Servant Leadership, which is the core of our leadership philosophy at Zingerman’s. (We learned it from Robert Greenleaf ’s excellent book, Servant Leadership.) "Lindau said. "Here’s the deal: the service that the staff gives to customers is never going to be better than the service that we as leaders provide to the staff. The tone comes from the top; although exceptional service providers may occasionally crop up on their own, they’ll always be the exception. The rest is up to us.”

Recognize your employees' good work.

As noted by Quantum Workplace, a company that helps others measure employee engagement, "a recent study shows that the sentiment ‘If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized’ was a top driver of employee engagement in 2018. Highly engaged employees know they will be commended and rewarded for being productive and are therefore more likely to go above and beyond."

And it's not just about giving someone a shout out at a meeting or another gold star for their cube wall. It's about rewarding employees in a way that they see as valuable.

How would THEY like to be recognized or rewarded? You won't know unless you engage them first.

Offer benefits that benefit your employees.

Healthcare aside, the perks that come with being employed are often bundled in impersonal ways. Discounts from businesses you don't frequent, a free gym membership that isn't anywhere near your home or office, or a monthly meal that doesn't fit your nutritional plan are just some of the ways that companies are spending more effort on perks that fall flat in the eyes of employees.

Benefits that are a product of tuning in to employee needs and wants are ones that keep them engaged and motivated at work — and are easy ways for employees to brag about their good workplace to others.

"I think offering thoughtful benefits and experiences to employees shows the company's investment in its people, not just its product," said Lacey who works at a software design company. "I appreciate knowing that my company cares about me and my happiness. It makes me more likely to promote the company to others."

"I have worked for companies that have really great looking customer-facing products, but their employee intranets really suck," she said. "When an intranet with all the tools we need for expense and time reporting is easy to navigate I know they care. I know these tools are not cheap and it shows that the company really wants you to think highly of them. I also appreciate high-quality technology and a training budget of sorts. It doesn't need to be a lot but knowing that I can take the time out of my regular work routine to attend a conference is a pretty great perk."

Listen to employees and make changes.

It's one thing to say, "Does anyone have anything they'd like to say?" when anyone who speaks up would be on the spot. Instead, offer employees supportive and easy to use forums to express their thoughts and ideas for improving employee engagement.  

Think 360 Degree Feedback:

  • It's easy to create online surveys and compile answers, especially if you keep it simple and to the point. "You are on page 1 of 20" is not a good sign.
  • We're past the "suggestion box" era, but having a "feedback@" email account that's monitored by HR or office management staff is a modern convenience that tells employees you're listening. (As long as you truly are listening!)
  • Use employees to staff multi-department planning committees to voice issues that have come up across the company to a compassionate listener on a higher level. Having a forum that listens and acts on internal issues beats grumbling staff frowning over coffee every morning.

This kind of engagement isn't just lip service, it really works to improve the workplace for the company and the employee.

"Continually measuring employee sentiment will help you better understand what areas to take action on and how to make the biggest impact," writes Emplify CEO and member of the Forbes Human Resources Council Santiago Jaramillo at Forbes. "When employees are authentically engaged, it leads to productivity, profitability and, more importantly, a team of workers pursuing the company’s vision and goals with vigor and enthusiasm every single day."

What's working for you?

Is your company engaging in the right way? Or how would you like to see them change? Let us know in the comments, or contact us.  

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