The Ultimate Employee Retention Guide

Employee Retention Ideas and Examples

For our last chapter in this guide, we’ll look at three levels of staff retention ideas:

  • Common practices: what are considered standard expectations
  • Best practices: what leading employers are doing
  • Evidence-based practices: what we know is effective from research

We’ll also filter each section through the practice of listening or acting.

Listening

It’s a leap in the dark to make changes without knowing where changes are needed. Gathering feedback and opinions from your team members is important—it’s the only way to understand your company’s unique pain points, and typically will uncover a way to address them as well.

Acting

When you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. There are few experiences more disheartening for an employee than being asked for input, but then not hearing or seeing anything come from it.

Common practices

These are activities that most employers do and most employees expect. They are not requirements, but they are a good place to start if they’re not in practice yet at your organization.

Listening

We see practices of listening and acting as equally important. It’s a leap in the dark to make changes without knowing where changes are needed.

Engagement surveys

Just the act of asking for feedback provides a greater sense of employee voice. And just the gesture of showing that employees were heard, regardless if you can act on their feedback, is huge for engagement and retention.

The biggest value, though, is in the insights that your people share. Giving them an anonymous channel can bring out perspectives that they may not share with their manager or that may never get to the people who can respond to it.

That’s where the biggest opportunity is: responding. When you cannot give them what they ask for, explain why, and express how important their continued feedback is for the company’s continued improvement.

It is simple to get started with free or low cost tools like SurveyMonkey, Typeform, or Google Forms and a foundational set of questions.

Exit interviews

Work Institute examined over 234,000 exit interviews to uncover root causes of turnover, which align with what we’ve outlined in this guide. They also provide advice on conducting exit interviews:

  • Every organization is unique in the reasons employees leave, so avoid reliance on external benchmarks
  • Up to 63% of internal exit interview answers change when a third party asks about reasons for leaving, so ensure real and perceived confidentiality
  • Use interviews in combination with a survey of simple quantitative and qualitative questions to increase the scope of what can be learned

As Yelp grew from 1,000 to 5,000 employees, they asked for employee feedback through Culture Amp engagement surveys and exit surveys. When they saw a decrease in new hire sales retention, they used the data to understand why employees were leaving and predict separations with greater confidence. As a result, they made changes in recruitment and onboarding in Q4 2016 and Q1 2017, Yelp retention returned to regular levels.

Acting

Total rewards

Do you offer flexibility in start times? Have a significant portion of employees been promoted internally? Do you give employees autonomy to complete a task in the way they prefer? Are you proud of your product? These can all be a part of your total rewards offer.

“Bonusly… is beloved by the team. It's frequently mentioned by employees as their favorite benefit, and we offer free healthcare!”

- Mike Bearden, VP of People Operations, HouseCanary

To define your offer, start with an inventory of everything that current employees value about working at your company. This could involve surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

You could find that informal or grassroots activities are what employees enjoy most, for example: lunches that the team takes together or the fun decorations on desks. It is scheduling, location, and culture that make those lunches happen. It is the desk space, office policy, and culture that allows employees to decorate their desks the way that makes them happy.

In these examples, you could include office location and layout, in addition to freedom in policies and schedules, as part of an employee’s total rewards.

When you make an offer to a candidate, you could summarize all the elements of your total rewards package. Consider putting a dollar value to show how much you invest in them, on top of their salary. Then, you could do the same every year to support retention.

One-on-one meetings

The manager-employee meeting may seem low-tech and old news, but don’t let the simplicity fool you: this is one of the most powerful practices to retain, engage, and enable your employees.

Whether daily, weekly, or monthly, checking in privately allows employees to share what’s going well and where they could use more support. When performance discussions are happening more than once a year, then they are less scary and more helpful. Check out our tips for doing it right.

Different schedules and locations can present challenges in meeting regularly, but Zapier makes it a priority for an entirely remote team across 13 countries. They do one-on-one’s (1:1s) and reviews through video chat and document everything inside Small Improvements.

Best practices

If you’re looking to go above and beyond, these are the practices your company should be enacting for a superior employee experience.

Listening

Stay interviews

Some organizations do "stay interviews" in addition to exit interviews. Before an employee has already decided to leave, these proactive interviews ask what is keeping them at the organization and what could make them leave.

"Typically it's not until the exit interview that you're given perspective on what went wrong, and by then it's too late to change the person's mind."

- Mandy Gilbert, Founder and CEO, Creative Niche

This is a practice that you could implement at points in the employee lifecycle when employees tend to leave. For example, it could be a part of the onboarding process and one-year review. In fact, it could be embedded in regular manager-employee discussions, asking both what the employee needs to do their job well and to develop within the organization.

Company review sites

The reality is that employees are not always going to be comfortable raising issues to their manager or through internal surveys, especially if trust is part of the issue at hand.

Even when employees are leaving, they want to maintain good relationships and not speak too negatively in exit interviews. That’s why company review sites can be valuable additional sources of information for the company.

When Ceridian looked at their Glassdoor scores in 2013, they were low: under two on a 5-point scale. They listened to employees, made engagement a priority, and changed their culture. Within 18 months, they moved their Glassdoor score above 4. From 2016 onward, they have ranked as one of the best places to work.

“Employee attrition went down, customer retention went up and our business began to thrive. The inflection point was changing the model of how we engage employees. Employee experience is our number one goal. The second is customer experience, and third is product excellence.”

- David Ossip, CEO, Ceridian

Acting

Career development

Google’s learning culture is well-known. They make learning a part of every day, on the job, with flexibility to innovate. They also make teaching a part of the culture: 80% of Google’s tracked training is through a network of employees volunteering to mentor, teach courses, or design learning materials. Read more in their guide to creating an employee-to-employee learning program.

Technology can greatly elevate a career management program. IBM Watson Career Coach can give you an idea of what’s available now in AI-powered career pathing. Employees can chat with Watson to see internal job opportunities based on their skills, interests, and common career paths in your organization.

Recognition

A simple thank you can go a long way, however a full recognition program will have a much bigger impact on engagement and retention. Our recognition guide outlines what an effective recognition program looks like.

The guide also provides concrete examples of recognition in action. Here’s an excerpt:

“At Button, we have each new employee fill out an orientation survey on their first day. One of the questions we ask is, tell us about a time you felt appreciated for your work. This provides the management team with insight into how to make sure all Buttonians are able to be recognized in ways that they feel appreciated.”

- Stephen Milbank, Co-Founder, Button

Evidence-based practices

These are not necessarily more sophisticated or more expensive approaches—they just may be less common, yet evidence in research and in practice shows us they are effective.

Listening

Focus groups

Together with surveys, focus groups help you ask the right questions to understand issues and their underlying causes at a deeper level. With the human touch and ability to probe, focus groups help show that you care about what they have to say and that you are invested in providing them a positive work environment.

The effectiveness of this approach depends on the quality of the facilitator and making it easy for employees to participate. Consider regular scheduling when a cross-section of employees can be available and paid for their time a convenient location.

Analytics

You don’t necessarily need fancy analytics software to use data for retention. Read about how you can apply an analytical approach to retention here.

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, identifies work behaviors that signal risk of attrition, such as lateness, absenteeism, and performance. They also recommend monitoring withdrawal processes, which could be monitored through employee surveys questions on intention to leave.

Tracking these metrics can identify when and where greater retention efforts are needed. This could mean monthly or quarterly reports on trends combined with other listening methods to understand what is changing and why.

Acting

Forward-focused discussions


“When there is an issue, put the problem in the middle of the table to tackle together. Autopsies on what went wrong and who is to blame can trigger defensiveness. Honest and forward-looking conversations, on the other hand, promote solutions, improvement, and resilience.”

- Pauline James, Principal, Anchor HR Services

inField Clipboard treats obstacles as shared problems for a team with all the necessary skills to come together to solve. Inviting employees to help identify opportunities and resolve issues is not only good for business, it’s good for engagement and retention.

Cross-functional problem solving

Joint problem solving leverages different strengths and promotes inclusion, collaboration, and creativity. It is a powerful approach to conflict and silos that is simply gathering people from different functions or backgrounds to solve a problem. More specifically, it is about building opportunities, formal and informal, to solve operational challenges together.

Now what?

First, you have to hear what’s being said. Pick a listening method to find sight into where you can make changes to improve retention. Afterwards, come back here to see which actionable solutions fit your company’s needs. Things won’t change overnight, but you’re making positive progress toward a healthy company culture. 🙌💚

If you need more help, come chat with us! We invite you to tour the platform and join us for a demo to learn more about how you can start building a recognition-rich organizational culture.

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