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Employee Retention Doesn’t Just Happen

What employee retention strategies do you use to engage and retain employees? Statistics from research done by the labor bureau show that the average American will hold around 11.3 jobs during their working years. The average number of jobs held is actually going up- especially with Millennials. Eleven may seem like a really high number – however that depends on various factors, including the work you do, and what generation you are from. Employee retention doesn’t just happen.

Employee retention is critical to the success of an organization. Without a focus and an understanding of people, behaviors, and what engagement and rewards strategies work for best for your culture, reducing turnover can be even more difficult. We understand it’s not always easy, to help, we’ve developed an Employee Engagement & Retention Checklist with a high level overview of steps to take toward success with some employee retention strategies.

People decide to switch jobs for a wide variety of reasons. New blood is a good thing, but a constant turnover is detrimental to performance, morale, and the overall sustainability. Some reasons are related to personal and life changes and completely unrelated to the job itself – so a business can’t expect to impact or change all departures – though with workers switching jobs roughly every 4.4 years businesses do need to be focused on the aspects of employee retention they can influence.

So, what are some of the best practices for increasing employee retention?

Provide career navigation and personal branding strategies from the get-go. Involve employees in the process as much as possible- ask questions to find how what motivates them. Employee development is also key- it’s important to provide coaching, educational opportunities, and training programs. By helping individuals plan their desired path within in an organization, setting concrete goals, and providing support to help them achieve those goals, engagement and retention increases.

Hiring the right managers makes all the difference. Steve Miranda, Managing Director for Cornell University’s “Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies” (CAHRS), said in an interview that he believed 80% of employee turnover resulted from the environment created by a manager as opposed to the company at large. So it’s critical to work closely to make sure there’s a consistent open line of communication between employees and managers, and that managers are working collaboratively and positively with their employees.

Work to create a culture of trust. An organization with a culture of trust often has higher levels of performance and retention. An organization with a culture of distrust is an organization destined to be doomed. To maintain positive employee retention make sure your organization has a culture of trust, not distrust.

Recognize good performance. Be it financially or with some other non-monetary benefits (NMBs), make sure employees are recognized when they achieve their goals and perform above and beyond. Pulse your workforce for their preferred means of recognition and then implement various strategies based on that feedback. With workforce demographics changing a one size fits all approach no longer works. It’s important to pay attention to what each motivates different employees. Not all employees prefer to be recognized for a job well done in the same ways. As we’ve said before, if unsure the best ways to engage and retain employees – ASK THEM.

Hire the right kind of employees who are both a skills and culture fit. A focus on both aspects is important to success. Sure, some people are “shooting stars”, and you’d be lucky to catch them, but if they’re not a fit for the culture of your organization then you’re not likely to see maximum performance or retention. By interviewing and choosing the right hires in the first place, you’re getting a leg up on setting up a relationship that can last.

Though, there are many other employee retention strategies for engaging and retaining employees, these tips should serve as a good start. Be transparent, have a clear employee value proposition, communicate with employees early and often, know what they want and what you want, and what motivates them. This should help set you up for a successful partnership that leads to a higher performance and retention.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Great posting and checklist! The problem now is that we are struggling with survival and don’t feel that we have the capacity to worry about retention and engagement. This is not reality, but it is the perception in many agencies.

Scott Span


Thanks, glad you found it informative. I’m all to familiar with that sad perception. It’s unfortunate cross sector now days. It’s often a difficult case to make – “we’re stretched so thin as it is we don’t have the resources or money to focus on people initiatives.” My approach when trying to get client’s to address these important issues is “work on it now or suffer later” and backing that up with facts and data from internal surveys and studies or similar industry focused ones. If the leadership and agency or org is truly committed to being high performing and or increasing sustainability, achieving mission, and increasing profit, then they usually will at least give it a shot.

John L. Waid

Scott’s ideas are great but they go completely against the grain of government. in a culture of bureaucratic control, it will be hard to retain young people used to working for themselves and using their own creativity to solve problems. Supervisors and managers operate in fear of their higher-ups and feel the need to control their employees to try to prevent them making a mistake that would get the manager or supervisor in trouble. the ambitious and crative are beaten down by the system. If I had a nickel for every time I have heard the response “this is the way we have always done it” I would have a lot more nickels than I do now. That philosophy may be safe (see previous thought) but it stifles innovation and causes creative people to look elsewhere for job satifaction.

Some years ago, I noticed that some of government’s prime recruiting tools — retirement, days off, etc. — are bascially self-defeating in the retention arena. After all, they really only emphasize how nice it is when the employee is not at work. Not all jobs are like that, of course. I love my job and the people I work with. Not all people are so fortunate to find such a good fit, however. Somehow, we have to find a way to get past the traditional bureaucratic mind-numbing ideas that have made people look at government employ as a last resor so we can actually use ideas like Scott’st.

Scott Span


I disagree – and agree. I’ve worked with government. Yes, the bureaucratic nature of the beast makes it very difficult to attract and retain certain demographics.Processes are often over complicated and can inhibit people focused initiatives that are not seen as immediately “strategic or tactical.” It varies from agency to agency. For example, I’ve seen more luck with the Civil agencies and local government when focusing on retention and engagement and people matters than I have in Defense or Intel. Attention to these matters is also very leader specific in gov. It is true that gov does tend to define culture “as this is the we’ve always done it” so why change now and resistance can be high. That said, not it all cases. A younger leader, or a leader that is simply committed to making these type of things happen for benefit of employees and stakeholders, can usually drive and champion at least some sort of change. Hang in there!

Mark Hammer

I agree with David, nice post.

For my part, the best thinking on the topic of retention and turnover comes from Terry Mitchell and Thomas Lee at Univ. Washington. One of their strongest points is that people often leave jobs and workplaces they love, and stay for years in jobs they hate. It IS worth paying attention to all those things Scott lists, but there is only so much one has control over as an employer. A nice concise discussion of the topic can be found in this podcast interview with Terry, from 2007: http://www.obweb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2374:the-unfolding-model-of-turnover-interview-with-terry-mitchell-part-1-of-2&catid=42:available-podcasts&Itemid=66

Scott Span

Thanks, Mark. I’ll check it out. And I often stress, a difference exists between what an employer has control over, and what an employer has influence over (particularly when collaborating with employees).

Victoria A. Runkle

Great discussions. I am really struggling with this topic right now. I am on the side that attrition might be a good thing after awhile. Thanks for all the comments.