Oh, your employees may look like they’re hard at work, eagerly knocking out their tasks and completing their assignments with passion. But if you look more closely, you may catch them updating their LinkedIn profiles, connecting with your competitors’ employees, or even browsing job boards for their next opportunity.
Just because you’re highly invested in your company doesn’t mean all the people you hired feel the same way. The job market is wildly different from the days when you earned a gold watch for staying at the same company for 30 years.
Gone are the generous raises and promotions for loyalty. The Great Recession created a market where many employers now feel secure just offering employees a 3 percent raise each year, and employees who job-hop every couple of years have the opportunity to earn substantially more money.
At the same time, the balance of power has shifted to favor employees with critical skills like software development. These employees are like A-list celebrities in Hollywood — actors and actresses who can demand $30 million–$50 million per picture because they’re the big names bringing people to the box office.
Your top performers are in a strong position to dictate employment terms, which means they may be able to earn 10–20 percent more by taking a position at another company.
But throwing money at them isn’t the only way to make them stay. It’s all about giving them the opportunity to communicate what they want and then working to improve their experience.
The truth is, you should treat your employees the way you treat your customers. That doesn’t mean they’re always right, but by focusing on the employee experience the same way you focus on the customer experience, you’ll strengthen every aspect of your business by cultivating a loyal, energetic team.
- Treat employees like customers. You spend all day thinking about your customers, but if you’re not putting the same energy into thinking about how to make your employees happy, they may feel a little neglected — even invisible.
Devote time to figuring out what makes employees stay, what they love about the job, but also if they’re having any doubts about their future in the company and what you can do to make sure they feel fulfilled. Most employees will be heartened just by the fact that you’re making the effort to understand them.
- Talk — don’t market. All too often, employers and HR teams communicate with their employees in slogans and pitches rather than talking to them like real human beings. But when you have a personal relationship with every individual on your team, you can share your dreams and dissatisfactions honestly and identify problem areas before the employee ever expresses a desire to leave.
- Conduct stay interviews. Instead of conducting exit interviews — which leave you no opportunity to keep an employee — try conducting stay interviews while an employee is still around.
- Take action. Once you’ve discovered what would make your employees happier, don’t just sit on those insights. Take action! You shouldn’t promise huge company overhauls or transfers of budget that you can’t commit to, but take all the steps you can afford to improve problem areas for employees.
Not only will you find that practical changes can make a big difference to morale, but you’ll probably also discover that your employees respect you more and want to please you in return.
So stop hovering suspiciously over your employees’ computer screens for the first sign of trouble. Start talking to them. Forging strong personal bonds with your employees is the first step toward developing a stronger working relationship and retaining your best and brightest.
Of course, no matter how employee-centric your company may be, you won’t be able to hold on to every employee. Some will leave for a higher-paying job no matter what. But by investigating how your employees feel, devoting time to understanding them, and taking action against their frustrations, you can make your company a better place to work and constantly remind them why they chose to work for you in the first place.
Beth Knuppel is VP of talent management at Ericsson. Beth has extensive experience coaching C-level executives at the world’s leading corporations, including General Electric, American Express, and Pfizer. Beth has lectured internationally on many aspects of HR and talent management. Connect with Beth on LinkedIn.