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Strategic Employee Retention in a Difficult Labor Market

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a nationally known expert in recruitment, retention, generations at work, organizational development, start up businesses, training and development, business writing, and leadership development. She is Author of They Did What?, The Essential HR Handbook, The Big Book of HR, The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, The Manager’s Answer Book
Employee Retention Strategies


It has always been a good business strategy to focus attention on employee retention but retaining your talented staff members is even more critical now more than ever. The competition for the best people available gets more difficult by the day so having a retention strategy can pay off in amazing ways for your organization.

Your leadership sets the values for your organization and your values are a critical focal point for retention. Is your organization one that thinks people should be “grateful they have a job here” or is your organization one that knows that not only does turnover cost your organization a lot of money, it has a negative impact on your culture?

Hopefully, your leaders knows that what employees are looking for today is an organization where they feel valued and respected for who they are and what they contribute—not just a place where they are paid to do a job. They want to work for an organization that they can be proud of and where they have a voice.


Retention Starts in the Hiring Process

Retention starts long before you hire someone. It starts in how you describe the open position in the job posting. Do you describe your organization as a place where a new hire can learn and grow? Do you let potential applicants know that your culture thrives on transparency and that you listen to your team members and genuinely value their ideas?

Does your website echo what you’ve put in the job posting? The first place a potential applicant goes to the careers or jobs section of your website. This is where they look for clues about your culture and your values. If they don’t like what they see, chances are they won’t even apply for your open position. Consider telling stories about your great employees complete with picture or even better, videos of how your current employees live out your organization’s values. Don’t overlook the adage that “one picture is worth a thousand words.”

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How applicants are treated in the hiring process is extremely important. There is a whole new emphasis on what is called The Candidate Experience—how applicants are treated during the entire process from application to offer and beyond. Every applicant should be treated with respect and dignity and remember you can’t over do the communication with applicants– keep them informed of your hiring process and where they are in the process, so they don’t lose interest in your organization.


Time Between Hire and Start Date is Critical to Retention

A great retention tool is to focus some attention on the time between when the applicant accepts your offer and when they start work. Don’t forget that they have been interviewing with other firms and may receive another offer after they’ve accepted your offer. You don’t want them to change their mind so think about what you can do during this time to “glue” them to your organization. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Have the hiring manager call them once a week just to stay connected
  • Send press releases to keep them excited about their decision
  • Send them branded merchandise such as a mug or tee shirt
  • Invite them to any all-employee social events
  • Send bios of your leadership complete with photos


The Role of Onboarding in Retention

Don’t overlook the importance of your new hire’s experience as they join your organization. You want them to go home on day one and tell their family that they are so excited to be working for you.

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While designing a good onboarding process takes time and effort, it is worth the effort. Here are some tips for the new-hire’s manager:

  • Be ready for the new hire. If they will be on site, have their office ready with everything they will need to function efficiently, if possible, have balloons or a plant or something fun to welcome them.
  • If they are working remotely, have what they need delivered to their home office BEFORE their first day.
  • Assign a “buddy” to be their guide.
  • Don’t hand them a stack of policies to read and leave them alone
  • If possible, take them to lunch or have lunch delivered to their home and do a virtual welcome lunch
  • Let them know what will happen during their first week, first month, etc. Set up a meeting schedule for people they need to connect with
  • Set clear expectations for their first few weeks and carefully monitor their progress
  • Spend as much time as needed to listen to what they need from you and the organization
  • Set dates for a 30-60-90-day review and keep to it


Retention Basics

We can’t overlook the fact that if you don’t pay competitively or have a benefit’s package that is competitive, you won’t retain your talented employees. While pay and benefits aren’t the most important retention tool, they matter.


Strategic Retention Summary

Retention is all about connections. You want your employees to connect with your organization’s mission; their manager; their work; and even their coworkers. One way of connecting with your staff is to carefully listen to what it is that matters to them. Here is what we’ve heard from our clients across various industries and disciplines about what employees are seeking from their organization:

  • A mission they can connect to and feel pride in
  • To feel they matter—no matter what their job is
  • Leadership that is honest and transparent
  • To be heard
  • To be offered opportunities to learn and grow
  • To know what is expected of them
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While we know the goal of strategic retention is not to keep people working for you forever—those days are probably over—but doesn’t it make sense to try and keep them “just a little longer”?


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