7 things you can do to improve employee retention

Piers Bishop · July 23, 2015

There is a wonderful blog by Roy Lilley on the NHS-Managers.net website.  Stay with me if you aren’t connected with the NHS – it’s a gripping, terrifying commentary on current politics and the state of public services in the UK, and should be compulsory reading for every MP and minister – and for every manager in any business who wants to improve employee retention. This morning’s post is about managing through austerity, which is the subject of the moment, and a growing nightmare for public sector managers everywhere; every one of them wondering where they dare to invest (or dare not to invest), knowing that if they’re damned either way.

We all know that a stitch in time saves nine; that planting a hedge is cheaper for now than building a wall, but vastly more expensive in even the medium term; that filling potholes is cheaper than compensating motorists for damage, but that repairing roads is cheaper than filling potholes unless you have the imagination and foresight of a wounded gnat; so how we are where we are is baffling.  But, as Roy Lilley points out in today’s missive, when you have to manage through austerity there is one thing you absolutely must pay attention to, regardless of what else is happening: your people. “look after them, and look to the future with them’, he says, for they are the only hope. And the same applies if you’re not in the public sector, but still have to watch as your people browse around for something that they hope might be better.

So, whether you are an NHS employer or working a different area altogether, here are some fundamentals for keeping the right people in difficult times.

1: Fit your own oxygen mask first

As they say on the plane, you are no use to anyone else if you can’t breathe yourself. So start by thinking about how the human brain works and what human mind and body systems need (that’s need not want) in order to be happy and well. Download our user’s guide to the human brain, then stand back and watch it in action when things get hot at work. Now give your line managers the same insight so they can keep themselves in the right part of their minds when times are tough, and they’ll be able to lead their teams by example.

2: Treat staff with respect

People need to be treated respectfully, even the difficult ones. This doesn’t just mean adopting a respectful attitude when dealing with staff, it means giving them a decent amount of attention so they feel part of your social group at work. It also means keeping them fully in the loop, with crystal clear communications so that expectations are fully in line with what will actually happen and staff don’t get nasty surprises. Nasty surprises are not going to improve employee retention…

3: Give people control

Being boxed in to a corner and made to do A when you can see that B would be better makes people frustrated and demoralized. You can’t let people invent new medications on the spot, or take all the patients out into the garden because it’s a nice day, but to the extent that it is possible to give people some autonomy to work out the best way to do things, they will enjoy their work more and do it more willingly.

4: Help them grow

Not everyone has ambitions to be health secretary (sadly – a bit more competition in that area from people who actually know what it’s like to work in the health services could be useful ), but people have a fundamental need to be stretched; to learn and grow. You know what it’s like when you have been trying to do something and suddenly you get it? Well, that ‘light-bulb’ feeling is one of the key things that make life meaningful, and people will stay in jobs that offer meaningful experiences.

5: Say ‘thank you’

I know, they’re being paid (just), but thanks are part of the social glue that makes the difference between a number of people in a room and a functioning team. And guess what, it is as good to give as to receive – people who go out of their way to say ‘thank-you’ make their own lives better as well.

6: Listen!!

When did you last hear a manager say ‘Jones is causing me all sorts of problems today – I’m going to give him a jolly good listening’? The real work of management is not done behind desks, but face-to-face; listening really hard to find out what’s causing the issues you need to improve. Don’t have time to spend more of your already overstretched week listening to people’s troubles? OK, we can help you out, as WeThrive does the hard work for you of diagnosing the issues in each team member’s working lives and prioritizing them for line managers to attend to. We give you a dashboard showing who is suffering from what, and even hand you an action plan detailing the conversations that need to be had to make it better. In the end you have to meet face to face, but with WeThrive behind you it will be a more efficient process as you will be able to start with the things that really matter to that person.

7: Don’t hold exit interviews

Some companies make a point of holding exit interviews with key staff to find out why they left – but why wait until it is too late? Wouldn’t it be a better idea to know in advance what is getting in the way of your staff having a satisfying time at work? WeThrive gives you the inside picture, telling you what’s on people’s minds and what you can do to help them – and yourself…