When you ask business leaders how to retain employees, “culture” is almost always top of mind. One blogger even wrote the headline: “Tips for Employee Retention: Culture, Culture, Culture, Culture and Culture.” Most business leaders and HR executives would agree that culture is a key component to employee retention—but how does something so abstract have such a big impact on whether employees stay or go? And how do you leverage company culture to retain employees?

The reality is, the world is small—and everyone is connected. This means that your culture isn’t isolated within the walls of your business. Employees who are laid off, or leave voluntarily, are likely to cross paths with current and future employees. When you’ve built a positive culture and supportive work environment, former employees will represent your company and its culture positively to their social and personal networks. Disgruntled employees are often apt to do just the opposite, damaging the brand. Fostering a strong internal culture doesn’t simply impact employee retention rates—it can also inspire employees to return as boomerang employees, or motivate top talent to stick around long-term.

So how do you build a culture that is dedicated to giving employees what they need to stay? Here are five best practices for retaining employees in today’s interconnected world. When practiced in unison, you’re not only supporting a beginning to beginning employment journey, but you’re also establishing a foundation that puts people first.  

Don’t give employees a reason to leave

It’s a commonly known fact that employees now change jobs every 2 to 3 years. One of the main reasons for moving from one position to another is the lack of opportunity to learn and grow. As HR professionals, we have to constantly be thinking about strategies to keep employees engaged and enthused.

Learning and development initiatives are a great place to start, but true support comes in the form of company-wide sponsorship for each employee’s personal and professional growth. The new relationship economy demands that managers and supervisors know where their employees are professionally and what they are passionate about. Managers must be looking for challenges and growth opportunities for employees that will support each person’s pursuit of long-term goals.

If employees are going to change jobs every 2 to 3 years, we must look at employee growth as an opportunity for businesses, instead of a risk.  By understanding employee’s goals, and supporting – or even facilitating – advancement towards those goals, our teams and entire culture become stronger. In addition, instead of always looking for new, external talent to fill the skills gap, companies will need to focus on retaining the talent they have by facilitating cross-department transitions, or providing coaching to meet the demands of a promotion. Ideally, when high-performing employees are ready to take the next move in their careers, they will do so within your company.

Cross-collaborate talent

When employers and departments encourage cross-functional work and exposure, employees are exposed to new projects and job opportunities that may lead them to get the career building and personal growth opportunities they would normally look for outside of the company. Leverage internal communications tools like newsletters and all-hands meetings across all departments and business units to create awareness for open opportunities and new initiatives that will need specific talent.

Before looking outside of the organization for talent for a new position, have a system in place to identify team members from other departments that may be a good fit. Develop an internal culture that encourages cross-functional work and communication by providing opportunities for executives to network. Use internal communications to keep employees in the loop, and do the research necessary to know what’s going on within your organization and identify where there may be opportunities to cross-pollinate.

 Develop a mentorship program

Most people can recall a job or a task from the past that they just couldn’t grasp. For whatever reason, they were not able to be successful and were either let go or chose to leave on their own. The company that hired them had already made an investment in time and money, and the employees had made an investment in emotion and time with the company. When the position didn’t work out, it was a lose-lose proposition. Chances are that if there was someone who was able to help those employees along the way, to clue them in on what they were missing, it wouldn’t have been such a negative experience.

In many businesses, managers can provide casual mentorship—but an official mentorship program can set an expectation that learning and growing are part of the culture. Ideally, mentors are experienced people within your organization that have some insight into how the mentee’s interests and talents align with organizational goals and can provide guidance to keep individual contributors on track. Mentors can encourage employees to grow and develop within their current roles, demystifying those areas that can cause a team member to trip up, and sometimes spot new opportunities outside of the position that don’t require a change of employer.

Remove gig workers from a silo

Across many industries, gig workers play an important role. From writers to designers to short term event staffers, and every position in between, people in the flexible workforce bring many talents and specialized abilities to the organizations they serve. Although they are temporary by nature, organizations will want to figure out how to retain this talent, too. Although extensive onboarding is not necessary for the gig employee, the truth is that they need some information about the organization and the industry it serves. During their tenure as a gig worker, these individuals gain valuable legacy knowledge and mutual trust is formed.

When new projects come along, companies will want to call on the same gig workers and consultants that have been successful in the past, benefiting from their familiarity with the organization. Companies that already have a culture of working cross-functionally will be able to use the institutional knowledge and experiences of known freelancers from one project to the next, regardless of department or business unit. Grooming individuals in the flexible workforce and giving them the experience they need to handle larger projects provides more value for the company. Experienced gig workers also become an instant source of talent when full-time positions open up. The more gig workers can experience working across multiple departments, the more valuable they will become and the more they may want to continue working with the organization.

Foster a culture of sponsorship

Think of your HR department as a hub that is connected to all the teams and departments across your company. If you truly want to build a culture of sponsorship, HR needs to encourage and support the employee journey and career advancement by connecting the dots. HR can play the crucial support role by making job placement and cross-department job transition possible—and entirely normal. When HR leads the way by supporting all aspects of the employee journey, it has a profound ripple effect on the company, allowing a culture of sponsorship to thrive.

Building a culture designed to support the employee journey does more than increase retention numbers. It cuts costs too. Indeed’s Talent Attract Study revealed that 71% of employees are actively seeking, or open to new job opportunities, and when employees leave an organization—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—the average cost to replace each one is 6-9 months of their salary, mostly spent on recruiting and training.

Actively seeking to retain employees demonstrates an employee-first culture. In the new Employee Relationship Economy, former employees become vendors, customers, brand evangelists, recruiting references, and boomerang employees – returning to work for the company again at a later time, or under a different job. The employee-employer relationship is no longer finite. Employer brands are made and broken based on the company culture and an organization’s ability to retain employees. Look within your organization to see where you can institute retention policies. What retention initiatives do you already have in place that we haven’t mentioned here. Respond below – we’d love to hear from you.

15 August 2017

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