5 Ways to Improve Employee Retention

August 15, 2019

With the high costs of recruiting and training employees, our small business clients often ask us how to improve employee retention. This post shares five important, actionable approaches you can employ to keep your employees longer.

Right People. Right Seat. Right Bus.



If you examine the retention problem carefully, you’ll discover that, while some employees will abandon a company for remunerative reasons, more often the reason is one of fit. An acquaintance of ours uses the bus analogy, which goes like this.  Your task as a hirer is to identify the right person, to make sure your bus is the right bus for them, and that you have them occupy the right seat.

Sometimes, the company is simply a bad fit. For example, the company culture might be at odds with the personal values of the employee. We remember a situation in which an employee left a company because dogs were allowed in the workplace, and they simply could not get their head around that notion. They had been raised to believe dogs were to remain outside – never indoors with the human beings. Wrong person. Wrong bus.  Remember, just because you believe your company is flat-out awesome, does not always mean that everyone will feel at home there.

Other times, you hire the right person, but you place them in a position in which they never achieve comfort. An example here might be the individual hired to be in sales whose introverted nature and appreciation for process might make them better suited for more clerical work. They might be a tremendous addition to your team; you’ve just got to put them in the right job. But sales? Right bus. Wrong seat. So, hiring well is the first step towards retaining.

There are about as many hiring processes as there are management philosophies. Your challenge is establishing one that fits your company’s culture and that introduces the prospective employee to the company in such a way that they – like you – are able to make an informed decision about whether it’s the right fit. Some smaller companies, for example, will have a candidate interview with nearly everyone in the company. Others have teams to help with the process. Bottom line: you need a process that helps you identify the right people for the right seats on your bus.

Success Is Almost Always About Managing Expectations

You can tell your spouse you’ll be home by 5:00 and arrive at 6:30. Or you can tell your spouse you’ll be home by 7:00 and arrive by 6:30. Which one is better? You arrive at the same time in both situations. In one you’re the hero, in the other – the goat. Expectations work that way. We human beings don’t enjoy negative surprises. So, your challenge when it comes to introducing your newly hired employee (assuming you’ve gotten number 1 correct) is to make sure there are no negative surprises.

Honesty and transparency are the key ingredients to managing expectations. If you hired correctly, you started that process by helping that employee see what the actual experience of working for the company will be like. Now, you need to make sure they understand what you expect from them. Clear job descriptions are step one. Establish what their points of pride should be. Set manageable goals. Show them the path forward. Set boundaries early.

Onboarding is also a vital component to managing expectations. Creating a structured experience that introduces a new employee to the company, the nuances of its culture, and the ecosystem in which they will be working is what onboarding is all about. Simply handing off an employee handbook is not enough. So, the lesson here is not to pay short shrift to managing the expectations of new employees.

Bennies, Perks, and Pay.



We began by pointing out that most people leave for reasons that have nothing to do with benefits and pay. But, fact is, it’s a competitive world out there. As of this writing, unemployment is historically low, which means qualified candidates have lots of choices. Your challenge is to create as competitive a package as possible. And, that means getting the pay right, getting the benefits right, and making sure to highlight the perks.

The first step is to know what your competition is offering. There are many online resources that allow you to compare your employment packages with those of your competitors. Glassdoor, for example, has a wealth of comparative information. Your challenge is to understand what competitive bennies, perks, and pay look like – not just for your industry and the position for which you are hiring, but also for the market in which you operate. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) also provides resources. Lastly, explore industry affiliations. Often, trade organizations conduct salary and benefits surveys. Bottom line, you’ll want to find that sweet spot where you are competitive in your bennies, perks, and pay, but aren’t giving away the proverbial candy store.

And don’t forget the perks. Having those little extra things at the office that make work life more interesting and enjoyable are key. From company cars, to full cupboards, to beer Fridays, to dogs in the office… the list is endless. Find perks that best fit with the culture of your company, and make sure you tout them when hiring.

Build a Culture Garden



Culture happens. You can’t force it, but you can encourage it. Your job is to make sure you create an environment that cultivates company culture. Involve your employees. Find out what makes them tick. We know of one company that had created an elaborate means for their employees to volunteer. Rolling up their sleeves and donating their time is part of their culture. In this instance, the employees have many choices of how to volunteer and feel empowered to be part of the process. The ground for culture is fertile there.

Consider team building exercises. One company we know takes their employees every year to a leadership ropes course. There, the team works to solve hard physical problems together. Another company has Friday hours during the summer. They break off work at noon and have someone come around mixing martinis for the team. Talk about different ends of the spectrum! The challenge is to let the culture develop of its own accord and in such a way that fits the company itself. Click here to read more about how to create and foster great company culture.

Know Before They Go.

If you don’t do exit interviews, you should. But, talking to somebody after they’ve already decided to leave is like shutting the proverbial barn door after Elvis the cow has left the building. In addition to exit interviews, consider having ongoing interviews as part of your culture. Talk to folks before they decide to leave. Now, you may be thinking, “We’ve got that covered; we have an open door policy.” But, the fact is, open door policies are one thing. A structure that encourages frequent dialogue between leaders and those they lead is bigger than that. You don’t need a canary to tell you your coal mine has become toxic, you just need to ask the right questions and listen – really listen – to the answers.

Call in the Cavalry

Five simple steps you read about online can become complex efforts in implementation. Should you discover or even suspect that you have a problem with employee retention, do not hesitate to reach out to us. We have experience with corporate culture building, onboarding, benefits, and many of the nuances involved with retaining those folks who make it possible for you to do what you do.

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