The Rules of Retention

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Employee dissatisfaction is on the rise, especially among entry-level and mid-level employees. A recent study from Dale Carnegie Training found that only 23 percent (that’s one in four!) of non-management workers reported being engaged at their current job. Meanwhile, almost 70 percent of non-engaged workers said they would leave their current job for as little as a 5 percent raise in pay.

The numbers reveal a vicious cycle where businesses try to boost profits by cutting labor costs. However, the strategy always backfires, creating a dissatisfied, unmotivated and unreliable workforce. Productivity slows, customer service falls short. All these factors can easily run a business into the ground.

Companies that understand the importance of investing in their workforce perform better in the marketplace. Consider these examples: Tulsa-based convenience store chain QuikTrip pays its entry-level cashiers twice the national average. They also provide more than double the market average in training time for entry-level employees, and offer clear paths for advancement into management. As a result, QuikTrip was expanding with new stores and larger projects during the recession, while other low-cost retailers were closing stores and announcing layoffs.

Another winner, supermarket chain Whole Foods Market maintains just 7 percent voluntary turnover, and receives more than one million applicants a year for its 600 average job openings. How do they do it? They pay entry level employees, cashiers, and store managers 50 percent more than market average, and offer coveted health insurance, among other perks.

It’s safe to say that QuikTrip and Whole Foods understand how to draw and retain top talent. As I learned in my years in the U.S. Army, “Take care of your people, and they’ll take care of you.” Here are some key guidelines for energizing your workforce through greater employee engagement and retention.

  1. Keep salaries competitive. If you pay people well, they won’t be scrambling for the next job, or quick to shirk responsibilities out of disrespect. Fair wages attract top talent and establish trust between an employee and employer so they can focus on with what’s really important – running a high-performance, high-service business that is meeting the needs of its customers.
  2. Give people the training they need to succeed. Training entry-level employees is critical so they can be productive, autonomous and customer-oriented. Nothing looks worse to a customer than a frontline employee who is incompetent. Conversely, nothing leaves a better impression than a frontline employee who can quickly make decisions and solve problems.  Leadership training is also critical for managers, as it equips them to guide and groom their staff.
  3. Provide opportunities for advancement. Too many workers, especially Generation Xers and younger, see changing employers as the only way to advance their careers. Employers are shooting themselves in the foot when they don’t provide the employees they have already hired and trained with a career path and or educational opportunities.  
  4. Identify and recognize talent. People can’t help but respond to recognition, compliments, and sincere appreciation. Traditional methods abound – a well-deserved thank you note, a gift card for a job well done, or a birthday lunch. Plus, consider leveraging technology and social media. An employee spotlight on the corporate website’s blog could be a great way to thank staff. Or create an “Employee Appreciation Album” on your business’ Facebook page, or endorse an employee’s skills on their LinkedIn profile.

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