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Customized Strategies to Retain Your Most Valuable Employees

Company leaders everywhere are nervous about the dreaded “R” word. No, we’re not talking about the recession that has besieged our country for months now. Instead, leadership teams are worried about retention — or more specifically their lack of innovative and proven retention programs. When the economy tanked, many organizations became so concerned with weathering the downturn, they focused their human resources strategies on cut-backs, layoffs and hiring freezes just to endure during the slump. They were so centered on staying in business, they didn’t think about maintaining the retention programs that would ensure their employees would want to stay with them if the business did survive. 


Now that the economy is starting to show signs of life, many company leaders are scrambling to introduce (or re-introduce) those programs to keep their employees put. Job satisfaction during a recession is typically low — employees are overworked, and under-loved, and expected to “hang in there” without promise of a raise, promotion or even extra vacation days until the company rebounds. Yet, most people will stay with their current employers until the economy recovers. Once the economic outlook improves, however, employees may feel safe to start looking. 

If your organization hasn’t seen employees leave yet — or even heard of people complaining, don’t assume you are safe. Just because employees are quiet, doesn’t mean they are happy. It is imperative that organizations act now to protect their most valuable assets. Don’t wait for people to start leaving before you put programs in place to entice them to stay. While leadership may be hesitant to pour money into non-essential initiatives with the economy still rocky, retention programs are a sound investment. Nothing can offset the gains made by fledgling companies in a delicate economy like a mass exodus of staff. Here’s how you can institute effective retention strategies: 

Identify key players — Look around the organization and identify your strongest employees – as they exist in your company today. These people may be different from those you would have chosen before the recession or even during it. Who do you need at the organization to help you get where you want to go over the next several years? 

Engage these employees — Start a dialog with the people you identified immediately. This is not the time to play coy. Be honest about why you want them, and how you see their roles fitting into the company’s future. This is also the time to ask them to discuss their short- and long-term goals. 

Listen — What do your star employees need from the organization to be happy and successful? What will satisfy them in their jobs, careers and lives? Each person’s need and requests will most likely be different — and they don’t always require monetary compensation. Yes, the manager who is fast approaching her retirement years with two mortgages and three kids in college may ask for a raise, but others may need more time-off, some professional development or even help with their weighty workload to be happy on the job. 

Develop a tailored strategy — One size will not fit all in successful retention programs. Once you’ve heard what your employees need from you, work to accommodate those requests. If members of a high-performing team are feeling overworked, look to hire an assistant. If a parent is having difficulty balancing his work and home life, work with him to help alleviate that struggle. Leaving early one afternoon a week to coach Little League may do wonders for his job outlook (especially if the company also sponsors the team!). Another employee may want to give back through charitable work by going to a disaster-stricken country to help with relief efforts or by serving weekly lunch at a local shelter. The organization should work with that person to make sure he or she is able to give back while feeling supported at work. 

Include employees in the business direction and strategy — Another way to engage employees is to include them in the company’s growth plan by sharing the leadership team’s goals and vision, and asking for their input. By sharing the vision and direction of the company and asking for feedback, leadership shows employees that they have trust in them. And since the organization has invested in them, they will feel more invested in their employer. People will also have more buy-in about the business strategy if they have a voice in where the company is going, and in turn will feel more loyalty towards the organization. 

Communicate early and often — These programs shouldn’t end after the initial conversation and action – employee retention is an ongoing endeavor. Check back in with employees and continue to “take their temperature” to gauge the program’s success. Schedule routine sessions for feedback and fine-tuning the retention strategies. 

The recession is starting to loosen its grip on the economy and companies are starting to hire again. Make sure to establish individualized retention programs that will assure that your most valuable assets are ready and willing to move the organization forward. 

Photo Credit: Digital Media Lab