Do You Have a Looming Retention Problem?

Not surprisingly, employees who are overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated aren’t as likely to stick around, according to reporting from The Orange County Register.

“In 13 Western states, 2.3 million people voluntary left their jobs in the year’s first three months. That’s up 6.9 percent in a year—and a 106 percent surge since the recessionary era of 2010. It’s also a quitting pace 7 percent faster than the pre-recession high,” Jonathan Lansner writes.

Most companies at least make a show of valuing employees, but it may be the right time to think deeply about whether you truly do, and if you truly do, whether your employees would agree with you.

If you haven’t done one lately, a survey sent to employees, allowing for anonymous reply—and no way of being tracked back to individual responders—could be a good idea. To increase the chances of most employees responding, you could offer a substantial incentive, such as a $500 cash gift card, or an extra 3 to 5 days of vacation time.

What do you think the key questions to ask would be to gauge employee satisfaction—and disgust—with you? Here are some ideas:

  • How often do you find yourself frustrated with your job? Daily, weekly, monthly, a few times annually, or never?
  • When you’re frustrated, what is the usual cause of your frustration? Customers/clients, co-workers, supervisors, or company policy/culture?
  • When, if ever, do you experience work-related anger? Daily, monthly, a few times annually, or never?
  • What is the usual cause of your anger? Customers/clients, co-workers, supervisors, or company policy/culture?
  • How valued by your work group (co-workers and supervisor) do you feel on a scale of 1-5, with five being the highest?
  • How valued do you feel by the company as a whole (including top executives and others who control company strategy and spending) on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest?
  • How often do you think about leaving the company? Daily, weekly, monthly, or a few times, or less, annually?
  • How many jobs have you applied to since starting work here? One, a few, or too many to count?

If the results of your survey are frightening, what can you do? If you’ve done surveys on employee engagement, and have found that employees are engaged in their jobs, but on a survey like the one I propose, employees appear frustrated and angry, how do you explain it? The way I would explain it is that many people take satisfaction in using their expertise and abilities to help customers, but don’t feel like your company is the ideal place for them to do this. They are sticking it out only until they get a better offer. In the meantime, they want to act in good faith, serving customers as best as they can. A high level of employee engagement, in other words, could signal engagement in the type of work the employee is doing, or in the joy of helping your customers, rather than a commitment to your company.

Anger toward employers is something I’ve struggled with repeatedly in my own career, so I feel like I have a handle on the emotion—maybe too much of a handle. In response to an employee satisfaction survey sent by the first company I worked full-time for, I compared my employer’s compensation model to the “Grapes of Wrath,” paying as little as possible, knowing that if any of us quit because we weren’t happy, there would be a long line of people waiting to take our place, and work for even less.

Let’s say that’s the way the executives at your company feel. Is there an argument to be made by you, or another executive, for working to retain employees with good records, even if you can easily find others to work for the same, or less, pay? You can point to the cost of recruiting and training new employees, and also the dip in customer service that happens when a new person—even one who is well trained—takes over for a person who has been serving that customer for years. You can’t train familiarity and personal bonds between employees and customers.

Do you think employee retention is growing more challenging with the low unemployment rate? Beyond the financial calculations, what is lost when a long-time, high-performing employee quits?



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