Leadership & Management

10 minute read

Employee Retention Techniques Every Leader Must Know

Maria Wood

Maria Wood

Being in a leadership position can be both exciting and daunting, particularly for a newly-minted manager. When a manager succeeds, so does the organization.

When a manager fails, though, the costs — in financial terms and in morale — are high. Employee retention is largely influenced by the dynamic between front-line workers and their direct managers; if an organization wants to minimize employee churn, then hiring and developing good managers is key.

Research has documented this crucial link between good management practices and employee retention and engagement. In Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders poll, 1 in 2 respondents said they had switched jobs at some point in their career to escape a manager.

And every time an employee leaves, the company’s bottom line takes a hit. According to SimplyBenefits, the cost of replacing an employee can fall anywhere between 30% and 400%, depending on their level and seniority. And that's just their salary. "Soft" costs of losing an employee include lower productivity, time spent training the new hire, and lower morale of remaining employees.

Nevertheless, those statistics can be turned around. Good managers who follow key practices will have team members who stay supported, engaged and, most importantly, on the job.

Let’s take a look at 6 key employee retention techniques every leader should know.

1. Good managers are good communicators

The importance of consistent communication between managers and their direct reports cannot be overstated. Manager/employee conversations can’t be a once-a-year event.

Regular meetings and chats lead to workers who are nearly 3 times more engaged than those with supervisors who check in less often, the Gallup study finds. Therefore, a new manager’s first job is to develop strong lines of communication with the team.

Whether in person, on the phone or online, good managers also respond to employee calls or messages within 24 hours. According to Jim Harter, chief scientist in workplace management and well-being for Gallup's workplace management practice, “These ongoing transactions explain why engaged workers are more likely to say their manager knows what projects or tasks they are working on.”

Ongoing communication fosters a sense of transparency between manager and employee. Employees don’t feel as if they are “in the dark” about their job status and duties. This also allows managers to solicit honest feedback — employees sometimes have concerns they are hesitant to express, but a culture in which they feel free to articulate their views prevents churn.

Catherine Decker, Vice President of People at marketing company Outsell, suggests in a Forbes article that managers conduct periodic “stay” interviews (rather than waiting for an exit interview) to find out if an employee is encountering any difficulties. These provide an opportunity to ask if they have all the tools needed to accomplish their jobs and what barriers they face on a daily basis.

By learning of those challenges, a good manager can help overcome them, which, naturally, leads to better engagement.

2. Good managers set clear goals and expectations

Establishing well-defined performance goals promotes engagement. When employees receive strong direction, they feel a sense of purpose, and therefore a connection with the workplace.

Providing this direction goes well beyond simply handing an employee a written job description or holding an annual performance review. Good managers continually oversee the performance of their team.

This applies to overall job responsibilities as well as one-time projects that arise within the scope of their duties. Before a manager sits down with team members to discuss what those goals and expectations are, they should consider these questions recommended by the Corporate Leadership Council:

  • Are the goals realistic? Can the employee accomplish the goals?
  • Are there too many goals? Too few?
  • How do the individual employee’s responsibilities tie into the team’s operations and the larger corporate mission?
  • Can the outcomes of meeting those goals be measured in a quantifiable manner?

Then, the manager should discuss those goals with the team member and solicit feedback on how to shape those objectives so the employee feels confident he or she can accomplish them.

Again, Gallup research underscores the importance of good performance management. Engaged employees work for managers who assist them in understanding their work goals and help them set priorities.

“Great managers don’t just tell employees what’s expected of them and leave it at that,” Gallup’s Harter writes. “Instead, they frequently talk with employees about their responsibilities and progress.”

3. Good managers focus on their employees’ strengths

Developing each team member’s strengths and talents accelerates the mastery of job duties and boosts work quality. Once a manager discovers those strengths, he or she can help develop those abilities either through personal coaching or encouraging employees to take courses that add to their knowledge.

Say an employee shows a talent for organization. Recommending online courses in project management, for example, enhances those natural abilities and makes the employee even better at his or her job (which makes the entire team more successful). Further, it indicates management is investing in each team member’s professional development. If employees feel they have a future with the organization, they don’t have a reason to leave.

Gallup research once again proves this is true. An overwhelming majority — 67% — of engaged employees report that their managers focus on fostering their strengths and positive characteristics. Conversely, 31% of non-engaged employees say their managers emphasized their weaknesses.

4. Good managers recognize good work

Recognizing outstanding work takes many forms, and it doesn’t always mean a cash reward (although that certainly is nice). Non-cash acknowledgments are just as effective and can strengthen engagement and retention.

Of course, a simple thanks expresses gratitude, while also recognizing the employee’s exemplary work. Good managers use those “thank you” moments as opportunities to reinforce outstanding effort. It’s important to tell employees what they did right and why they are being recognized, so they consistently replicate those efforts in the future.

It’s worth taking a few moments to explain how an employee’s work added value to the team and the company as a whole. Having a manager acknowledge their positive influence throughout the organization solidifies their connection to the team and the company. When employees feel that bond, they remain engaged and unlikely to leave.

Engaged employees care about their work product and want to be held accountable for their performance. They take ownership of their job. A good manager will insist on high standards and reward employees for reaching those goals — with the caveat that employees also expect good managers to judge all employees equally.

5. Good managers have “soft” skills

It may be a cliché now to point out that there is nothing soft about soft skills. The ability to synthesize other perspectives, bring people together, analyze a problem, research alternatives and communicate a solution are mission critical in most businesses.

Good managers recognize their team members have lives outside the workplace that sometimes intrude on their jobs. They take the time to get to know their employees as people, not just workers. Keeping the lines of communication open helps employees feel empowered to talk to their managers about anything going in their lives that may interfere with work.

Perhaps it’s a challenge the manager and the employee can solve together. But a manager would only know that if he or she is willing to listen and be empathetic to the employee.

Soft skills are vital for another reason: Employees who feel supported by their manager cooperate with and aid other team members as well. Bonds between team members and management create an atmosphere where good employees stay engaged with their work — and with the company.

6. Good managers promote continuous learning

When employees feel that the company is investing in them, they are unlikely to move jobs. One way managers can invest, is through learning and development. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, 93 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.

There are many ways managers can go about creating opportunities to learn, one of which is using GoSkills Training Platform. Not only does the platform allow managers to upload their own courses and resources, it allows them to assign them to individual team members, too. Managers can also add expert-led, bite-sized GoSkills courses which are geared toward building stackable business skills necessary in all industries like Excel, project management, and soft skills.


Retain your best employees

Are you ready to help your employees meet their goals and build their strengths?

The GoSkills LMS makes it easy for both managers and employees to develop their abilities and learn new skills. Take advantage of the full GoSkills course library with courses on soft skills, project management, Excel and many more practical business-focused topics. You can customize the LMS the way you like it by creating groups, assigning your own courses or GoSkills courses, and monitoring progress at a glance with easy to understand reporting and analytics.

Try the GoSkills LMS for free today and be sure to retain your best talent.

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Maria Wood

Maria Wood

Maria Wood is a journalist who splits her time between content marketing writing and business reporting. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching baseball and jogging.