effective staff retention

Staff retention is the biggest issue at board level – at least that’s what I’m hearing every day from my clients in businesses both large and small.

With the UK facing a skills shortage, too many companies are chasing too few employees, and as a result, many tell me they’re struggling to attract the right calibre of candidates to fill their vacancies.

I’ve been part of a research team looking into the Cambridge job market, and most of the businesses we talked to said that the single biggest issue they are facing today is recruiting people with the right skills, experience and qualifications – at the right price.

You might think that an obvious solution to this problem is to keep hold of existing staff. However, a knock-on effect of such a competitive job market is that it’s becoming harder to hang on to current employees, who may be lured away by what they perceive to be better offers elsewhere, particularly if more money is involved.

In fact, many of my clients have expressed concerns that they are or fear they could lose staff to competitors who are willing to pay them silly money.

Money doesn’t always talk

Bumping up salaries would therefore seem to be the best solution to retaining staff. But what might look like a quick and easy fix doesn’t address the underlying problems – it’s like dishing out pills for an ailment without understanding the root cause.

Increasing someone’s salary may persuade them to stay short term, but if they still hate their job, how well will that person perform? How productive will they be? How much will they contribute? Can you really be confident that they’ll give the job 100%?

On top of that, if all businesses decide to throw money at the problem, you may still lose employees to companies willing to pay more – so any competitive advantage gained by increasing salaries will be fleeting, and the only winner is the employee.

But what’s the alternative? What can we do instead to encourage our employees to stay with us long term, and therefore resolve this huge issue of staff retention?

The move towards a more personalised approach

Managers can fall into the trap of thinking that everyone’s just like them – with the same motivators, aspirations, attitudes and ways of doing things.

It’s like assuming that the tailored suit you own that fits you so perfectly will look just as good on everyone else. But it won’t. For some it’ll be too long, for others, too short. Some will hate the colour and others won’t like wearing a suit at all.

We need to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach and start thinking about how we can personalise the work experience, making it more meaningful, satisfying and motivating.

This is the key to staff retention – recognising and understanding that we are each driven by a different set of motivators, unique to us, and what works for some might not work for others.

To give an example, some people have embraced the move to hybrid working. It suits them to have the flexibility to manage their work around their personal lives, particularly if they have a young family or caring responsibilities. But others hate the way hybrid working has changed the workplace dynamic. For those who thrive on the buzz of a busy office, it’s hard to adjust to a quieter workplace with fewer people around.

So what steps can we take to start personalising our employees’ experience of work to meet their wants and needs?  Here are a few suggestions:

Be interested …

So many businesses treat their employees simply as a resource and pay little attention to the ‘human’ part of human resources.

Instead we need to take an interest in our employees – find out what drives them, discover more about their background, experiences, thoughts and beliefs, and make every attempt to learn to recognise when they’re feeling unhappy, demotivated or disconnected.

Be trusting …

Imagine how empowering it would be for employees to be trusted as adults to use their own judgement and make their own decisions about how they manage their work. That would be a strong incentive to stay, and a valuable staff retention tool, but is so rarely offered.

Instead, many managers apply a rigid set of rules and regulations, infantilising employees in the process, and making the workplace feel more like a school than a business.

Be all ears …

Provide plenty of opportunities for conversations with your employees, and really listen to what they say. Find out what’s important to them in their work life – and don’t assume it’s all about money!

Here’s a useful exercise that could open up a dialogue between you and your employees, and help you begin to understand what level of change motivates them in their work life.

Have a go and ask them to listen to three different job descriptions and to think about how each one makes them feel:

  • Job description 1: You have no idea what the day will bring. You love every day being different. No two days are the same. You never get bored and you are always being stretched and challenged by new things to do.
  • Job description 2: You like building your skills and over time gradually improving things. You enjoy making things better and seeing progress in your work and yourself.
  • Job description 3: You take comfort knowing what your day will be like. You can rely on known routines and are grateful for this stability. There is nothing that will change your day too much.

Now ask which job they most liked the sound of. If it’s job number 1, then this is a person who thrives on variety and new challenges. If job number 2 is preferred, then this is someone who’s motivated by continuous improvement. And if they picked job number 3, then stability and routine are what makes them happiest.

Give your staff insights into their motivations

A useful tool for gaining insights into what motivates us, both at work and in our home lives, is the Language and Behavioural (LAB) Profile. This is a career-profiling tool that uses everyday conversations to uncover what really drives us at a subconscious level, and to improve communication. Very often, it’s how we say things, rather than what we say, that can be very revealing.

The LAB Profile identifies 14 different patterns that describe a person’s motivation and behaviour in given situations. The exercise above demonstrates just one of these patterns – imagine what incredible insights you could gain into what makes your staff tick, by looking at some or all of the others!   

As I mentioned before, the personalisation of work recognises that we are all unique, and that the motivators that drive us will be different for each and everyone one of us. Staff retention strategies that don’t take this into account are doomed.

So instead of asking your Finance Director how much extra cash you could offer a candidate or existing staff member, first try to understand their underlying needs and motivations.

As a LAB Profile practitioner with 14 years’ experience, I can help you to do this – which will in turn help you to personalise their experience at work.

If you want to find out more about the LAB Profile, and how to use words to your advantage when recruiting and retaining your team, get in touch or read more here. I am passionate about the power of language and what it can unlock for us all at work!