Staff retention: how to stop star employees shining elsewhere
Recently, new SEEK research revealed the most common excuses employees use to attend a job interview. But what do you do if you suspect that something is amiss with your top talent? We offer some advice.

Alison McGrath, Director of McGrath HR and author of Getting the Right Balance – A Simple Guide to People Management & Recruitment, says culture, communication and a ‘team-centric’ approach should be at the centre of every business’s employee retention strategy.

“Employers should be having conversations with each employee on a regular basis using systemised retention interviews,” says McGrath. “Essentially, you should be asking them ‘why do you stay?’ and monitoring their career and building their future. This kind of process also identifies any critical issues and risks to the business.

“You should also have the people in your business doing what they love and loving what they are doing. It’s about being complementary, which means having complementary skills in your team. When you have this, your employees own what they do and it feels right.”

Get personal, because it’s not (usually) about the money

Clare Nash, career coach and Director of Nash Recruitment Group, says employers should also have an intimate knowledge of what makes their employees tick and what they want from their careers. She says people often leave for reasons that could be easily dealt with by a proactive, empathetic retention strategy.

Critically, she says more cash is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to keeping your most talented and passionate staff on board. In fact, she says that if money is tight, some staff might be more than happy to stay for a ‘job title raise’ alone.

She says good staff commonly leave for the following three reasons, with cash last.

  • A lack of appreciation and career development plan.

  • A poor relationship with their manager.

  • Not enough money.

“Most people really do care about the people and the company they work for more than the money they make,” she says.

Develop innovative, people-focused staff retention systems

McGrath says businesses who want to retain their best employees need to be “innovative, people-focused, activity-based, systemised and process-driven”.

She says staff are happiest if they are allowed to work out their own strengths within a team and delegate their own work accordingly.

“Instead of position descriptions, you should have team accountabilities, so when you have a project you just allocate it to the team and from there the team self-delegates and manages itself because they all know and understand each other’s strengths,” she says.

Live your values, love your staff… and they’ll love you back

Nash says many businesses talk the talk in their corporate values statements but don’t walk the walk. Citing world-leading businesses like Google and Amazon, she says the best companies get and keep the best staff because they work hard at delivering everything they have promised staff, especially their values.

“Corporate values must be lived and breathed,” she says. “Employers need to ensure that when they are speaking to their employees on an individual basis they are genuinely dealing with them as an individual.

“Large organisations, in particular, often don’t do this, but if you have staff that you are responsible for then you must ensure that those corporate values are passed down.”

The final word… staff retention starts at the top

“It’s the responsibility of senior managers to make sure middle managers are sharing your corporate values throughout your organisation,” says Nash.

Some middle managers often look good to senior managers when in fact they aren’t actually very good leaders.

“Useful tools to find out what is really going on include surveys where people can write anonymously about how they are feeling and how they are tracking within your business.”

But she says having a company health check on its own is pointless if you don’t act on it.

“I’ve been in situations where health checks happen but nothing changes afterwards, and in others where the organisation’s leadership has made sure something does happen.

“Managers need to take into consideration that people are motivated by different things. Some people want the title, some people want the money and some want recognition.

“The most important thing of all is that organisations need to invest in their people. Without their best people, the organisation will not run at its best.

“When your best people go quiet, that’s when you’ve got a problem.”

What to do when your staff are looking elsewhere, from a legal perspective

McDonald Murholme employment lawyer, Bianca Mazzarella, has some great advice for employers about how to tackle the tricky process of staff looking elsewhere for work:

  • Be mindful of the fact that your employees do have the right to look for other jobs – and be respectful of that right.

  • Understand that your employees’ annual leave can be taken for personal reasons – and this includes interviews with a prospective new employer.

  • It’s OK to ask your employees if they have any concerns in the workplace and if you can assist them with anything.

  • You are entitled to ask for a medical certificate if an employee is off sick.