Employers Go Further to Hold Onto Employees

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Employers will need to work harder to retain top employees as the labor market tightens, consultants say.

“Since 2012 it has become more difficult to retain both highly skilled employees and employees at all levels of the organization,” Kate Kennedy, media and public affairs manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, told Bloomberg BNA in a Jan. 31 e-mail. “The cost of replacing highly skilled employees especially could be seen as severe enough to prompt more employers to look for new ways to boost retention.”

A SHRM survey found 19 percent of HR professionals said that “in the past 12 months their organizations altered their benefits program to retain employees at all levels of the organization; 12 percent indicated their organizations altered their benefits program to recruit employees at all levels of the organization,” Kennedy said. “Health care was the benefit most frequently cited as being altered over the past 12 months to retain (61 percent) and recruit (65 percent) employees at all levels of the organization.”

HR professionals also pointed to professional and career development (64 percent), flexible working (61 percent), health care (57 percent) and retirement savings and planning (57 percent) as likely to grow in importance for retention over the next three to five years, she said.

Growing Retention Concerns

That employers are going to greater lengths for the sake of retention is further backed up by survey data from employers collected by compensation data and software provider PayScale over the past several years. From a low of just 20 percent expressing concerns about retention in 2010, in the wake of the last recession, the rate shot up to 57 percent and has held steady there through 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to figures presented by Mykkah Herner, modern compensation “evangelist” at the Seattle-based company.

Turnover is a fact of employment and can be either good or bad, Ashley Adair, learning and development strategist at PayScale, said. “Turnover isn’t always bad” if the employees leaving are deadwood, she said.

On the other hand, Herner said, low turnover is not always good. Sometimes employees “who are not willing or are not able to get onboard” with needed change have to separate from the organization for everyone’s good.

“The lifespan of employees is much shorter than it use to be and in turn the definition of retention must evolve,” Carmel Galvin, chief human resources officer at Glassdoor, told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 2 e-mail. The company, based in Mill Valley, Calif., posts employee reviews of employers online.

“Successful workforce retention is changing to become more about the quality of the workplace experience, and less about duration of that experience, Galvin said. “While perks are becoming increasingly popular they are short-term wins. Real retention efforts are the investments businesses make in the quality of the employee experience, particularly in the area of skills and career development opportunities.”

“Successful retention tactics are based on the uniqueness of all employees, and the whole self of each employee—this takes into account employee health, and the balance between personal life and work life,” he said. “In addition, employers who are leading the way in terms of retention are working hard to connect employees to the company mission and vision. This in turn helps employees feel that their efforts and their skills contribute to something bigger.”

Employer Best Practices

Tips for better retention of valued employees are:

  •  Pay fairly (not always equally), compared to the market, Adair said. You can differentiate pay, while complying with the law, by performance, results, experience, skills and education. Herner added that the “perception of pay and intent to stay are linked.” This means employers have to talk to employees, who may not know if they are paid at or above market, he said.
  •  Invite flexibility in such areas as working hours or shifts and work locations, Herner said.
  •  Encourage respect. “It can’t be just lip service,” Adair said; an open-door policy has to really mean what it says, for example.
  •  Offer interesting work. “In today’s market, organizations that offer the opportunity to do meaningful work are doing better than their competitors,” Herner said.
  •  Inspire autonomy and empowerment among employees.
  •  “Improving benefits offerings is likely to be a key way organizations build their case as employers of choice,” Kennedy said. “This will put pressure on HR to improve benefits offerings, offer new options designed to appeal to a wide range of employee demographics and leverage existing benefits for better retention rates.”
  •  Help employees improve their “soft business skills, traditional business skills, community skills and self-management skills,” Galvin said.
Adair and Herner were speaking Feb. 2 in a webinar sponsored by PayScale.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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