how to retain employees

How to retain employees: Rules your competition will hate

No one said break-ups were easy.

It can be a detrimental setback when your top employees leave. But it hurts worse when they leave for a rival.

All the time and money you spent hiring, training and growing your people suddenly becomes a gift to your competition.

This is the side effect of a growing U.S. economy experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. The thirst for further growth has companies poaching talent.

The good thing is you know you’re doing something right if your competition sees value in your employees. You just need to find out how to keep your employees around.

But before you go pleading for them to come back, here’s how to retain employees.

1. Find your top performers

Your competition is only interested in your top-performing employees.

One reason Michael Jordan is regarded as arguably the best basketball player of all time is because of his lack of fear during crunch time. Winners want the ball during crunch time. Your top performers will have this same mentality. These are employees who want to be challenged and will often exceed expectations.

There are a number of ways to determine who the “Michael Jordan” is on your team.

Start by finding a way to measure your employees’ performance so you can set goals and expectations. This is especially helpful for new employees. These metrics will help you give your employees clear direction and ensure their work stays on track.

Take advantage of performance reviews to see where your employees are going above and beyond, and where their weaknesses are.

If necessary, look past money and numbers to find out who is trying to excel. For example, I.T.-based jobs can be difficult to measure. Consider productivity-based metrics that focus on your employees’ ability to meet deadlines.

High performers want to expand their skill set. Find or become a mentor who is a trusted source for employees to ask questions and receive knowledge. Give employees an opportunity to lead a project. Encourage them to attend classes, webinars and conventions. These are viable methods for employees to expand their knowledge and gain experience.

One way to filter out your top performers is to let go of employees who have already checked out. Some companies are offering unhappy employees a “pay-to-quit” bonus. This is based on the philosophy that employees’ happiness is correlated to the success of the company.

2. Flexibility

Your employees are human. They have kids, doctor appointments and everything that makes life what it is. Giving your talent flexibility with their schedules can be a helpful way to retain employees.

An estimated 13.4 million U.S. employees work from home at least once a week, according to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau. A policy that allows for remote working will not only give your employees a break from the office, but it also saves them time and gas money.

This simple “perk” can be a big incentive for your employees to stay.

3. Competitive analysis

You know the old saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

By keeping tabs on competition, you’ll have an edge when it comes to retaining and recruiting top talent.

Take advantage of job websites such as Glassdoor or LinkedIn to find out how your competition stacks up when it comes to compensation, benefits and culture. Use this as a comparison to your own offerings. If you meet or beat the criteria, then it should increase your chances of retaining and attracting talent.

4. Communicate

“Good job.”

An occasional simple form of recognition like this could be all that’s needed to keep employees motivated.

Take note of your employees’ achievements. One of the easiest ways to keep employees happy is to let them know that their accomplishments are being noticed. Don’t wait for their annual performance review.

Consider asking employees how they like to be rewarded. They may just be looking for a pat on the back. You might be surprised which methods they find most appealing.

5. Compensate

Consider performance-based incentives that give your employees a chance to earn more money. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the opportunity to earn a bigger paycheck? Plus, it’s extra income you don’t have to find in your budget. They’ll bring it in themselves.

Performance bonuses are common in professional sports. For example, Indiana Pacers guard Paul George received a $7 million bonus when he achieved the honor of being selected to the All-NBA team in 2014.

If you have employees who are tied to sales, consider offering them commission on top of their base salary.

Outside of health care insurance, research ways to offer your employees a wider variety of benefits. This could include investments, such as stock options and 401(k) retirement plans.

If your business resides where a majority of your employees use public transportation, consider offering commuter assistance.

Also, make sure your employees are given an adequate amount of vacation time or the opportunity to earn more.

Educational assistance is a nice incentive as well, especially if you want employees to expand their skill-set.

6. Workplace amenities

Have you ever attended a meeting in a boat that was docked inside your office? If you answered “yes,” then you probably work at Google.

While an in-house boat might be out of your budget, consider other alternatives.

Simple niceties, such as free coffee, can go a long way when it comes to making your employees happy and boosting productivity. In fact, more than two-in-five employees say they’re less productive without coffee, according to CareerBuilder.

You should also consider your employees’ workspace. Do you provide comfortable place for them to work? Can they easily communicate with their coworkers? Are there any tools, equipment, software or resources that could make their job easier?

These simple gestures can help you win your employees loyalty.

7. Avoid new job titles

Some employers see job title changes as a cost-efficient way to retain employees and boost morale. But it’s not as effective as you might think.

In a 2013 study, nearly half of employers (47 percent) reported that they usually or always hire candidates who have held the same job title as the position they’re hiring for, according to CareerBuilder.

Therefore, giving your employees common job titles makes them an easy target for hiring managers who work for your competition. Businesses such as Zappos and Sun Hydraulics don’t even use job titles.

While this may keep your competition from poaching your talent, your employees might not be too thrilled about the idea of a title-less position. Be sure to talk to them, and weigh the pros and cons before doing away with job titles.

8. Non-compete agreements

You have to accept that no matter how happy your workers are, some are eventually going to leave.

If you have employees who have access to sensitive information on a consistent basis, their departure could lead to damaging consequences. If this is a concern, then a non-compete agreement could be a good way to protect your company.

But be aware, the effectiveness of these types of contracts varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, for instance, politicians have feuded over the idea of outlawing non-compete contracts altogether.

If your employees don’t have access to vital information, then a non-compete agreement could open yourself up to public criticism.

This was the case when an employee of New Jersey-based sandwich maker Jimmy John’s posted the company’s non-compete agreement, which outlawed employees from joining competing similar companies. These agreements should be limited to high-level executives or employees with confidential information.

You also have to consider if a non-compete contract requirement will push away potential talent. Some might see them as intimidating.

Remember that most non-compete agreements have time constraints that eventually expire. You also have to consider the costs if you were to pursue a lawsuit.

9. Exit interview

Not all employers take advantage of exit interviews. But this could be your best opportunity to receive a raw, honest response from employees before their departure.

Use this opportunity to ask why they are leaving. They may tell you why they found your competition more appealing and how you can prevent the departure of further employees.

Make it clear that you’re there to listen to their experiences, feelings and judgments. Assure employees that their feedback will not result in any negative consequences. Remember that they’re doing you a favor by giving you advice.

10. Don’t burn bridges

While it’s easy to be bitter about your employees’ exit, it’s important to make their departure a positive experience.

Focus on their contributions to the company and goals they’ve met. Encourage them to touch base periodically with their new venture.

Remember that there’s always a chance an employee could return to your company in the future. Moreover, you don’t want a disgruntled ex-employees spreading their negativity to other potential candidates or posting negative reviews about your company online.

Are you doing enough to attract and retain top talent?

A new report says that 61 percent of small businesses worry about sourcing enough candidates for key positions. This free report gives the information you need to compete with big businesses for the nation’s top talent.

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