What makes a good workplace

What makes a good workplace that gets employees to stay?

There are four words every company leader aspires to hear their employees say: “I love my job.”

These words mean that employees are happy and probably aren’t going to leave the company any time soon.

Achieving this level of employee praise calls for more than just offering a job that aligns with someone’s interests and skills. Although the job itself is extremely important, this goes much further – it’s about creating a good workplace that makes people think twice about leaving.

So, what makes a good workplace?

  • What does it take to encourage employees to stay and, as a result, accomplish high retention rates and mitigate turnover costs?
  • What makes a workplace positive and enjoyable – a place in which people want to spend the majority of their time?
  • How can employers go above and beyond to become a best place to work, obtaining outstanding reviews, generating positive word of mouth and becoming sought after among job candidates?

First, adopt the right mindset

As a business leader, you may hope your employees will stick with your company forever. However, the idea that employees are going to stay at one company for the duration of their careers just isn’t realistic anymore.

Instead, companies should adjust their expectations and focus on how to keep employees for as long as possible. Keep in mind that, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2020 Employee Tenure Summary, the median tenure for U.S. workers is 4.1 years.

Certainly, post-pandemic turnover has contributed to shortened tenure and higher turnover in the job market overall. A lot of people who delayed making a move at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was more uncertainty, now feel emboldened to make a move. Many employees:

  • Feel burned out and want to make a positive change
  • Feel less connected to and engaged with their employers (among those who struggle with remote work)
  • Have had an opportunity to reconsider the type of work they want to do, evaluate work-life balance and assess whether they want to remain remote full time
  • Disagree with some aspect of how their employer handled the pandemic, or they disagree with post-pandemic policy changes – especially those related to schedule flexibility or remote work

Other, non-pandemic-related factors are also at play. For example, generational differences have impacted much about the workplace, including employee tenure. Younger people tend to change jobs more frequently, for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Better benefits and perks (including flexibility in scheduling and vacation time)
  • More opportunities to grow and develop their careers elsewhere
  • The perception that more excitement or more challenging, rewarding work exists elsewhere
  • Desire for change more often
  • The feeling that another employer better aligns with their values

According to the same BLS Employee Tenure Summary, the median tenure of workers ages 55-64 was 9.9 years – more than three times the tenure of workers ages 25-34, which was 2.8 years. As more older workers retire, Millennials and Generation Z will soon dominate the workplace. As this happens, there will be increasingly less expectation that employees stay with companies long term.

Remember the basics

1. Compensate fairly

To confirm that your company offers a competitive compensation and benefits package, continuously review your compensation strategy. Run surveys to determine how your company compares to others in your industry, geographic location and the wider marketplace. You don’t want to be significantly out of alignment with what your peers are doing – specifically, offering less.

Compensation is not the sole reason that employees leave or stay – but it consistently remains a major reason. After all, we all go to work to earn a paycheck. There’s a lot of competition for talent, and good pay and benefits will make the difference in swaying employment decisions.

2. Communicate frequently and well

Part of being a great manager, one who motivates employees to stay in a job, means building relationships based on trust and serving as a coach. This requires that you regularly engage with employees – honestly, openly and transparently – so that you can tend to and strengthen those connections. Employees want to feel that their manager is accessible and is listening to them.

With that in mind, the days of an annual performance review may be behind us. Employees want to know how they’re doing from your perspective, and they want the opportunity to provide feedback about their role and the company – not once per year, but often. You can’t afford to wait for a designated time each year to provide feedback to them and get a pulse on what your employees are thinking.

In addition to one-on-one meetings, you can solicit feedback from employees at townhall meetings and small group meetings, or by distributing employee surveys. If you use surveys, be warned: Asking an employee to complete a survey comes with the expectation that you’re going to communicate the results to them and take action, when feasible.

3. Pay attention to your company culture and mission, vision and values

There is a direct connection between your company culture, mission, vision and values and your employees’ happiness and tenure. Don’t neglect these or treat them as something you’ll focus on when you have time. They have a profound impact on your employees’ morale, engagement, interactions with others and work output, which can all affect your bottom line. Furthermore, people tend to flee quickly from negativity and toxicity.

  • Evaluate your mission, vision and values.
    • What common ideals do your employees and the company share?
    • What standards, practices and beliefs unite everyone?
    • How do you want employees and other stakeholders to think of your organization?
    • How can you and other leaders demonstrate belief in these ideals?
  • Regularly assess whether company ideals are modeled by leadership and practiced by everyone. Your company culture, mission, vision and values are not simply words on a poster.
  • Decide whether anything about your culture needs to change, and work toward implementing those fixes. This will take more time to lay the groundwork and obtain buy-in from your team.
  • Consider what actions you can take on your own, immediately, to improve the culture.

Go the extra mile

For employees to want to stay with a company for the long term, there has to be something special about that workplace – certain qualities they know can’t be easily replicated elsewhere.

Here are some tips for taking additional, road-less-traveled steps toward retaining employees and becoming a sought-after workplace:

1. Create a sense of belonging and community

It’s hard for employees to leave strong, positive relationships – with both managers and peers.

Your employees should feel like a close-knit team in which everyone not only works in sync toward a shared goal, but also genuinely cares about each other and has each other’s backs when needed. Even friendships at work can be a positive thing. We spend so much of our time at work, so it makes sense that people want to be around others with whom they work well and enjoy their company.

Consider how you can take steps to encourage this level of teamwork and camaraderie, from hosting occasional social events to team-building activities (virtually, if yours is a remote workplace).

It’s also important to foster diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). In addition to making DE&I a company value, instituting a DE&I policy can make it clear to employees and other stakeholders that you value diversity within your team. It cements a commitment to making your organization a safe and inclusive place for everyone to contribute, share ideas and have assurance that they’ll be respected.

2. Remind employees of their purpose

Employees can get caught up in their day-to-day grind and lose sight of the bigger picture. That’s when they can feel like their work is tedious and unimportant, or they get bored. As a result, they start looking elsewhere.

We all have a need to understand the why behind what we’re doing. Periodically, remind employees of their larger purpose. Explain how their work impacts your team, and the company as a whole, and helps support the company’s mission.

Continually recognize employees for their efforts, and make them feel valued.

3. Allow more flexibility in work location and scheduling

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we work and interact with each other. It proved that, with the right technology and good management built on trust and regular communication, remote work can be just as effective as traditional means of work.

We gained a more comprehensive view of our colleagues. We began to see our direct reports and peers as more than just people at work, but as people with lives, interests and obligations outside the office.

Many employees have become accustomed to the increased flexibility and work-life balance associated with remote work and want that to continue. Depending on the type of company you have and the nature of your business, consider how you can accommodate these employees in the post-pandemic future. For many companies, there’s no going back to pre-2020, and remote work is here to stay in some form.

A company’s desire to return to full-time, on-site work and refusal of requests for flexibility can be viewed by employees as rigid and regressive, and can be a big driver for them leaving.

Alternate options to fully remote work could be flex schedules or hybrid schedules that still allow employees the extra degree of work-life balance to which they’ve grown accustomed.

4. Address employee burnout proactively

Inevitably, employees can feel overworked and overwhelmed. Your response is key.

For starters, you should regularly communicate with your team members, so you know sooner rather than later that they’re feeling burned out.

Show empathy to your employees and let them know you care. To help reduce employee burnout, you could, for example:

  • Give an employee a day off to recharge – in alignment with business needs and while ensuring fairness and consistency with other employees.
  • Do an office-wide, stress-reducing activity for fun.
  • More evenly redistribute responsibilities across your team, whether it’s short term or permanent.

The main point is, don’t let the problem go unaddressed. Otherwise, your employees may start to feel that it’s a permanent issue for which they need to seek a permanent solution: leaving.

5. Tailor your management style to each individual employee

Not every employee will respond to the same management techniques. They each have different backgrounds, preferences, working styles, personalities, needs and motivators – in other words, everyone is unique. So, try to stay away from managing groups of people using a uniform approach. Doing so may frustrate and alienate some employees. And, as the saying goes, employees leave managers, not jobs.

Instead, discover who your employees are as individuals. Find out what they want in a manager. Learn about their personalities, goals and preferences. Then take this information and tailor your management style to them.

6. Provide opportunities for development and advancement

When employees feel stuck in a rut, as though they’ve gotten everything out of a job that they need or have gone as far as they can, they dust off their resume.

For your organization to feel dynamic and inspiring, nurture a culture of continuous learning by asking your employees about their professional and personal goals. Provide opportunities for them to continue to grow and develop in their careers, learn new skills and acquire more knowledge. These could be internal or external training programs, conferences or even mentorship programs.

Discuss with employees their future at your company and how they fit into succession plans. Employees may be encouraged to stay if they understand their path forward.

However, be transparent and honest with employees about their next steps in the company. Your company may be a smaller business that lacks regular opportunities for growth and, if so, you shouldn’t try to deceive employees to convince them to stay. In this circumstance, you should recognize that employees still want your support in their development. Be an active partner in facilitating their growth.

7. Assess company perks

Company perks are what you offer above and beyond a standard benefits package to help keep employees happy and demonstrate that you value them. These perks could be unique to your company; bonus points if they match or exceed what competitors offer. To maximize retention, make sure any perks you implement are desired by (and, therefore, valuable to) your employees.

8. Make your workplace a fun and enjoyable place for everyone

Who doesn’t like to have fun, right?

Having a fun atmosphere doesn’t mean you have to throw a party every day. What you should do is find out what your employees consider fun, and implement those activities to celebrate big team wins, company milestones and employees’ birthdays, for example.

A fun atmosphere can definitely encourage employees to stay with a company longer and can enhance teamwork, collaboration, productivity and overall satisfaction among employees.

Summing it all up

For many reasons, trends point toward shortened employee tenure and more turnover in the job market. With this in mind, the goal of employers should be to retain employees for as long as reasonably possible. Remember the basic must-haves: a competitive salary and benefits package; good, frequent communication; and mindfulness of a positive company culture, mission, vision and values.

For the best retention results, consider going a step further and imbue your workplace with less common attributes. These include things like a sense of belonging, community and purpose; fun; flexibility for the post-COVID era; empathy for burnout; tailored management; a learning culture; and unique ways of demonstrating employee appreciation.

For more information about how a professional employer organization (PEO) can help with employee retention, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to HR outsourcing.

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