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Retaining Your Top Employees

How to construct a positive work environment to ensure employee retention.

Earlier this year, The Big Picture referenced a Career Builder and USA Today study that asked this question to employees: “As the economy improves, how likely are you to start looking for another job?” More than 30 percent of the participants indicated that they were likely to explore other opportunities.

Now I don’t know about you, but our company would certainly not be happy with 30 percent of our employees looking for another job as the economy rebounds. Particularly if you assume that the 30 percent inclined to look elsewhere are probably the ones you value the most. (Maybe if I could hand pick the 30 percent that would look elsewhere, then it would be a different story– but, it doesn’t work that way.) When the economy gets better, then, your best employees might consider the idea of finding another job as not only a realistic option, but an appetizing one.

So how do you go about ensuring that you retain your best employees even during the most promising economic times? Let’s look at five ideas.

Positive and open atmosphere
First, I can’t stress enough the importance of creating a workplace that is comfortable and enjoyable for employees to work in. Clearly, work isn’t always fun, but being in an environment where employees are treated with respect and given the opportunity to enjoy themselves with their co-workers is critical to their overall happiness.

This doesn’t mean you have to create a carnival funhouse at the office – but there are simple things you can do as an employer to craft a positive image of your workplace. For example, try bringing in lunch every so often for everyone. Or invest in a grill and host a summer barbeque once a month. Although lunches and barbeques are inexpensive, they can provide a great opportunity to bring everyone together. Other similar ideas include: Have a summer picnic with your employees and their families to foster a sense of camaraderie. Bring in bagels or donuts every Friday morning. Consider giving your employees a certain amount of dollar credit each year for products that you manufacture. Make them feel like they are worth your while.

But boosting employee morale doesn’t have to be all about hosting events or offering up gifts. You can also spice up the day-to-day events. For instance: Figure out a way to make even the most mundane meetings more enjoyable. We recently realized that our monthly financial staff meetings were beginning to get pretty dull – so dull that our employees pretty much tuned us out immediately after glancing at our profit numbers. So instead of sticking with the monotonous meeting style, we made the financial review into a game: Ferrari Color Jeopardy. Now, our employees have an interactive event that they all participate in and enjoy, while still learning about the numbers.

My second suggestion also lends to a positive work environment: open communication. The ability to speak openly without fear of consequence is an important quality in a productive office. If all levels of management feel free to make suggestions and even offer constructive criticisms, they will feel that they’re valued members of your team. Of course, you might find an employee that will take liberty with this policy and he or she will become a chronic complainer, consistently taking a negative approach. But, you’ll also find that the majority of your employees who feel open to communicate their concerns will become more willing to accept criticism when it’s directed at them without being immediately threatened. As a result, employees will consider constructive criticism as a helpful dialogue, not a one-sided attack.

Keep in mind that although discussing shortcomings via constructive criticism is necessary, it’s equally important to establish a business environment where your deserving employees receive praise. Continual positive reinforcement will lead to happy employees and encourage continual success. Make this a top priority in the way you manage.

My third key to employee retention is management. Behind every happy staff is a great management team. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman wrote in First, Break All the Rules, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Developing your company into a place where your employees can be successful starts with their managers. When your management effectively communicates the company philosophy and projects genuine appreciation for the workplace, their attitude will have a trickle-down effect onto the rest of the company. It starts from the top with training, mentoring, positive feedback, constructive criticism, and so on. Focus on being an excellent manager and those same attitudes will be pervasive among your entire team.

A financial reason to stick around
Beyond providing employees with “contentment considerations,” you also must make sure you’re offering them a financial reason to stick around. If you want to keep your best employees, you must pay them a competitive salary.

Aside from that, providing some fringe benefits can tie them to your company for the long term. For example, a 401(k) plan or a like-kind retirement plan is essential in attracting stable, lasting employees. A company match to your employees’ contributions will be a valuable benefit. You might also want to evaluate the amount of personal time or vacation/sick leave that you currently allow. Younger-generation employees especially value their time away from the office. Flexibility with work schedules, vacation, etc., can be just as important to an employee as the amount of money they’re making. Extra benefits that don’t cost the company significant amounts of money can often make the difference in keeping a valued employee.

This next suggestion might be the last, but it is by no means the least important: Provide room for growth. If the members of your team don’t feel that there’s a chance to grow and improve in their positions within the company, the good employees will search for these opportunities elsewhere.

Now, this becomes tricky because not all of your employees can ultimately be promoted to management. There may be an occasion when an employee asks you whether they have a chance to become a manager and your answer will be no. Of course, not every employee has the aspirations to move to upper management. But, sometimes, even a promotion within a department to a shift supervisor, etc., can be very meaningful to a good employee. Most importantly, provide a work environment where your employees know that if they excel at their job there is inevitable opportunity for growth.

Developing your environment
Taking the steps I’ve outlined here should help you develop an environment that enables your employees to enjoy their time in the workplace – while fostering an atmosphere of growth and opportunity. As you construct a positive work environment, you’ll succeed in retaining the best employees and, in turn, build yourself a much stronger business overall.

Marty McGhie is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations. The company offers high-quality large- and grand-format photo, inkjet, fabric, and UV printing. marty@ferraricolor.com

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