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How happy are your employees?

Pei-cen Lin
Published Date:
Mar 17, 2014

Here’s some sobering news for hiring managers: According to a recent online survey by, one in five workers will be shopping for a new job this year. The website polled 3,008 full-time employees across industries and found that 21 percent planned to change employers in 2014, up from 17 percent in 2013. Researchers linked the increase to a drop in job satisfaction, with the unhappiest workers complaining most about their salaries and grumbling that they felt undervalued. Those findings are in line with the research report “Predictions for 2014: Building a Strong Talent Pipeline for the Global Economic Recovery,” released by the HR research and advisory firm Bersin by Deloitte in December 2013. It noted that “while unemployment remains high among many groups, highly skilled workers are in great demand, making it critical for organizations to become a ‘talent magnet.’” In other words, if members of your team want to hop over to another employer, they stand a good chance of being able to do so.

It can be painful for any firm that has invested time in training staff and dollars in recruitment to lose good employees. But with a clear strategy in hand, you can improve employee retention and keep the best and brightest staffers around for the long run. As a starting point, I’ve listed several key action steps below. Keep in mind, though, that they have the most impact when they are executed together. As Bersin by Deloitte notes, “We need to think of all of the elements of talent management as one integrated system—each working together, but fitting into a total employee environment.”

1. Engage, empower and enrich
As a key measure for employee retention, the Bersin by Deloitte report recommends ensuring that management is focused on coaching and development, not just performance. The simple phrase above embodies that ideal. Engage means to involve your employees—by soliciting their feedback; by bringing them in on the organization’s big-picture plans and explaining how their individual roles fit into it; and by establishing meaningful exchanges through initiatives like inter-department committees. By engaging your employees and keeping them in the loop, you demonstrate their value to you. Empower means to give your employees the autonomy to make decisions; good employees need to feel a sense of ownership when it comes to their work. And enrich means to nurture your employees, by providing a positive, encouraging work environment that they will enjoy being in. When you embrace your employees in this way, they will appreciate it and reciprocate.

2. Prioritize mentoring
Research suggests that companies with strong mentoring programs have an edge in employee retention. Why? Because employees who are being mentored not only have an opportunity to pick up important technical knowledge from a more seasoned colleague; they essentially have a lifeline to the company—someone who can help them understand the corporate culture and office etiquette. (This is especially key for new and young employees). Make mentoring a priority at your office from the top down. Connect staff members with people they can look up to, aspire to be and want to follow.

3. Offer learning opportunities, as well as opportunities to shine
A good challenge makes for great motivation. Pique your employees’ interests by giving them goals and opportunities for continued growth and learning (i.e., classes and workshops), both formally and informally. Institute a robust learning development program that enhances both the employee’s technical knowledge base and soft skills, such as interpersonal skills and leadership skills. But this must also be coupled with opportunities for employees to practice what they learned. Leverage their strengths, passions and interests by encouraging them to take on special projects and explore other possible roles within the organization.

4. Formalize recognition and rewards programs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that we all want to feel valued. That’s where recognition (receiving feedback and having accomplishments acknowledged and appreciated) comes into play. Indeed, according to Bersin by Deloitte research, “companies with a ‘recognition-rich’ culture have a 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rates than their peers.” Top performers, it said, “are looking for growth, recognition, career opportunities, and learning.” Among the professionals in the survey who were most satisfied with their jobs and had no intention of leaving, 29 percent said that they felt valued at work and regularly had their accomplishments recognized. At your own firm, ask yourself: do your executives thank staff members for good work—or think the team should simply be happy to have jobs? Is there a formal program for recognizing achievement? How do you celebrate team performance? If you can’t launch a full-scale program, think about smaller steps that you can take to recognize employees.

5. Create a flexible, engaging work environment
Time and again, surveys have suggested that employees, especially younger ones, prize flexibility. Indeed, found that 50 percent of employees who wanted to stay with their company said it was because they have a good work/life balance there. Last year, an international study of 4,100 professionals by the consulting company Accenture found that a good work/life balance was respondents’ top criterion for defining success—what’s more, 52 percent said they had turned down a job because they were concerned about its affect on their home lives. Firms must recognize that what matters most is the quality of the work and that it gets done and delivered on time—and not where and when the work is performed. Moreover, as Bersin by Deloitte suggests, given the long hours people spend at work, employers should consider “redesigning the work environment to make it more enjoyable, collaborative and fun.” Google mastered this strategy with the launch of yoga classes, free breakfast and lunch and other perks at its Mountain View, Calif. campus. If a yoga studio isn’t in the cards for your organization, think of other ways in which you might restructure the office to convey that employees are valued.

Pei-Cen Lin, CPA, SPHR, is a strategic talent management and organizational development professional in the human resources field. She is also a past chair of the Human Resources Committee. She can be reached at

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