Login | December 15, 2019

Experts weigh in on the battle to retain employees

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 5, 2019

There was a time when it wasn’t unusual for employees to remain at the same company throughout their careers.

However, today business owners are dealing with a very different labor environment in which the length of time that an employee remains with the company is unknown.

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics press release, in January 2018 the median employee tenure was 4.3 years for men and 4.0 years for women.

The Work Institute, a Franklin, Tennessee-based human resource consulting firm, paints an even bleaker picture, with its “2019 Retention Report: Trends, Reasons and A Call to Action,” finding that 41.4 million U.S. workers voluntarily left their jobs in 2018.

Employee retention problems can be expensive for employers. In fact, the Work Institute conservatively estimates that losing just one U.S. worker can cost a company $15,000. The report states that since 2010, costs associated with voluntary employee turnover have nearly doubled from $331 billion to $617 billion, noting that at the current trend that number could reach $800 billion by 2023.

Jazmyn Stover, a partner in the Cleveland office of the management-side labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips has been working with a number of her clients to address employee retention concerns.

“The first issue employers need to look at is whether they are hiring the right people,” said Stover. “Potential hires need to be thoroughly screened and evaluated for their suitability for the role and the corporate culture.

“When an employee is not properly aligned with their role and corporate culture, that’s when they start looking for other jobs.”

She said once a candidate is hired, the onboarding process must help the employee assimilate into the organization.

“Studies have shown that employees who have not properly assimilated into an organization within a 12- to 18-month period are likely to leave,” said Stover. “I work with employers to help them create more meaningful onboarding processes.”

While company loyalty and salary increases were once the major factors associated with retaining workers, Stover said employees are now motivated by things such as company culture, a clear path to advancement and work-life balance.

“Today’s workforce wants the employer to lay out a detailed pathway to advancement and how it specifically relates to them,” said Stover. “They need to understand the goals of the company and buy into the culture.

“One way I advise employers to achieve this is by assigning a new employee a seasoned employee to serve as a mentor,” Stover said. “The mentor’s role would be to answer any questions, take the person to lunch and explain the company’s benefits and culture to the newer worker.”

Creating a flexible work environment that adapts to employee needs is also important, said Stover.

“For instance, some people would take a lower salary in exchange for being allowed to work from home several days a week,” she said. “Other employers have added showers to accommodate workers who want to bike to work.”

Stover said she suggests companies offer workers the chance to fill out surveys about potential changes and/or additions they would like to see. When a worker does leave, extensive exit interviews are key to determine why the person chose not to remain with the company.

“Early signs of discontent can be employee tardiness or excessive absenteeism,” Stover said.

Cheryl Perez, president and managing partner of the human resources consulting and outsourcing company BIG-HR in Seven Hills, Ohio has retained Stover to conduct employee engagement workshops and design employee retention strategies.

“One of the newer issues that employers must address is multigenerational workplaces,” said Perez. “There is an invisible divide within many workplaces between Baby Boomer and Generation X employees and Millennials. The factors that lead to retention vary among these groups.

“We have been conducting communication and emotional intelligence training for some of our clients to increase their emotional intelligence (EQ),” said Perez. “Jazmyn has been involved with a few of our trainings.

“We have also developed an online training toolkit for our small employers who need assistance but may not have the budget to work one-on-one with a consultant.”

Margaret (Meg) Andreeff Matejkovic, of counsel and diversity and inclusion officer at Kastner Westman & Wilkins said about a quarter of her practice is dedicated to day-to-day human resource counseling designed to help employers develop and maintain positive and proactive environments.

“The ‘revolving door’ is on the mind of many employers these days because of cost as well as the practical ramifications of employee turnover such as downtime,” said Matejkovic. “What businesses are finding is that often workers are more likely to leave because of intangibles such as not feeling valued by the company rather than salary concerns.

“Some employees leave because they feel that they have stagnated and want to continue to grow,” she said. “Ineffective workplace cultures also cause people to leave. Additionally, while more employers seem to be focusing more on diversity issues, they sometimes forget about the inclusion aspect of an effective, productive, and positive workplace, which is just as important.”

When an employee leaves, it not only disrupts workflow, it can also be demoralizing to others at the company, Matejkovic said.

While many businesses do exit interviews to determine why people choose to move on, Matejkovic said more employers are starting to conduct “stay” interviews to determine why people are remaining with the organization.

“I think stay interviews can also be very effective and need to become a broader part of an organization’s initiatives related to employee retention and engagement,” she said.

One other reason for the revolving door, said Matejkovic, is that many employees no longer have just one career during their lifetimes.

“For example, I attended a law school conference a few years ago and I heard data from NALP (National Association for Law Placement) indicating that, on average, lawyers will change careers, not just jobs but careers, three to five times during the course of their working lives; that’s a staggering statistic to me,” she said.

“The other piece we try to address with employers is that they should not only focus on retaining their ‘A’ employees, but employers should make an effort to work with other employees to improve their skill sets since they too can offer a lot to an organization.”