​Why people stay: How to keep your best employees

by External21 Mar 2014
Retention of high-performing employees is critical to maintaining and enhancing an organisation’s competitive advantage in difficult economic times. Insync Surveys’ latest research paper, Why People Stay: How to Keep Your Best Employees, looks at what makes employees more likely to stay with their employers

Nicholas Barnett, Insync Surveys’ CEO, warns that “to sustain your organisation, great employees really want fulfilling jobs, inspiring leadership, a performance focus, values driven culture, and to feel proud”.

Long-serving employees retain corporate memory, continue nurturing long-standing customer relationships, and are generally more productive and stronger advocates for the organisation. Higher employee retention also limits the high costs associated with employee turnover, including reduced sales, lower productivity, and recruitment fees.

Insync Surveys’ research draws on some of its employee survey data from 85 organisations with over 60,000 employee responses. Insync Surveys correlated 90 statements that examined employee alignment and engagement with the statement “I can envisage a future for myself in this organisation”. This statement is a good indicator of an employee’s propensity to stay with their employer. Insync Surveys’ analysis identified 20 statements with very high correlations of 0.7 and above. These 20 statements have been grouped into five themes that indicate how organisations can go about increasing the retention of their high-performing employees.

The report suggests that employers seeking to improve retention must offer meaningful work via  mechanisms such as job fit, mission alignment, role clarity, job enrichment, personal development and career progression. Barnett says: “Not surprisingly, items relating to job fulfilment and growth are very strongly related to retention. Our correlation analysis fully validates the common sense notion that employees are more likely to stay when they enjoy their work, are satisfied with their jobs, are able to fully use their skills and talents and perceive that their organisation has effective plans for developing and retaining its people.”

One of the more surprising findings from this study was the critical role of executive leadership in influencing employee retention.

“While the employee’s immediate line manager certainly plays an important role, long term retention is impacted much more by senior leadership,” says Barnett.

Insync Surveys’ research highlights that employees are more likely stay when the senior leadership team has an inspiring vision, encourage innovation, are good role models, act with integrity, and get the maximum from people’s individual talents and knowledge. Senior leaders set the tone for the whole organisation, and employees form a view about whether the organisation is right for them in the long term from what they see from the senior leadership team.

Employees are more likely to stay when they consider their organisation to be high performing and well run, according to the research. Items highly related to retention include the perception that their organisation is committed to best practice; being able to link everyday actions and performance to the organisation’s goals; and the belief that the organisation is committed to high standards of performance. Barnett says: “Working in a high performing organisation has many benefits for employees that enhance retention. These include job security, greater role clarity, personal development, career opportunities, and greater reward and recognition.”

The research tells us that employees are more likely to stay when the organisation has clear values that are demonstrated in practice, and when they’re treated with consideration and respect. Items highly correlated with retention include equity in resource allocation, being advised about organisational changes that will impact the employee, belief that the organisation cares about and is committed to the employee, and seeing the organisation’s values and behaviours being demonstrated every day in the employee’s work group. “Long term retention is much more likely when employees can see that their values align with their employer’s and that the employer not only talks about its values but demonstrates them every day,” says Barnett.

Insync Surveys’ final theme is that employees who can envisage a future for themselves in the organisation have a strong sense of connection with, and pride in, their organisation. Items highly correlated with retention include being willing to recommend the organisation as a workplace to others, being proud of working for the organisation, and having a strong sense of belonging. These items emphasise the reciprocity inherent in the employer-employee relationship.

Barnett says: “When the employer provides the employee with a fulfilling job within a positive organisational context, the employee typically reciprocates by performing to the best of their ability and being an advocate for the organisation to others.”

“We encourage organisations to have strategies to increase employee retention that are linked to the organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP),” Barnett says. The EVP refers to the balance of the rewards and benefits that are received by employees in return for their performance in the workplace. It is the sum of everything that people in an organisation experience and receive, from the intrinsic satisfaction of the work, to the environment, leadership, colleagues and remuneration. An EVP answers the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ and formalises an employer’s preemployment promises to employees, both explicit and implicit.

Barnett says: “An EVP should be constructed with the same care as a customer value proposition as it also has a very significant impact on the organisation’s performance.” Insync Surveys has developed a five-step process for doing this, starting with a careful analysis of what employees value, designing the EVP in consultation with employees, developing an effective communication process, implementing the EVP with senior leadership advocacy, and continuing to measure and improve the EVP as part of an ongoing strategic cycle.

The findings from this Insync Surveys study make it clear that the EVP should be considered in a broad context, to include job satisfaction as well as the impact of senior leadership, organisational performance and organisational values on retention.

“A key implication of the study is that there are no quick fixes for increasing employee retention. Employee retention is heavily dependent on meaningful work, inspiring leadership and the overall health of the organisation. Long term retention can only be addressed in a meaningful way by ensuring that employees have fulfilling and stimulating roles within a sound organisational context,” says Barnett. 

Nicholas BarnettNicholas Barnett, CEO, BEc, CA, FAICO, has been a director, business leader and consultant for over 30 years. He is CEO of Insync Surveys, a former partner of KPMG, non-executive chairman of Ansvar Insurance, and a non-executive director of Mission Australia. 

For a free copy of the Insync Surveys study, visit www. insyncsurveys.com.au