You can't outsource retention

Had I really just been admonished for thanking a member of my staff for doing a good job? I suddenly understood at least part of the reason for our dismal employee retention.

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"Excuse me?" I said to my new boss with barely concealed incredulity.

"You shouldn't thank your people for just doing their jobs. That's what the pay check is for."

When I accepted the assignment, I knew that my boss wasn't known as a "warm and fuzzy" manager. We had very different management styles and philosophies, but this latest directive seemed to cross the line between idiosyncratic and mean.

That was probably the first time I had to think carefully about employee retention. The group that I had just taken over had lost more than 10% of its members in a couple of weeks, and I was afraid that we weren't through yet.

During the dot-com boom, retention was a big topic, but for the past few years, I haven't heard much about it. Now it's back. The job market has improved, and power is shifting away from managers and toward staffs, so retaining employees is back on managers' minds.

Not surprisingly, people seem to be dusting off the same old ideas, many of which I don't find all that instructive. One recent book listed categories of retention strategies that seem utterly typical to me:

  1. Organisational strategies
  2. Orientation and on-boarding
  3. Communication and connection
  4. Career and development
  5. Reward and recognition
  6. Benefits
  7. Capturing employee suggestions

I'm not trying to knock this book, but it's one of many that show how conventional wisdom on this misses the point.

Notice that this is a list of things that a human resources department can do to try to keep employees.

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