Foster growth, education, loyalty to keep valued employees

AT&T - DirecTV call center - screencap
Go out of your way to make an employee feel valued. (AT&T)

Keeping valued employees is not an easy task, especially in a tight job market in which the best and the brightest are especially sought out. Higher salaries, cooler offices and better perks are all enticements that could cause the loss of stars.

But there are ways to give yourself an edge in holding on to valued workers. They include building loyalty, treating them well and providing special perks.

"Top skilled professionals can be hard to find and keep in today's job market,” said Ky Kingsley, vice president for North America at Robert Half. “Candidates need to have a solid mix of technical skills, expertise, good communication skills and fit with a company's corporate culture. This requires employers to implement strong retention tactics."

Offer recognition

For one thing, ensure you are recognizing your employees, Kingsley said. “Offer praise for an employee during a staff meeting. Copy the person's manager on an email, or even a simple thank-you can go a long way to retaining a top performer."

Also, top performers are always looking for the opportunity to grow. “Giving star employees the opportunity to be groomed for future management roles is important," Kingsley said. “Are you having regular discussions with your employees about the potential to move up? Don't assume your staff knows where they fit in your current business structure. Communicate that with them."

Paul Burrin, VP of Sage Business Cloud People, advises first using people science: “You use data science so you know your customers, finances or operations, but are you using people science to make more informed people decisions, so that companies can identify their top performers and create strategies to retain valued employees?”

Create great experiences

Burrin also advises creating great experiences. “Just as sales and marketing are focused on creating great customer experiences, so companies should be focused on creating great employee experiences in order to drive engagement and performance.”

In a recent survey by Sage, 66% of respondents said that being appreciated and valued was the most important factor in driving their performance; this rose to 92% for millennials, which now form the largest part of the workforce. “If you want to retain talent and create a consistently high-performance environment, then ensure that this is a leadership practice that is ingrained in your culture,” Burrin said. “When did you last say thank you or make someone feel valued or special?”

Discuss development

Burrin also recommends providing opportunities for growth.

“Ensure managers meet with their employees regularly to provide feedback, discuss development opportunities and recognize quality work,” he said. “Provide opportunities for top talent to work with teams or on projects which will provide them with new experiences, develop new skills, learn and grow. Groom current stars for future leadership roles.”

Ensure “your organizational design recognizes the importance of teams and that your HR system can capture details as to who is working on which teams, their performance outside of their functional role and responsibilities, and can enable resource and succession planning for the talent that you need to keep,” Burrin said.

Ryan Naylor, founder of, offers the following tips: 

  • Don't assume that any particular employee is content. Schedule regular temperature checks, giving your people the opportunity to be totally open with their current overall satisfaction. The workplace is an environment that thrives on professionalism; however, authentic conversations can help you avoid being blindsided. 
  • If you feel you are getting a bargain, expect your employees to feel undervalued. At the end of the day, your people are there to earn wages, and if they feel they can earn more somewhere else, they will eventually leave. "What about loyalty?," you might ask. Loyalty, for the most part, is earned through various displays of appreciation and respect. The primary method of showing gratitude in the workplace is compensation. If you are perpetually underpaying, it's going to be difficult to earn your employees' loyalty. 
  • Set your workforce up for success. Even the best employees will struggle with impossible expectations, overly critical management, and monstrous workloads. Give your team the tools they need to do their best work. Research software, subscriptions and equipment that could lighten the load. Even if you are understanding when something goes wrong, no one likes to face a day of failure. 
  • While pay is important, it isn't everything. Reward your employees with other positive actions; let them feel that they are building something with you, instead of for you. Give them a vision to aspire toward, and make yourself the fearless leader that will take them toward that vision. 

We have your back

Liz Bywater, Ph.D., president of Bywater Consulting, recommends treating employees well. “There’s an important concept called the psychological contract that says: ‘We—the organization—have your back. You give us your best, we will take care of you.’ That sort of mutual responsibility can be hard to come by these days. Make sure you live up to it and you will have incredibly loyal, hardworking employees who stick around.”

Leave employees alone on the weekend and during vacations, too, Bywater said. “Personal time should be protected. Employees who are frequently badgered by work demands during their time at home become resentful and may begin looking elsewhere.”

Offer “lifestyle” perks, said Stuart Ridge, VitaMedica chief marketing officer. “Offering generous benefits is one of the most common employee retention strategies, but it’s time for employers to move beyond simply offering a few extra days of vacation.”

Employers “who demonstrate that they care about the work-life balance and overall lifestyle of their employees are more likely to retain their employees for years,” Ridge said. “Lifestyle perks could include offering a stipend for a gym membership, setting up remote work options to accommodate parents and establishing a pet-friendly office.” While fun perks “like happy hours or officewide contests may attract great talent and cultivate office culture, long-term employee retention relies on the ability to make the employee’s job compatible with their life outside of work,” Ridge said.

Discuss their future

Another approach is to discuss growth within the company, Ridge said. “Employees want to know there is room for them to grow and succeed in a company if they are deciding to remain there long term. One of the biggest mistakes managers make in this regard is assuming that the career trajectory they see for a certain role is the path the employee wants to take.”

Managers “should regularly discuss intended career paths with their employees to ensure that the visions are aligned and so they can make adjustments where needed to continually meet the needs of both employer and company,” Ridge said.

Companies should also allow time off for professional development. “Managers should actively support the professional development of their team members beyond the standard company offerings,” Ridge said. “Since funding for professional development is not unlimited, an easy way to do this is to allow employees time for professional development that won’t cut into their vacation time.”

One way to do this is to offer employees a certain number of professional development hours per quarter that they can request as they would vacation or sick time. “Be sure to encourage employees to make use of this time, and build on that development by encouraging them to share and implement what they learn at these trainings in their work and among their co-workers,” Ridge said.