The Secret of Employee Retention is Actually Pretty Easy

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What is the one single thing that employees hate more than anything else?


Bar none, “change” would rank as the most disliked thing that a company can do to its employees. I know, I know; all of you reading this are really progressive – you love “change,” you embrace “change,” you’re “change” advocates.

Yeah, right.

The people who say they “embrace change” are the same folks who go into a deep depression when their favorite TV show is cancelled.

The secret of employee retention

Change, for most people, sucks. People like what they know. They like knowing that they’ll stop at the same place each morning to pick up their morning coffee and that Joe behind the counter will know they like it with low-fat milk and one sugar.

They like knowing that the doctor they’ve gone to since they started with you right out of college is in your insurance plan and they can keep going to that doctor. They like knowing that their check will always be deposited into their bank account on the first and third Friday of each month.

No. Matter. What.

And that is the secret of Employee Retention.

People! Your employees don’t actually want to leave your employment! Starting a new job, in a new location, working for a new boss, whatever — it all sucks! It’s major change! Your employees actually want to stay with you; they just don’t want their job and the company to suck. So, you change! And change causes them to what? Ugh. This is hard.

Change fails because of communications

So, how do you keep your employees without changing?

Most change fails because of the communication. This is especially true in so many HR shops, because we tend to over communicate and over complicate minor changes with major communications!

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We are implementing a new payroll system that will save us time and money, but in doing so, paychecks will now be deposited on the second and fourth Friday of each month. OMG! Our employees are going to freak out because they are used to the first and third Friday!

This. Is. A. Major. Change. We need a committee. We need posters and wallet cards. We need changes to our policies. We need to have a six-month transition period where we will communicate this over and over. We need to … stop.

Make it simple

What you need is a simple message out to the troops: “Hey all — payroll is getting a great new system. We’ll have fewer errors and save the company a bunch of money. We’re happy we could get them some really good technology for their function. Checks will now come out on the second and fourth Friday of each month. Plan accordingly. Let your supervisor know if you need some help in this transition. This will go live next pay period.” Bam!

People don’t like change, so don’t maximize change that doesn’t need to be maximized! If you only communicated truly “big” change and it clear that “big” change happens rarely, it doesn’t seem like change is happening all the time.

Your employees WANT to stay with you. They HATE change. Stop making them feel like change is happening all the time just so you feel like you have something IMPORTANT to do.

Employee Retention is easy, simply because deep down, your employees really don’t want to leave.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


2 Comments on “The Secret of Employee Retention is Actually Pretty Easy

  1. Isn’t this only half of the truth? It’s not only HR over-communication. In thr organizations I know, it’s also leaders NOT communicating enough and make employees leave.

    So change needs to take place. But within the mind of our executives and in their way of communicating with their staff.

    This imho would lead to less “change” amongst our employees.

    Don’t you agree?

  2. Massive oversimplification that assumes homogeneity amongst employees and posits a highly manageable workplace.

    Firstly, change itself happens. Organisations aren’t static. You don’t need to be a change critic or advocate to be aware that organisations operate within a macro, meso and micro environment. The notion of change being good or bad is irrelevant. Consider this as an example – 15 years ago, very few people had mobile phones. Today, everyone has one. By your definition, an organisation that doesn’t allow mobile phones because “we never used to have mobile phones in the office” is not going to be one that will effectively retain employees. Change operates within a continuum; people don’t want no change, they are happy for change within reasonable parameters because people change over time. Average employee turnover in the UK, for example, is around three years which tallies with the maxim, “a year to learn a job, a year to master it, a year to get bored of it”. If their job never changes then you will have a regular turnover of employees. Change needs to occur in tune with employee change.

    Secondly, assuming that employees “WANT to stay with you” is a highly unitarist view of organisational theory. There are a huge number of theories on employee motivation. One of the most basic is that of equity theory; for an employee to enter into an employment contract, the benefits of employment have to outweigh the benefits of not taking the job. Therefore if benefits of moving to a new job outweigh benefits of staying in the current job, they are going to move. Motivation for employment is an intensely personal set of criteria. Studies on employee motivation tend to identify pay and “meaningful” work as the two biggest motivational factors, but the value placed by each employee on the various factors is completely arbitrary and almost impossible to quantify. Someone may well take a lower-paying, more boring job if it is on their doorstep, compared to a job that is an hour and a half a way. I’ve spoken to someone who quit their job because they felt that anti-smoking laws were being violated. Motivation is personal.

    Lastly, you fail to differentiate between need to stay and want to stay. An employee who needs to stay may well be different to one who wants to stay. If an employee needs to stay, they will stay, regardless of how static you have made the organisation.

    There is a nugget of useful information in this article regarding communication – change MUST be communicated effectively to all stakeholders, which is a well-recognised fact. The rest is typical business-guru style rhetoric which looks great on the written page but is actually completely useless in practice.

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