By: Jennifer Nash
A wise CEO I talked to recently shared this thought:
Getting through the pandemic was hard. Everyone wanted change — something to break up the monotony of doing the same thing, day in and day out. But realistically, most people don’t want to divorce their partner. Moving to a new house is insanely expensive. Quitting is pretty much their only option right now… As a leader, this behavior is really hard on me personally and hard on my company.
As an executive coach and corporate trainer, I found this insight powerful and thought-provoking. It got me looking at what types of retention initiatives consistently worked to find ways to support my corporate clients more profoundly. The CEO who shared this thought has struggled with staff attrition rates between 15–20% over the past year and was eager to consider solutions, especially if those solutions were easy to implement and could create lasting change.
Why does this issue hurt so much?
According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times that employee’s annual salary, which many say is a conservative estimate. That means that an organization employing 100 people where the average salary is $50,000 would have replacement costs of about $660,000 to $2.6 million per year.
Even though most employees in manufacturing are paid hourly, not by salary, these figures show the extent of the financial expense. However, beyond the finances is the emotional expense to consider, because not only are other employees picking up the slack for those that leave, they’re also sometimes bereft at being left behind.
Some companies have looked at cost-saving measures and avoided replacing departing staff, but this only increases the stress and potential burnout suffered by the remaining teams. If management isn’t careful, one staff member’s departure can set off a catalyst of resignations, especially if individuals begin to feel like a bigger workload is being dumped on them.
Here are some practical ways to help with this problem.
Talking to employees.
One suggestion I have shared with several firms is the idea of the stay interview. We’ve gotten used to hearing the term “exit interview,” but I’m referring to an interview of people staying in the job. Some companies called this a “retention interview,” which may be a better term since “stay interview” suggests the employee is thinking of leaving — we need all the positivity we can get.
These interviews make sense for a simple reason: Why wait until people have given their two-week notice to discover why they’re unhappy? It makes more sense to me than exit interviews because nine times out of ten we don’t do anything with the information gathered in those exit interviews.
Instead, why not develop a cadence of periodic one-on-one interviews that works for the organization? Such data allows managers to ask for honest feedback that can be reported to executives.
What does such an interview look like? In my work with companies to structure these types of custom sessions, I’ve seen these typical questions:
- What do you like most and least about working here?
- What keeps you working here?
- If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
- What are the biggest reasons you’d consider going to work elsewhere?
- What are we doing well here in our company?
- What motives or demotivates you?
- What can I do more or less of as your manager to help your situation?
- What might tempt you to leave this company?
Ending the retention conversation by reinforcing the positive things the manager has heard about the employee from other team members and supervisors wraps up the process on an appreciative note.
However, it’s vital to listen to what’s said and implement changes as a result. No one likes to think they’re talking to a wall, and employees who feel they are doing so are more likely to walk out the door.
Office friendships can make a big difference.
Most people are amazed when I tell them that one of the easiest tools they can use to fight the resignation culture is to support office friendships. The facts speak for themselves: According to a survey by Globoforce done for Workplace magazine, 62% of people would reject another job offer if they had more than five friends at their current job, and that number rises to over 70% for those with more than six friends at work.
“That warm, fuzzy feeling drops dramatically as the number of workplace friends declines — fewer than half of those with one to five friends at their company feel the love and just 24% with no workplace friends love where they work,” Kathy Gurchiek says in an article about the importance of workplace friendships.
So how can your company support workplace friendships?
From developing mentorship programs where senior staff foster relationships with more junior members to team-bonding activities, many ways to make connections stick beyond initial contact between two people. Mentoring programs also can be presented to employees as fostering integration at different corporate levels, and they are relatively simple to implement.
For example, mentors and mentees might be encouraged to use monthly outings and be given a small budget for activities such as grabbing a bite to eat, shooting pool, playing mini golf…anything that encourages connection even when differences exist in ages and other areas.
Team bonding activities sound fluffy to many executives, something “nice to have” that isn’t practical. But in many cases, they can be critical. The most successful organizations are made up of strong, high-performance departments and teams and the way to build such teams is by ensuring individual employees are happy, engaged, and doing work they find fulfilling.
Research by Cigna shows that lonely employees have a higher risk of turnover, lower productivity, more missed days at work, and lower quality of work, while employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 50% higher level of health and well-being, a 50% greater capacity for creative thinking, and a 30% higher level of focus.
Many companies do a great job creating after-work socials or “invite your spouse” barbecues and similar events. But fostering friendships during the day is also a good tool. LaFleur, a marketing firm in Michigan, does this by having teams play a variety of games every Friday, and encouraging fun attire for those occasions. On one such Friday I found the employees, who were all working remotely, playing a fast 30-minute game of Codenames online while wearing clothing inspired by their favorite TV show characters.
Because employees were scattered between a few different states, this type of engagement boosted the mood, supported laughter and bonding, and gave everyone a minute to just have some fun with each other. I know some executives reading this are wondering: Why would I pay employees to do this? My answer is this: Fun is bonding, which supports better working relationships and builds friendships. As I mentioned, this boosts retention rates and lowers the cost of new employee engagement.
[Related: Be the Change: A Multi-Part Framework]
Games enhance connections.
Some team-bonding activities are built to boost and enhance vital connectivity and socialization between team members and departments — all while empowering important workplace lessons in the process.
For example, while it may sound a little silly, playing a game such as “Whose Fridge Is This?” (where a photo of everyone’s fridge is shared, and someone wins a prize for correctly linking attendee names with fridges), can be both an exercise in vulnerability for individuals and one that builds trust while costing nothing.
Think about it this way: It is very revealing to share the inside of a personal space with coworkers. But if the whole office is doing so at the same time, such a simple exercise can spark connection and dialogue, especially when the winner explains his or her thought processes: how he or she was able to match everyone with their food storage container.
Here’s another simple idea that works both online and offline: Play a game of “Never Have I Ever.” The rules are pretty simple: Players take turns listing potential experiences they’ve never had, using the phrase “never have I ever…” If someone has, in fact, had the experience a coworker just shared, he or she has to take some action — whether it’s a sip of coffee or a spin in the office chair.
Why would a company play such a game? So employees can find out amusing or amazing new things about colleagues, which in turn fosters friendship and intrigue and supports the whole staff’s laughter and sharing.
For those companies that don’t want to take the time to play an amusing game like this during the day, there are other ways to promote sharing, including activities that also promote exercise. Many companies run softball programs, support running for charitable causes, have company exercise classes, or encourage lunchtime walks. Such programs can work not only for local staff, but for companies with employees scattered to different locations of the country.
For example, why not have team leaders or project managers schedule 30-minute walk-and-talks, where two individuals walk outside while chatting on their cellphones? You connect with a colleague and get valuable exercise and time outdoors. PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) has been doing this since the pandemic, and employees found it so supportive, the company has continued it even after the lockdown requirements were lifted.
Think about it: When do you get to talk to coworkers beyond time-sensitive deliverable discussions? Knowing someone’s partner is struggling with depression or their kid just got accepted into a specific school is connective and ultimately helps humanize coworkers to each other.
Trainings bolster ROI.
Boosting employee confidence through company-facilitated training and coaching is another way to support retention and connection. While both staff who must attend these sessions and the executives picking up the tab might grumble about this training, when such training sessions are viewed as helping staff stay relevant and facilitating employees’ day-to-day lives, they are much easier to take.
Most employees also quickly realize the value. I recently ran a training at the fifth largest cable television provider in the USA for 25 mid-level directors where I helped them take their presentation skills to the next level. No one was excited initially about this activity, but after the training and one-on-one presentation evaluation sessions, I received great feedback.
My favorite comment might have been: “Jen, that was dope,” but even better was the client feedback that confirmed that the team’s presentation skills were night and day better than before. That’s money in the bank for the client.
A tiny suggestion with big payback.
As more leaders are leaning into empathetic leadership styles, they are seeing how important it is to foster potentially connective moments.
One fun suggestion another company I work with tried was: They asked employees to start meetings by sharing something personal about themselves — a simple little fact about their day-to-day existence such as what they were currently binge-watching.
Such simple sharing can start employees on the path to deeper connections by getting them to talk. It may take a while before ways are found to support connective moments where people are encouraged to openly talk about core values, but chatting is a good way to start, and companies who show they are supportive of connective moments have a means for eventual deeper insight into what motivates their people from a deeper perspective. This insight gives managers a direct line to understanding what type of motivation will be most effective moving forward and how people feel about their jobs.
Knowing what drives teams and how the company can support more meaningfulness in staff work is a core way to strengthen and deepen relationships with employees. Those companies who can’t find ways to help make the connections are missing out. In today’s world, where many feel disconnected from way too many things, giving staff a means to build friendships at work gives the company a way to support retention and boost productivity.
[Related: Why Great Employees Leave “Great Cultures”]
Jen Nash is the author of the award-winning Amazon Best Seller: The Big Power of Tiny Connections — How Small Interactions Spark Awesome Outcomes. She is also an executive coach and corporate trainer who helps companies gain the tools to lower stress, boost productivity, and up RFP win rates, who isn’t afraid to talk to strangers, and who makes new friends whenever possible.