Retention strategies: How to keep hold of your brightest and best

How can your organisation achieve its growth potential if your best people are constantly looking for the exit door? As an employer, you make a significant investment in employees - in terms of recruitment, training and career support - and you need to see a return. But how is this possible if you can't keep your talent onboard.

In an improving economic landscape, retaining valued employees is easier said than done. Other employers are looking to attract talent, and will pay handsomely to recruit the best people - including your key staff members. The number of vacancies continues to rise across many sectors, and this fact is not lost on UK professionals. If they are unhappy with your organisation, there's nothing to stop them from moving.

With voluntary turnover rising, employers need to form more effective staff retention strategies. Research conducted by Robert Half indicates that a third (33 per cent) of UK employees are considering a new job, rising to 46 per cent in the 18-34 age category. If staff leave en masse, then the risks are obvious - reduced capacity, productivity and output, not to mention increased recruitment costs.

Why do employees leave?

Understanding why employees choose to leave is the first step to devising a retention strategies. Do your people move on in pursuit of higher salaries? Because they want to move up the career ladder? Or is it because they're fed up with what you are asking them to do? According to Robert Half research, the promise of a higher salary encourages 40 per cent of professionals to switch employer - demonstrating that pay is important. But boredom (15 per cent) and a lack of promotional opportunities (15 per cent) are also key contributors to employee departures, as is a sense of dissatisfaction with company leadership (nine per cent).

There's little doubt that poor decision making within the management team can cause staff attrition. Once employees feel they are giving too much for too little, and the demands of their job have become disproportionate to the rewards, they may look to move on. Some may even be prepared to make a sideways career move in order to bring about change.

Employers need to consider whether the demands they are placing on their staff are realistic - particularly in an improving jobs market with more opportunities for UK professionals. Employee burnout is an increasing concern in UK business, with Robert Half research suggesting it is common within 30 per cent of UK organisations. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of UK HR directors cite workload as the primary reason for this phenomenon, while 56 per cent blame long working hours. Unachievable expectations (35 per cent), economic pressures (32 per cent) and an inadequate work-life balance (27 per cent) are also highlighted as major risks - and potential reasons why valued employees may decide to walk away.

Combating employee burnout

As Phil Sheridan, managing director at Robert Half noted, employee burnout can affect almost any professional, from top bosses to rank-and-file workers. "Many employees who have been tackling increased workloads while putting in long hours are beginning to lose their motivation at work," he warned.

So if employees are serious about keeping hold of their best people for longer, they need to put appropriate safeguards in place. Various initiatives can be implemented to reduce the risks of burnout, such as promoting a teamwork-based environment, restructuring job functions and tasks, providing flexible working options and encouraging employees to take time off.

Recruiting additional staff - whether on a permanent or temporary basis - can also take the pressure off key personnel, helping to ensure workloads are more manageable. The use of high-level interims can make a real difference, as it ensures organisations have access to specialist expertise for short-term projects. This reduces the likelihood of already-busy employees being given additional high-pressure tasks to complete and adds to companies retention strategies. Everyone can benefit from this arrangement - valued employees are not over-burdened with work, but the job still gets completed to the requisite standard.

Mr Sheridan claimed that hiring temporary or interim professionals is "an effective and efficient way to alleviate pressure", especially at peak times. "This allows companies to manage workload peaks and troughs without incurring fixed labour costs, while ensuring specialist technical skills are available as and when needed," he added. "Companies who adopt this approach have been able to cope better with the unexpected, prevent employee burnout and avoid reduced morale and increased costs."

With increased capacity at their disposal, it may be easier for organisations to free up time for employee training and development. The more time you can set aside for career development sessions, coaching and mentoring, the better. Employees who feel they are being given the chance to improve their skills and knowledge - with a view to career advancement - may be more likely to remain with your organisation for the long term.

Keeping hold of your best people

In some cases, it may be necessary to make a significant gesture to talented workers, in order to secure their loyalty. They may be looking for a major pay rise or bonus, or the offer of a more lucrative benefits package - consult resources like the Robert Half Salary Guide  as a benchmark to industry trends. Some employees won't be happy unless they are making continued progress up the ranks, and see genuine prospects for promotion within your organisation. Sometimes it will be possible to meet these employee demands and sometimes it won't, it typically depends on your what retention strategies you have in place and budget - how much you want to keep hold of the individual in question.

At other times, retaining employees doesn't require a major outlay. For some workers, the immediate priority is to be treated fairly by their employer, and given the time and resources needed to do their job. Many talented people are settled with their existing employer, in their current location. Under the right circumstances they may be happy to work for you in the long term, so why risk alienating them?

All employers should have reasonable expectations of their staff, and create a business culture and environment that is conducive to productive work in the long term. Workloads should be sustainable, and employees should be given the time and space they need to develop their careers. Never forget that happy, motivated and energised employees are one of the biggest assets you can have.