How can employers retain their 'star employees'?

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With the jobs market improving rapidly, talented professionals may find themselves in greater demand among employers. Organisations are competing with one another to hire the best people, and this means lucrative contracts may be on offer for those with proven skills, expertise and an ability to deliver value for their employer.

This creates challenges for businesses, in terms of attracting and retaining employees. Not only do they need to be more competitive when making offers to job candidates, but they also need to find ways of keeping their existing staff members onboard. If employees think they can get a better deal elsewhere, they may be tempted to look for another job.

The loss of key workers often proves costly, both in terms of lost productivity, but also through having to hire a replacement. With salaries increasing for many professionals, organisations may be required to pay more than they would like to attract a suitable candidate. And even then, they may not be as good at the job as the person who left - at least initially.

So the question is, what can employers do to ensure they keep their best employees working for them? Depending on the nature of their organisation, it may not be possible to retain talented professionals forever, but the longer they stay, the better. Robert Half research suggests pay is an important factor in determining whether employees stay or go, but it is rarely the sole consideration for professionals. There can be other determinants, which employers need to be aware of as they plot their recruitment and retention strategy.

  • Increase employee salaries

According to a survey of HR executives conducted by Robert Half in 2012, remuneration is still the top reason for employees to leave their jobs. Some 32 per cent of respondents said pay was the primary motivator for their staff - meaning it is sometimes necessary to increase annual salary in order to prevent attrition.

However, employers should be wary of breaking the bank for individual employees. Where money is the overriding issue for individuals, the likelihood is they will always be looking to increase their earnings. So even though you have given them a pay rise, they may carry on looking for more attractive offers from elsewhere, and ultimately still leave.

Research suggests that 24 per cent or large organisations and 25 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) offer bonuses or additional pay to staff in a bid to keep them happy. But the extent to which salaries should be increased is a judgement call for employers and their HR teams to make. Often it will depend on the characteristics of the individual concerned in addition to their perceived worth to the organisation.

  • Allow employees to work flexibly

HR executives believe flexible working appeals strongly to employees, with 29 per cent of those surveyed by Robert Half describing it as the main motivation for their staff members. This was almost the same proportion who said salary was the key factor for employees. As such, an increasing number of organisations are allowing their people to work flexibly - whether this means split-shifts, customised hours or telecommuting.

Professionals are acutely aware of the need to balance their work and social/family life - however difficult this may be at times. But with technology innovation facilitating productive remote working for more people, there is no longer a need to have employees in the office every day as they would have been in the past. For many staff members, telecommuting is possible - allowing them to save time and money on the daily commute.

Continued innovation in terms of connectivity and the arrival of cloud computing means professionals can access work files, documents and programmes from almost any web-enabled device, in almost any location. They can also use online collaboration tools to keep in touch with the main office on days when they are not physically present - meaning flexible working should have no negative impacts on performance and productivity.

  • Invest in career development 

Employees want to feel as though they are progressing in their chosen career, and bettering themselves as they gain new skills and experiences. When professionals feel ready for a promotion, the chances are they will look at internal opportunities first, given that they are already well-integrated in the organisation. But if there is little or no scope for vertical movement, professionals are likely to consider moving to another organisation where they can fulfil their ambitions.

In a study conducted by Robert Half, 42 per cent of respondents said having a clear career path and opportunities for promotion are the most important factors in job satisfaction. Indeed, a quarter of those surveyed had turned down a job opportunity owing to fears over the potential for future career development. Respondents said they valued training and development opportunities - something employers should take note of as they attempt to develop retention strategies. If workers feel as though their employer is investing in their future, they may be more willing to remain where they are.

  • Offer flexible benefits

Another way employers can keep hold of their best performers is through flexible benefit plans. These allow workers to customise their own rewards package, with possible benefits including increased pension contributions, childcare vouchers, subsidised training, access to mentoring, company cars and entertainment incentives. Research conducted by Aon Hewitt suggests the number of organisations taking this approach as part of their retention strategy has risen from 62 per cent to 70 per cent over the last year. Almost half of the employers polled said they are offering benefits in order to attract the best talent and boost staff retention rates.

Andrew Woolnough, client development director at Aon Hewitt, noted that that 'flex' is "a growing part of the employee benefits 'menu'" in many companies. He said it offers "a real answer" to organisations' problems, by further allowing the shaping of benefits, the work environment and the options presented to employees. Allowing professionals to take control of their health, retirement, financial security and careers can boost engagement and encourage retention, he suggested.

But what do employees think? Research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) found that 85 per cent of workers rate flexible employee benefits as either 'very important' or 'important'. This suggests employers are wise to run such schemes. However, despite the apparent value offered, the CIPP study showed that 21 per cent of organisations do not currently offer flexible benefits. Diana Bruce, senior policy liaison officer at the CIPP, urged them to change their approach, claiming it is "more important than ever" that individuals feel they are getting the maximum value from any benefits provided in the workplace.

  • Retaining your best employees

According to Phil Sheridan, managing director at Robert Half UK, employee retention has become "one of today’s most critical staffing challenges". He noted that almost three out of four HR directors are concerned about losing top employees, given the impacts of staff attrition on teams and organisations as a whole.

"Stable employment and lucrative compensation no longer have the influence they once did to keep workers with a company for the long-term," he stated. Mr Sheridan said professionals are looking for more - and it is up to employers to give it to them. "[Employees] want varied and meaningful work, challenging assignments, opportunities for career development and help with balancing work and their personal lives," he advised. "If most of these boxes are not ticked, then organisations run the risk of losing that 'star employees'."


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