The last official report on employee retention put the average tenure at only 4.1 years. As that figure dates from right before the pandemic, the number is likely to be even smaller today.
In the battle for talent, the right culture can make all the difference. What kind of culture does it take to lower attrition, improve tenure, and make an organization attractive to outsiders? Here are five points to consider:
Diversity of Thought
Ethnic and gender diversity are hot buttons right now. Some take a limited view of this by seeking to avoid negative perceptions. This misses the point. Organizations gain the most from diversity when it extends to a diversity of opinion.
Suppose everyone in management or a certain line of business is of the same ethnicity and gender and comes from the same geographic zone. In that case, there may not be enough variety of inputs, suggestions, and opinions to properly shape policy and guide the organization into the future. Gathering feedback, perspective, and experience from many different backgrounds is a key aspect of creating a richer culture where employees are happy to remain for many years and can more easily resist tempting offers from recruiters.
A wise manager seeks to instill an open culture that is transparent and flat rather than hierarchal. Staff should feel comfortable approaching a manager and voicing their concerns. And the manager should be willing to listen to what they say. A title may necessitate a broader zone of responsibility, but it should not generate an air of superiority. Personnel should feel valued and that their views count. Good problem-solving requires the ability to see the situation from many angles. All opinions should be valued.
However, it is one thing to be receptive to the opinions of others and quite another to permit negativity to take root. Employees should feel that it is safe to voice their views and disagreements. But this must be done in such a way as to enhance productivity and collaboration. Not everyone will agree on certain topics. The culture must permit divergent views to emerge and, at times, be rejected without giving rise to workplace acrimony.
Some will immediately buy into a culture of openness and diversity. Others may struggle to accept it. Education is vital in shifting the dynamics of any culture. It can demonstrate to employees the value of becoming less rigid in their thinking. Workshops, for example, can be used to unlock ideas and bring about change. People begin to realize that innovation will be inhibited if they are always doing things a certain way.
This ties into another aspect of education—the organizational culture should promote the love of learning. The people you attract should be curious to explore new pathways to growth. They should be able to advance their careers within the organization, whether in their current area or by moving on to something different or another location. Thus, managers should facilitate learning opportunities, get behind educational and certification programs, and support initiatives to provide subsidies for education and benefits such as more flexible schedules that enable higher rates of course enrollment.
Any culture that attracts good people will promote openness. Therefore, the manager must be open about both good and bad news. Similarly, employees should be willing to receive positive and occasional negative feedback on poor performance or workplace issues. Whatever the challenge, all parties should strive to be open and truthful.
It is managers that set the tone. If the company is going through economic difficulties, for example, simply announcing bonus reductions, pay freezes, or hiring freezes creates uncertainty and allows discontent to brew. The best course is to explain the reasons behind certain decisions. Lay out the facts openly and the reasoning behind such changes. Be willing to hear disagreement. Such an environment builds trust in leadership. Cultures, after all, are underpinned by relationships.
Retention is an essential aspect of culture creation. Longevity among personnel serves to promote stability and teamwork. At the same time, a healthy culture should also be able to compete—including on the compensation front. Managers, therefore, should keep their finger on the pulse of salary trends and see that their staff are appropriately rewarded for their hard work. It sometimes makes sense to overpay to promote high performance and retention.
Compensation, though, must be flanked by a sensible work-life balance. Schedule flexibility can enable a parent to see their kid’s soccer games in the afternoon. Yes, this should be done in such a way that it aligns with the needs of the business. But with mental health being such a challenge, it is important to find ways to keep people’s minds free enough that they do the best possible jobs for clients and for the organization. A good work-life balance enables employees to thrive and grow—conditions that tend to enhance retention rates.
Even when people leave due to receiving better opportunities elsewhere, managers should respect their decision and seek to maintain good relations. Sometimes valued employees leave only to find the grass is not so green on the other side. A harmonious offboarding process leaves the door open for their return.
David Donovan leads the Financial Services business in the US at Publicis Sapient. As a transformation thought leader, David brings in years of expertise working on Wall Street and with investment banks and asset managers and has a deep understanding of business, regulatory, operations, and technology challenges. He is a trusted adviser to C-suite executives. He has been involved in a number of key strategic initiatives helping with the digital transformation of banks, building better operating platforms, and leveraging globalization to reduce costs and grow revenues. David is also a member of the Global Leadership team at Publicis Sapient. The Leadership team sets business strategy, marketing, and people growth for Publicis Sapient.