It seems that in the HR profession, we are in a continual state of jumping on and off bandwagons, all of which are supposed to help us do one thing: retain top talent. As usual, bloggers and professional societies kicked off 2015 with a bevy of proposed top trends and topics for talent management, and these lists read like buzzword guidebooks. They extolled the importance of engagement, appealing to Millennials, HiPo programs, and other of-the-moment solutions. Although these trendy solutions can be valuable, it seems we frequently lose touch with the core essentials of employee retention.
Decades of research have demonstrated the importance of a few basic concepts in maintaining employee satisfaction and commitment. These concepts are fundamental: when in place, they serve as a solid foundation for HR initiatives; when absent, they create a vacuum that can undermine even the best efforts. So, what do employees really want?
Employees want to feel challenged—Boredom and stagnation are enemies of a satisfied workforce. No job can be thrilling all the time, and it’s certainly not your job to entertain employees. Providing opportunities for employees to grow, explore, and stretch their skills is critical, though, if you want to retain the most qualified individuals.
Employees want to feel informed— Perceptions of secretiveness or injustice are a strong predictor of dissatisfaction and eventual turnover. When people feel out-of-the-loop in terms of how decisions are made or what changes are coming their way, they lose trust in their leader and their organization. To the extent possible, be transparent and honest with your employees about what the organization is doing and why.
Employees want to feel secure—Obviously, people would like to know their jobs are secure. Even when this isn’t guaranteed, steps can be taken to show that the company cares about well being. Employees want to know that they are safe from harassment, bullying, and other forms of mistreatment. They want to know leaders are consistent and fair and will not belittle or shame them. They want to know that the company is on their side.
Employees want to feel autonomous—Giving employees freedom and flexibility in the performance of their duties can pay off beautifully in terms of satisfaction and productivity. Avoid micromanaging and look for creative ways to foster autonomy, even in entry-level positions. Having employees assist with or entirely handle setting performance goals is a common option.
Employees want to feel significant— Employees want to be listened to, not just heard, so seek regular employee feedback and actually act on this when you can. A sense of purpose and understanding of how employees’ efforts fit the larger strategic plan is also related to positive outcomes. Share your vision for your team or the company as a whole and more importantly, help employees see how they are a valued part of that vision.
These concepts are simple, yet they are powerful. In fact, you’ll probably notice that many of these actually underpin the “new” solutions continually popping up in HR. For example, engagement can’t happen if employees don’t trust their leaders or care about their work. Getting back to these basics of employee psychology can allow a leader the freedom to follow trends while still staying true to what science, experience, and plain common sense tell us will work.
Katherine Sliter is a an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist with specialized proficiency in applied measurement, development and validation of assessments, and occupational health. She is a Talent Measurement Consultant at PAN – Performance Assessment Network.