Why Your Top Employees Require Your Top Retention Efforts

Employee satisfaction is a complex science. What it takes to retain top talent has been the subject of countless studies, focus groups, and informal discussions.  Julia Kirby, at the Harvard Business Review posted about the importance of Making Sure You’re Engaging Your Top Talent.  She writes about two recent studies that show that new employees become jaded after just six months on the job, followed by a decline in morale for the next four years of employment.

These statistics beg the questions, why does this happen and how can it be prevented?

Of course, I wouldn’t pretend to offer answers to either question–both surely will be the topic of countless case studies and research projects for years to come.  But here’s what I will offer–what I believe to be the most fundamental necessity that any organization must provide in order to retain great employees and to make good employees become great ones–honesty.


You don’t hire employees because you think they’re particularly dopey.  You hire employees who you believe are the best and brightest, the smartest, and most innovative candidates out there.

Just don’t forget it once they start working for you.

Employees are not fooled by empty promises.  So don’t pretend that you are going to fix X, Y, or Z problem if you know you’ll never take any tangible steps in keeping that promise.  It’s very easy to become jaded when you feel that you’ve been duped by your employer.  Think of the parent who answers every request with “maybe,” or “We’ll see.” 

Everyone knows that what the parent really is saying is “N-O.”  So be a straight shooter.  Give employees a valuable answer to their questions and, whenever possible, explain why.  Employees in the know are more likely to be sympathetic to the choices of the organization even if it doesn’t give them the result they prefer.

In these difficult economic times, it is not uncommon for an employer to have serious concerns about the financial health of the organization.  So, if the company’s annual summer picnic is cut to save money, don’t feed employees a bogus story about the reasons for the decision.  It won’t be good enough.  They’ll resent you for canceling the party and they’ll interpret the decision as a negative reflection of management’s lack of understanding or appreciation of employees.  They’ll secretly suspect that management is trying to give them a not-so-subtle hint that they are not doing a good job.

Instead, be honest.  Explain that the party has been canceled because it is a costly event and, in difficult times, the company has the duty to protect the overall fiscal health of the company and can’t risk long-term security in the name of the summer picnic.  Offer specific examples of the cost-benefit analysis you used to reach the decision.  If you spent some time and energy to reach the decision, then you’ll be able to articulate that to others. 

And sometimes, that’s all it takes.  A little honesty.

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