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How to retain star employees

| Awards and achievements

You have one bright spark on your team. One. He’s the guy who you can always rely on to deliver great work, on time. He always has an innovative solution for any problem, and can understand Stuart, who only communicates through grunts and eye-rolling.

And then, a resignation letter. Replacing the star member of your team will not only be costly, but also will mean a loss of know-how and productivity, and it will divert your energy for many months to come. Instead of focusing on the very real challenges of your job, you will now have to spend your time searching for a replacement and learning to speak “Stuart”.

While you may have been assured by the departee that “it’s not you, it’s me”, you have a sinking feeling that her resignation could have been prevented. 

Here are some cost-effective ways to retain key staff:

Express gratitude and reward good work

Even small gestures for a job well done – a day off, a voucher for dinner or tickets to a soccer game – can make a huge difference in helping an employee feel valued. Call out great work in meetings or in the internal newsletter, and recognise those that are living the company values.

Be transparent

Keep employees informed about the real state of the business and be clear about how their work can make a direct contribution to achieve the company’s goals. Communicate well and often, and keep it positive. Give employees a clear and inspiring vision of the future for the company. Make them feel secure and safe. 

Create opportunities for growth

This may be the most important intervention to ensure retention, says Heidi Duvenage, head of Sage Talent Solutions, the recruitment division of the global payroll and integrated accounting group Sage. Make sure that your employees are not stagnating by giving them challenging tasks and the opportunity to learn new skills. 

“In today’s ever-changing world of work, it is very important for top talent to be allowed to grow their competences at all times. Companies that don’t create these opportunities run the risk that their best employees will move on to companies that do offer them the chance to learn new things.” 

Make sure that employees have access to training, and are encouraged to do online courses, for example. Also, hook up all your stars with in-house mentors.

Respect their lives outside of work

Show that you are serious about helping employees maintain a good work-life balance by banning email outside of office hours, or by being flexible with working hours and offering telecommuting on days that they have to stay home. 

Consider adopting a “result-only work environment”: Instead of focusing on how many hours employees work, only evaluate what they have achieved. Employees then take total responsibility for their work, and are judged only on the outcomes they deliver. This gives them control of where and when they choose to work on their projects, allowing them to structure their working lives to what suit them best.

Also, help your employees to manage their domestic responsibilities by introducing support measures. In the US, many companies now offer employees laundry, delivery, handyman and even emergency childcare services at cut-rate prices. 

See all personal emergencies as opportunities to demonstrate your willingness to support team members. When they ask for time off, be more than generous and assist them where you can. Apart from demonstrating basic human decency, this will also help you earn loyalty.

Encourage dialogue

Create opportunities for employees to talk about what they are busy with, and an environment (like a fun break room) to help facilitate contact. 

Create a clear career pathway and promote from within whenever possible

Often employees will jump ship because it may actually be easier to find an open position elsewhere. Make sure your team knows exactly where they could be heading in the company if they deliver the goods. Show your confidence in star performers by awarding them key projects above their pay grade.

Offer innovative benefits

Think of new ways to reward employees, preferably benefits that are tailored to their individual needs. This could include gym membership and on-site health services. 

Cut back on nuisances

Talk to your employees about their most challenging frustrations in the office. Address these annoyances, for example, by cutting down on meetings. Following feedback from their staff, some companies, like Intel, have also introduced email-free days.

Ask for input, then implement their ideas

Engaged employees feel that their contributions are valued, and that they have the ability to shape their work environment. Create opportunities (even a good old suggestion box) to allow for feedback.

Start well

Studies show that how new employees are treated at the start of a new job can make a huge difference in how long they stay with a company. 

Provide unexpected treats

From free boerie rolls to “bring your pet to work” days, there are many initiatives that can make your office a fun place. Create new traditions that are not centred on traditional holidays. Celebrate employees’ personal milestones, for example by sponsoring dinner on a wedding anniversary or cards (or time off) on their kids’ birthdays. 

Structure long-term awards

Make sure that your remuneration and bonus structure reward goals that are achieved over longer periods. This could help keep employees for longer. 

Avoid boredom

Mix up the day-to-day drudgery by regularly switching around tasks or seconding team members to other departments. Make sure your team is involved in an inspiring social project and allow for time outside the office to work on these projects.


Heidi Duvenage is the head of Sage Talent Solutions

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