How to Keep Your Employees
What You Can Do to Ensure a Happy Workforce
by Terry Gordon
Terry Gordon started his career in the Marketing and Advertising Industry, before deciding to move into training and consultancy. Much of his work over the years has been concerned with helping small and medium-sized businesses. He has worked in further and higher education as a head of department and also lectures in business related topics at one of the UK’s leading management training centres.
A problem facing many businesses these days is the trend towards ‘headhunting’, where your best people are lured away by a better offer, often by a major competitor. It is often assumed that this is purely a question of a better financial package. Yes, it is true that some employees will simply go to the highest bidder, but there are many other factors, besides money, that will contribute to an individual’s loyalty to an organisation.
There is no guaranteed way to stop your key personnel from going elsewhere, but by following a few basic guidelines you can strengthen the loyalty of your staff and at least make it less likely that they will want to work for someone else.
If staff turnover in your business is particularly high, the first question you should be asking is, why?
One way of determining this is to interview employees who are leaving about their reasons for moving on. However, this is a bit like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted and there is also no guarantee that people will tell the truth about their reasons for going.
A more sensible and proactive approach is to conduct regular surveys, say every six months, asking staff how they feel about the organisation as a place to work and allowing them to make suggestions and highlight specific problems. These surveys tend to work better if the replies are anonymous, although you can give people the option of whether or not to include their name on a questionnaire. Some companies even use independent agencies to conduct and analyse the results.
The key to success in using this strategy is ‘empowerment’. Your staff must be convinced that this is their opportunity to change things by being honest and that their grievances will be taken seriously. If they suspect that it is more likely to be a ‘witch hunt’, you will be back to square one.
So what can you do to ensure a happy workforce?
A Fair Day’s Work for a Fair Day’s Pay
A good starting point is to ensure that your levels of pay are on a par with other firms in the same industry for people doing similar jobs. Ironically, it is the people in your company who are most likely to be ‘headhunted’, who will be most aware of any major differences.
Remember that it is not just the salary that is important, but the package that goes with it; so your pension scheme, medical benefits, car scheme, etc. must also match the competition.
Even if this is the case you need to make sure that staff are paid fairly. A common reason for dissatisfaction is when two people at similar levels are paid the same, even though one seems to have a heavier workload and much more responsibility than the other does. A way of overcoming this is to introduce job evaluation, in consultation with staff. This can even be linked to salary grading or a performance related pay/bonus system.
Overload and Underload
The problem with ‘good’ people is that they are often the ones whose skills and expertise are most in demand. The danger is that they end up taking on too much and become seriously overloaded. Many professional people will let this situation continue for a long time. Quite apart from the ‘stress’ issues involved, most will eventually realise that there is more to life than work. When they do, it is usually the company that they will blame for their predicament, rather than their own inability to say ‘no’.
In contrast, there will be other employees who feel that their jobs are not challenging enough and do not allow them to use all of their talents.
The solution to both of these issues, again, may lie in job evaluation and the introduction of an appraisal system. However, these are no substitute for common sense and a good manager should be able to spot overload and underload, by simply observing what is going on around them. More importantly, they need to do something about it.
Of course, there will always be people who ‘live to work’ because it is in their nature, just as there will be others who are content to do the bare minimum – a good appraisal system can also highlight these individuals and prompt whatever action seems appropriate.
Praise, Prospects and Promotion
Praise should not be something that occurs only once a year during the annual appraisal. If employees are doing a good job then you need to give them feedback that acknowledges this.
Why do some people work hard and always perform at their best? If they are being honest with themselves, it is because they like to be recognised for their good work. Without this praise, high achievers quickly begin to feel undervalued and are much more susceptible to offers from other firms.
Employees also need to feel that there is a future in what they are doing. There will always be people who are happy to do the same job for all of their working lives, but these are not likely to be headhunted. People who are good at what they do, and ambitious, need to see that there are definite career prospects within their own company. If not, they will look elsewhere.
A key component of an appraisal system is to establish what direction people want their careers to take and, in appropriate cases, to identify any opportunities for promotion.
Another key element of this is training. If people are to progress, they need to be equipped with the skills required to do so. This should be a key feature for all employees through each stage of their careers.
However, in modern, ‘flatter’ organisations there are generally fewer opportunities for promotion internally, and employers may have to accept that the only way up for some key people is by moving to another company.
I Want to be Involved
A principle reason for demotivation among staff is ‘lack of communication’ from their superiors. Employees like to be kept informed about what is going on within the company. They like to know where they fit in and what is expected of them; and, if decisions made by senior managers affect them directly, they like to be involved.
This can cover a variety of situations from setting individual performance targets right through to major organisational change. People are much more likely to accept things, even things they don’t like, if they have been involved in making the decision, or at least consulted.
This can be achieved through regular meetings, briefing groups and even one-to-one discussions.
At the most basic level, even something as simple as a suggestion box (provided there is feedback on the suggestions) will help to foster a feeling of ‘involvement’.
All Work and No Play
For most people, work is not just about the job they do. An equally important facet of ‘employment’ is the interaction with other people at both a professional and social level. It is important for employees to feel that they are part of a team. The primary role of the team will be to get the job done, but it also performs an important role in bringing people together socially. Good team leaders are effective at managing the team dynamics so that there is a ‘fair’ balance between these two roles.
Of course, this may well depend on the nature of the jobs that people are doing, but work can be fun, just as long as the ‘fun’ doesn’t get in the way of doing the job properly. Most people, given the flexibility, will realise this for themselves. Recognise the fact that when they are having a social conversation or sharing a joke, they are not ‘slacking’, but simply finding the balance.
In conclusion, the key to keeping people happy is simply to let them know that you care. They need to be treated as people and not just as another resource. Unfortunately, the trend in many companies in the recent past has been to concentrate too much on the balance sheet the expense of the company’s most important asset, namely, its staff.
It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that the people who are best at their jobs fall prey to rival companies who can, and will, offer them what they need.
So do you need to take any action? Well, if your key employees spend their break times socialising and even enjoy talking about work, then probably not. But if many of them spend their spare time browsing through the job pages of the Industry trade journal, perhaps you ought to consider following the above guidelines.
© smarterwork 1999 - 2010. All Rights Reserved.