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Employee retention ideas – ideas for retaining top performers


Submitted by Danley Yip, CA
Division Director, Robert Half

Employee retention ideas - ideas for retaining top performers Employee retention ideas can help you cut your human resources costs. Voluntary staff turnover – a component of employee retention — is a fact of life for nearly every company, regardless of size or industry. Employees leave for a variety of reasons, many of them beyond an employer’s control. These can include personal issues such as health problems, major life changes, family demands, the relocation of a spouse or partner or the desire to pursue educational goals full-time.

But what may be surprising to many is that personal reasons account for only a small percentage of overall turnover. In a survey commissioned by our company, only two percent of executives said employees leave because of lifestyle changes, such as relocation.

When top performers start jumping ship, it’s most often for professional, not personal, reasons. In another survey we commissioned, executives said that good employees leave primarily because of limited opportunities for advancement (39 percent), unhappiness with management (23 percent) and lack of recognition (17 percent).

Top performers are especially sensitive to these factors because they’re deeply invested in their work and take their jobs very seriously. They typically put in significant overtime and make personal sacrifices to pursue professional goals. They expect their jobs to be a source of fulfillment and prefer to work for companies that recognize their skills and support their career aspirations. If they feel unappreciated, under utilized or “stuck” in a dead-end position, they’re much more likely than average employees to look for better opportunities.

Warning signs

Few top performers leave “out of the blue.” Usually, indicators begin to appear well in advance of the moment they give their notice. Here are some of the most common signs that an employee is considering departure:

Frequent absences

Dissatisfied employees miss more workdays than their colleagues. Pay attention when an individual starts using up accrued personal or vacation days – it could be a sign he or she is interviewing with potential employers.

Decline in work habits

Chronically missed deadlines, decreased productivity and a higher incidence of errors could indicate that the employee has mentally “checked-out” and is just going through the motions.

Interpersonal problems

When a previously motivated, affable employee starts arguing with coworkers or complaining about management, it’s often symptomatic of job dissatisfaction that could lead to departure.

Changes in attitude

Withdrawal from the social aspects of work is common among employees who are thinking of leaving. Previously outgoing staff members may suddenly seem quiet or “down” and spend most of their time in their offices or cubicles. Team-oriented employees who used to volunteer for projects may abruptly lose interest in anything outside the scope of their direct job responsibilities.
Subtle behavioural changes. Employees have frequent “medical” appointments and spend more time doing online “research.” Formerly prompt employees become habitually tardy or take longer lunch hours. They receive more incoming calls than average and may even seek the privacy of a conference room to conduct phone conversations.

Pre-emptive measures

To prevent the loss of a valued employee, take action as soon as you feel you have sufficient evidence of the person’s intention to leave. Find out what motivates your employee. Meet one-on-one with the employee and ask frankly if he or she is shopping for a new job. When confronted with a direct question, most people respond candidly. If the employee acknowledges conducting a job search, find out the reasons why and propose corrective steps.

For example, if the employee is looking for work at a more senior level, offer an expansion of responsibilities, if appropriate. For employees looking for new challenges, discuss ways their current position could be fortified or propose lateral moves within your firm. If the individual is having problems with a specific coworker or manager, explore the possibility of reassignment to another division or supervisor.

Fix problems at the organizational level

Because these “stop-gap” steps may or may not prevent an employee from eventually moving on, it’s best to approach the problem of voluntary turnover at both the institutional and individual level. Remember the three most common reasons employees leave – lack of advancement opportunities, difficulties with management and insufficient recognition. All three require comprehensive, programmatic attention.

To address the question of advancement opportunities, take a fresh look at your corporate hierarchy. Most businesses today are much flatter than they once were, creating career-stalling plateaus for ambitious professionals. Perhaps there are ways to restructure positions so that staff members can move upward along tracks of increasing responsibility and skill building. Provide training and formal mentoring programs to show employees that you support their professional growth and development and understand the importance of continuing education.

If dissatisfaction with management is a common theme, the problem could be a symptom of your firm’s culture, rather than individual supervisors. Promote an open-door culture where employees are encouraged to communicate about problems and concerns without fear of reprisal. Offer training on an individual or group basis to managers to improve their interpersonal skills and team management. And don’t forget the value of soliciting employees’ feedback about how to make improvements in processes or policies.

To address the recognition issue, make sure your company has formalized programs for rewarding employees for their service. Make recognition part of the culture by publicly praising your staff when they do a good job or go the extra mile to finish a project on time. Sometimes, a sincere “thank-you” is all it takes.

The loss of top performers is an unsettling prospect for any organization, but it can be minimized. By taking proactive steps to eliminate the root causes of turnover and swiftly addressing the problem on a case-by-case basis as needed, you’ll realize improved employee retention rates, which will lead to greater organizational stability and productivity.

Robert Half Management Resources is the world’s premier provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis. With more than 120 offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, Robert Half Management Resources offers online job search services at

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