We all know that the only constant is change. We see it every day and in every way. Change might be technological, social and/or situational (aka personal). Change can be unsettling, inconvenient or, at its best, exciting and invigorating. Perhaps the biggest professional changes we have seen over the last decades lie in the area of company culture (or the lack thereof). This is at the heart of why employees stay or go.
Back in what some might recall as “the golden era of life in the U.S.,” the iconic painter Norman Rockwell regaled us with a depiction of an idealized America. From an employment perspective, it was common from the 1950s through most of the 1980s to work for a company for an entire adult lifetime. My uncle retired from Shell Oil after 47 years on the job. Twenty-five years of service yielding a gold watch was common. Pensions were also common, and 401(k)s were not a thing yet. So…what changed?
Suffice it to say that the biggest changes came with the technological revolution and the globalization of economies that characterized the 1990s and beyond. Markets, companies and work changed; that, of course, affected companies, employees and employment trajectories.
Change Necessitates Change
The genesis of this column was some research I was doing for the new sales seminar I created for AVIXA. In this seminar, we clearly state that the buyers have changed and, thus, our sales approach needs to change. In short, change necessitates change. During my research, I looked at data on average tenure on the job. I came across a startling statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: As of three years ago, 23.7% of workers (both hourly and salary) were employed with a company for less than one year. Yes, you read that correctly! The gold-watch milestone is nearly extinct. If you doubt it, just look at social media and see how many of your friends, colleagues and acquaintances change jobs every couple of years.
Previously, I have written about turnover’s negative financial effects on companies and employees alike. However, it’s turnover’s negative impact on company culture and individual employees that is more insidious, pervasive and, on many levels, destructive.
The first question to address is why employees stay. According to a recent Harvard study, the commonest reason is inertia. Employees tend to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave. This invites the question of which forces act to break this inertia. According to the Harvard study, there are two relevant factors within the company and two relevant factors outside the company.
Within and Without
Let’s first look within the company. There, we find the issue of job satisfaction. Second, there is the issue of company environment (aka company culture) — specifically, the degree of comfort that an individual employee feels within the organization. An employee’s inertia is strengthened or weakened by how compatible their own work ethic is with their company’s values and culture. A widening gap between these two factors serves to break inertia; a narrowing gap between those factors strengthens inertia.
Now, let’s look outside the company. One factor involves an employee’s perceived and, in many cases, real job opportunities with other companies. This situation is dynamic, as the job market changes amid industry growth or contraction. Suffice it to say that excellent employees are in demand. Second, personal factors directly affect inertia. These include financial responsibilities, family ties, friendships and community relations.
What does all this boil down to? We must understand whether employees join, stay at or depart companies due to job-satisfaction-related reasons or for other reasons. These nuances are critical to understanding why people join organizations in the first place, as well as distinguishing between those who “want to stay” and those who “have to stay.” As you would imagine, productivity and growth are appreciably higher when people affirmatively want to be where they are.
Employee-retention data indicates that, on average, more than three million people (hourly and salary, across all sectors) quit their jobs in the U.S. each month. This alarming turnover rate is on the rise. That’s why it’s critical — and, in some cases, existential — to foster a positive, growth-oriented culture to entice employees to stay. Greater employee retention will boost morale, improve productivity and enhance customer experience. And, if strategies are approached creatively, it can even reduce a company’s overall costs and increase profitability.
Why We Stay
Let’s now examine a few of the top reasons that employees opt to stay at a company. (It’s worth reiterating that, as a consequence, these workplaces are often happier and more productive.)
Research shows that employees join a company, or stay under its umbrella, if it creates and maintains a positive and empowering culture. These cultures are often designed to attract talented employees; in the end, however, it’s equally important that they entice that talent to stay. If you’re an integration business owner, add the following principles to your list of strategies to enhance your business:
- A company should have a stated sense of purpose — why do we exist? — and its values should be clearly articulated.
- There should be an emotional connection among those who believe in what their company stands for.
- There should be leadership worth trusting, where leaders care for their employees and always have their backs.
- A company should promote a sense of involvement and belonging.
- The workplace should be characterized by encouragement and recognition.
- A company should encourage and invest in employee learning and career development.
- The workplace should always make work/life balance possible.
Of course, we cannot overlook fair compensation and competitive benefits. However, although money certainly matters, if you implement solid values and a positive culture, several aspects rise above even a paycheck and benefits. For instance, it’s not unusual to hear candidates say they chose one company over another for their culture, rather than their pay.
Trust, Acceptance and Growth
Ultimately, if you want to retain talented employees, your company must create an environment of trust, acceptance and growth. By keeping your employees’ needs in mind and maintaining a positive culture, you’ll have a more successful company.
I’ll wrap things up with two parting shots. First, I’ll recommend a must-read book for those who want to explore what the most talented employees want from the workplace. First Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, reads like an encyclopedia of research-based organizational practices. I highly recommend it!
Second, I want to draw your attention to The Gallup Organization, which has spent 25 years surveying more than one million employees across different industries. Their research involved testing scores of questions before, ultimately, extracting the 12 questions that best predict a thriving workplace. Those questions are as follows:
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the materials and equipment that I need to do my job well?
- At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my job is important?
- Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?
- Do I have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone talked to me about my progress?
- This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
Take some time and consider rereading this article — especially the 12 questions just presented. Do you recognize yourself and your workplace? How can your company culture be improved? Irrefutable data shows that learning how to entice and retain talented employees helps ensure companies’ growth, as well as the prosperity of our industry. In the process, we create environments in which employees can flourish. Talk about a win/win!
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