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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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How to win the employee retention battle

We're in the midst of a retention battle, and many will lose if they don't refresh their approach.

In a candidate-driven recruitment market, valuable employees are dictating what employers need to provide to keep them in their current roles or to attract them as new talent. According to the Labour market overview, UK – Office for National Statistics (, the number of job vacancies in December 2021 to February 2022 rose to a new record of 1,318,000, an increase of 105,000 from the last quarter. 

A study of 2,000 employees conducted by the job website CV Library found that three out of four UK workers are considering handing in their notice in 2022. 

Three out of four UK workers are considering handing in their notice in 2022.

Whether employees are looking for increased flexibility or are making career changes because they feel burnt out, or are simply looking for a better paid role, many have reassessed their lives during the pandemic and are clearer about what they are looking for in their work role and are unwilling to settle for less.

The cost of employee retention failures

When an employee decides to move on, the cost of recruitment is often more than paying the employee the increase they may be asking for and deserve. 

Add to that figure the loss in productivity, the effect on team morale, the time it takes to train a new employee, and pressures on other colleagues to soak up additional work, then the cost of failure to retain talent becomes very clear.

How can we ‘value’ our employees and what do they want?

The key to unlocking employee retention is that very word: value.  Employers need to value their workers at every level.  Employees simply want what they deserve: development opportunities, to be paid fairly, to enjoy working with their colleagues in a safe space, to feel engaged and included.

Employees also want to be treated with respect, and for their organisation to have clear values aligned with their own – with wellbeing at the top of the agenda. 

So how can businesses improve employee retention?

Merit Matrix

Pay competitively: A decade ago, securing a higher salary was the most alluring factor when it came to changing your job and this is still an important factor, but it is not just disposable income that is important. Salaries are increasingly a mark of whether employees feel valued for the work they do.

Reward longevity at work: Offering higher pension contributions, shares, flexibility, more holidays, and an increased salary for longer standing employees speaks volumes in comparison to letting an employee choose a gift from a catalogue for five years’ service in the organisation.

Create clear progression paths: Some employees want to continuously climb the vertical career ladder, but our needs and priorities also can change over time, so managers need to develop bespoke plans for different individuals. Some may prioritise more flexibility over a pay rise for instance.

Equally, don’t wait for annual review dates or for your talent to hand in their notice if they are already beating expectations and clearly deserve a career advancement.

Ask Employees What They Need and Want

Understand that it is about emotion: Employees want to feel fulfilled, to be given opportunities to learn and develop, and to be empowered and supported.  They want to trust and feel trusted, to feel they belong, and they are succeeding in their contribution. There is a direct relationship between negative feelings at work and employee engagement and retention.

Flexibility: The pandemic means that work location is of less importance and flexibility is of greater significance, as many are opting for a hybrid working model. Managers need to use discretionary powers to fulfil new demands for suitable working hours and give greater flexibility.

Work/life balance: Guarantee fair workloads, encourage a healthy work-life balance, and ensure a culture of burnout and long-term pressures are actively discouraged.  Tackle mental health issues proactively or employees will search for less stressful alternatives.

Prioritise training and team building: Independent and collaborative learning is important for career progression and to strengthen working relationships. Cutting training because of tight budgets is often a false economy as it leads to employees feeling dissatisfied, jaded, undervalued and under-resourced to perform at their best.

Upskilling on the other hand, is a win-win for the employee and the business. Moreover, prioritising collaborations and team-building dynamics are even more important now than they were prior to the pandemic, taking into account we are still living through an unsettling time, with no clear end in sight.

Culture Check

Safety: We know that psychological and physical safety is an absolute deal breaker in employee retention.  If you don’t feel safe, it is impossible to stay.

Strong policies against bullying and harassment and having a respectful culture with clear values and purpose, and real equity in recruitment, pay, promotions and opportunities are vital. Poor levels of trust lead to fear and uncertainty, two powerful catalysts for employees to seek work elsewhere.

Regularly check in with your employees: Nail the onboarding process and meet with new starters frequently so you can act on any concerns they may have quickly, especially if they are working from home. It is also important to ensure all your staff have what they need to do their jobs well and happily.

Check in regularly and instead of saying your door is always open, go to their environment with an active listening mindset. Surveying your team with an engagement questionnaire once a year (some successful companies now do these exercises far more frequently) may provide you with some surprising data which you can act on.

Nip issues in the bud before they become bigger concerns or before conflicts arise that need more resources to resolve them.

Ask leavers for insightful and honest feedback: This will help in finding out both where there is room for improvement and what went well. Look for patterns in problem areas such as workload, inclusion or management issues, and tackle these head on with creative solutions. Monitoring Glassdoor can also be helpful.

Inspirational leaders: Strong, inspirational management and mentoring are paramount in maintaining creativity, productivity, motivation and happiness amongst employees. Poor management simply leads to employee exodus. Train your leaders, as the skills needed today are different to those that probably got them to where they are.


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