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Katrin Kircheis

KiKa Training Limited

Managing Director and Learning Consultant

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Talent attraction and retention: what employees want, what they really, really want (part one)


UK employers are facing a talent shortage, which is making it harder to attract and retain employees. If your employee turnover is concerning, here’s what you need to consider to make positive changes.

Most of us don’t start a job thinking that it or the company we will work for sucks. Despite this, the overall annual staff turnover in the UK rose from 18% in 2016 to 18.5% in 2017, according to the 2018 Human Capital Benchmarking report.

Half a percent might not sound like much, but the number is high. When broken down into voluntary and involuntary turnover, around two thirds of people are leaving of their own accord (13%) while one third are being let go (6%). 

In 2018 almost three in five (61%) employers reported an increase in voluntary employee turnover since the three years before.

It’s clear that something is happening over time that is making employees think about leaving their jobs and go elsewhere.

Naturally we should also take into account aspects like industry, interdepartmental transfers, promotions and average employee tenure. 

The median tenure for workers age 25 – 34, for example, is 3.2 years.  

In addition, last year 91% of organisations struggled to find talent with the skills they require, and spent £6.3 billion on trying to patch up the holes in their workforce skills capacity, according to the Open University’s 2018 Business Barometer

In this article, we’ll assess what could be putting off these employees and how businesses can look to attract and retain talent by properly understanding and offering them what they are looking for. 

Assessing the problem

If you’re concerned about your organisation’s turnover and retention rate, here are some key questions you need to ask:

  • How many vacancies on average do you have to fill?
  • How long does it take to fill them?
  • What is the cost per hire?

Do the people who left have specific characteristics that you can point out? For example, where they specifically ambitious but saw no way up? Were they mostly working in a specific department(s)? Were they mainly in middle management? This is a test of how well you know your people.

This article describes the process in a lot more detail.

Some studies show that replacing entry-level positions can cost up to 40% of an employee’s salary and of course time to train. 

An organically grown learning culture is best placed to bring employees up to speed quickly and keep developing them, which also helps with retaining talent. 

Red flags to watch for 

While the problem may not be immediately obvious from inside the organisation, try to think about your business as a prospective employee would. What signals are they getting when they meet you for the first time?

According to Reddit, a powerful social media network where users post anonymously without exposing their identity and therefore (arguably) tend to be more truthful and honest, here are some red flags that employees watch for:

  • A lot of people leaving, but also a big gap between tenures, i.e. a workforce made up either of people who have been there a long time or newbies, but nothing in between, which suggests many people are leaving due to lack of progression, while those at the top stand firm. 
  • With newer or smaller companies, employees are wary of a ‘top-heavy’ team structure, for example, if the company has ten employees but five owners/principals.
  • Employers not listening to concerns and punishing honest feedback.
  • Management ruling with an ‘iron fist’.
  • Employees having no clear goals, vague directions and frequently having to ‘wing it’.

Positive signs

There are not as many answers for green flags, but some are worth mentioning:

  • A job is a mutually beneficial working relationship. Employers who recognise this respect their employees’ time, measuring performance, not hours spent in the office.

    In environments like this, employees are given a project and due date, and the employer will provide tools, advice and guidance on request. The employer expects updates at milestones and projects closed on time, within budget. They recognise that employees are professional adults and they are treated as such.

  • When the interviewer tells you in clear terms what the possibilities for advancement and raises are, and how best to succeed as an employee working for them.
  • When they try to convince candidates that it’s a great place to work and that they want to be there, instead of treating the position like a carrot they are dangling that candidates should be grateful to chase.
  • When you meet multiple people during your interview, and they all tell you they’ve been at the company for several years in other roles. Upward mobility is very important, across and within departments.

Asking the right questions

When recruiting to fill positions in your organisation, be sure to ask candidates what they would and would not like to see in the workplace. 

It’s also important to talk to your employees about their values and what they want from their career, their colleagues, teams and the company. 

You can use this information to assess whether the tools and support you currently offer are sufficient. 

In part two of this article, we look at the questions you should ask to understand your employees’ values and how you can get started fulfilling them.

Interested in this topic? Read Talent management: 8 ways to reshape your people strategy.

Author Profile Picture
Katrin Kircheis

Managing Director and Learning Consultant

Read more from Katrin Kircheis

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