How Are You Gonna Keep Them?


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That is an important question. Like the little phrase says, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm (After they’ve seen Paree)?” (Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis, 1918). When employees leave organizations, there is a direct cost to companies.  

That is an important question. Like the little phrase says, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm (After they’ve seen Paree)?” (Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis, 1918). When employees leave organizations, there is a direct cost to companies.  


For instance, according to an article written by Laura Michaud, The Value of Retaining Employees, she stated, “According the U.S. Department of Labor, it cost a company one-third of a new hire’s annual salary to replace him or her. Using a modest annual salary of $35,000, a company can easily spend $11,550 for each new employee hired” (p. 25, November 2000, Agency Sales Magazine). Most of the time, these costs are related to recruitment and retraining replacement. There are other costs to consider. William Bliss wrote in his article, Cost of Employee Turnover, published by The Advisor, that costs fall into four major categories: recruitment cost, training cost (for replacement), lost productivity cost, new hire cost, and lost sales (production) cost (p. 1, 2, 8 2013). Allowing low retention of employees is stupid considering the cost of losing them. Retention should be prevention. Gregory Smith in his book Here Today, Here Tomorrow, stated, “Spending your time on recruiting is similar to allowing your house to burn down instead of purchasing a smoke detector—or having your lung removed instead of quitting smoking” (p. 20, 2001). Can we say stupid together?


The rotary door may seem like an okay thing when new employees can be obtained so readily, but a deep consideration is that there are always going to be gaps: gaps in replacement arrival, gaps from redistribution of the work load to remaining employees, gaps in morale (losing employees has a negative impact on surviving employees.) There is a real problem with job insecurity when employees start asking the obvious question, “Who’s next?”


Other human resource professionals point out similar results using a little different terminology. For instance, Gwen Moran wrote an article The Hidden Cost of Employee Turnover for Entrepreneur Magazine that stated, “Slippage, (work not getting done), ripple effect (impact on peer group with redistribution of workload), customer loss (customers do notice), lost credibility (other employees leave because of the job insecurity)” (page 1, article 220254) Now that we have determined the landmines of pricy employee replacement, then what do we do to keep good employees?


The litany of good ideas seem to ever continue in regards how to keep good employees and avoid the expensive workplace fallout, but some of the best include using a little emotional intelligence with a praise program, then creating an employee friendly work environment (anti-hostile work environment). It could be said, and it has been that employees don’t quit their organizations as much as they quit poor management and poor leadership.


Recently, I had the opportunity to transfer to another AT&T store. I requested this because I knew a certain manager was applying to run the store. I wanted to work under his leadership. I saw in him and his kind of management the ingredients that would make me and the store a success. I had no question about that. What’s interesting is that he is one-third my age, but so are most, I’m old remember, but he had what it took from people skills to technical expertise. Believe me, leadership matters. Smith stated, “Soft management skills—people skills—are the critical element in battling high turnover and creating a culture of retentionship” (p. 14).


Emotional Intelligence


Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage emotions in direct relations to the needs of the employee. It is the craft of being able to use empathy to connect to employees’ different needs becomes one of the most useful tools in this regards. According to Daniel Goleman’s article What Makes a Leader, written for Best of HBR 1998, “Goleman found direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results” (Introduction, p. 1). Goleman espouses five components of emotional intelligence at work: “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill” (p. 3). Even though he lists these five, empathy may have a more direct impact on employee turnover. With empathy, employees recognize that someone is listening. For instance, Goleman stated, “But empathy doesn’t mean a kind of ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ mushiness. For a leader, that is, it doesn’t mean adopting other people’s emotions as one’s own and trying to please everybody. That would be a nightmare—it would make action impossible. Rather, empathy means thoughtfully considering employee’ feelings—along with other factors—in the process of making intelligent decisions” (p. 7). How many times have there been expressions from employees, “No one is listening!” Emotional intelligence using empathy avoids that problem. It is all about listening. It is all about connecting in ways that tells employees that they matter—connecting—just like offering praise.


Offering Praise


Giving praise without agendas and conditions, just praise, can carry any leader far in regards to employee retention and better job performance. After a Workforce Retention Survey, Smith stated, “Money became even less important when people were asked, ‘What causes the greatest dissatisfaction at work?’ ‘Lack of appreciation’ led the list” (p. 13). It is no secret that employee praise ranging from a pat on the back to major public kudos are good things. Many managers struggle with this soft skill or don’t give it enough credence. Here is where managers depart from leaders. Bill Flint, founder of Flint Strategic Partners, stated, “Too often, leaders get caught in telling people what they’re doing wrong instead of showing that they care.” Flint gives us five ways to easily incorporate performance boosting praise into your organization:


1. Stop and talk to employees. 




2. Pinpoint praise-worthy acts.




3. Reward good ideas.




4. Don't forget to praise productive failure.




5. Recognize milestones.”




Let’s not forget the good and right things leaders can do to retain employees. Let us meet in the boardroom, in HR, in the office, and the field, then ask the question, “What can we do to keep those employees we have?”


David Pollitt is the author or Better Organizational Communication and Training as well as Preparing Excellence for the Excellent (a published curriculum design project for the University of Bahr el Ghazal). Both books are available for downloads from as well as other of David’s books. 



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