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How to curb employee turnover

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 15, 2013 11:00 AM

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There’s one statistic that hangs heavy over the head of every HR manager: employee churn.

In January, Fast Company reported that men will hold an average of 11.4 jobs in their lifetimes and women will hold 10.7. Meanwhile, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4—a sharp decline from the 1970s and a far cry from the “company man” era.

While it may be more likely that a business will lose employees, that doesn’t make their departures any less painful. With high turnover rates, it becomes more difficult to maintain corporate knowledge and a consistent workplace culture. This constant ebb and flow of new employees has significant effect on employee morale.

And according to a study by the Center for American Progress, which reviewed 30 case studies in 11 research papers relating to turnover published between 1992 and 2007, businesses spend about one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary just to replace that worker. That’s money that could be well spent elsewhere. Even though it’s increasingly unlikely that business owners will be able to retain employees for a lifetime, successful companies must make adjustments if they hope to keep turnover as low as possible.

Social HR is the key. For many businesspeople, “social HR” computes to “social recruiting,” particularly to using LinkedIn and other social networks to find new employees. But social HR is a philosophy. It’s seeing your employees as human beings who are critical to the fabric of your business’ culture. Social HR is public. It's about accountability not only to a supervisor, but to a team. It’s working to have employees that are more loyal, considerate, honest, invested, teamwork-oriented, enthusiastic, and committed.

Here are three tips for infusing social HR into your traditional methodology so that you can avoid high turnover rates and ensure your employees are vocal champions for your brand:

1. Alternative Forms of Recognition
It’s a universal truth: people love to be recognized for a job well done. For most companies, recognition most often comes in the form of an annual raise, a holiday bonus, or a pat on the back. While there’s no doubt that raises and bonuses are appreciated, employees enjoy all kinds of recognition, even when it’s not tied to financial rewards. Why not ask successful employees to chair new committees or offer them an increased budget? These types of responsibility-based recognition demonstrate a high level of trust in employee abilities. Supervisors should also consider asking employees for help or feedback on their own work. This small bit of humility helps create an open atmosphere and also lets employees know you value their opinions.

2. Employee Satisfaction as a Process
When companies commission employee satisfaction surveys, they do it with the best of intentions. They want to know and understand how their employees feel about their work and their workplace, so that they can make adjustments if needed. But traditional surveys are deeply flawed, periodic, one-way feedback mechanisms that cannot accurately capture the overall mood of an office for an entire year. They’re highly skewed towards whatever is going on in the office at the time of the poll.

It shouldn’t be a satisfaction survey; it should be a satisfaction process. Supervisors should solicit feedback from employees regularly and continuously to address or head-off problems as they arise. Most importantly, all feedback should be taken seriously. If concerns aren’t heard or addressed, employees feel that they can’t be honest and the flow of feedback stops.

3. Putting Your Values to Work
Maybe you’ve committed some company values to paper and distributed them in a fat packet of information to new employees on day one. But do you consistently reinforce them? Are they part of an ongoing conversation with your employees? Could your employees define them if asked?

When you give employees the opportunity to understand that they’re working for something larger—not just the person above them—it creates a sense of purpose. People work best when they believe in the vision of an organization; when they can make decisions on their own in pursuit of that vision; when they have the skills, knowledge and training necessary to be successful in their roles; and when they understand the purpose of their jobs and how they contribute.

Your values will never become part of the organizational culture if your executives and managers don’t reflect them. Any contradiction between what is communicated about company values and what is done by management will generate cynicism and may result in significant backlash from employees.

Consider weaving your company’s values into employees’ performance goals. By tying goals to each other and to your company's values, you can ensure that employee-led initiatives are both productive and match your strategic plans. You should also make an effort to recognize or reward employees who particularly embody your values. Thanking employees for their burst of creativity or hard work will help reinforce that those are truly your shared values.

In addition to increasing retention, happy employees are valuable in another respect: it turns them into brand ambassadors. Consider how much easier recruiting is when every one of your employees constantly talks about how much they love their jobs—especially if they “broadcast” this via their social networks. It’s one thing for a potential employer to promise new recruits a great office culture, but it’s much more powerful to hear it from the employees themselves.

The new reality in today’s workplace is that employees are more inclined than ever before to pursue new opportunities and new careers. While this trend is unlikely to change any time soon, it is by no means impossible to keep good employees on staff. Employers should consider how social HR can help improve their office culture, and keep employees exactly where they want them: hard at work for years to come.

Joseph Fung is the Co-founder and CEO of TribeHR, pioneer of the industry’s first social HR platform.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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