The festive celebrations are a fading memory, but it won’t be business as usual in all companies as staff come back to work. January is a time when many people resolve to change jobs, and some bosses will begin the new year with the bad news that valued employees are on the move.
About one in four people are looking to move employers, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). And recent improvements in the UK labour market are likely to see more members of the workforce developing itchy feet and looking for new job opportunities in the months ahead. Smaller companies are particularly affected by staff turnover, with the time and cost of hiring a new recruit. Plus, where there are just a few individuals in key positions in a business, each often holds valuable experience, skills, and customer relationships than can be a devastating loss to an SME when a person leaves.
There are some common reasons why people leave their jobs, according to research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).
- A lack of interest in the type of work in question.
- No obvious career progression, which is a particular concern for managers.
- Low wages in comparison to those offered by rival companies.
Of course, most small firms want to keep their employees happy, engaged, and as well paid as possible. But loyalty isn’t given, it’s earned. An influential group of organisations interested in human resources and employee welfare have joined together to help employers understand how to measure their staff’s satisfaction and the impact employees have on their company’s performance. The bodies, including the CIPD, the Royal Society of Arts, UKCES, and the Chartered Management Institute, hope that the Valuing Your Talent programme will encourage firms to improve their people management and investment in skills development. Fundamentally, they make the point that better managed staff produce better business results.
So, how to keep your staff and keep them satisfied? If you’re worried about an exodus from your organisation, first you must discover the real reasons for people leaving. Assess the impact on the business – both logistical and financial – of staff change. Then, put some processes in place to monitor and, where possible, manage how employees feel about their work.
Job previews and exit interviews.
When you’re recruiting new staff, give prospective employees a realistic idea of what their role will involve, possibly even inviting them to spend a day in the business to get an accurate sense of the place and the nature of the employment. When an existing member of staff has decided to move on, conduct an exit interview to determine why he or she is going. It’s preferable if these conversations are undertaken by someone other than an individual’s line manager. Sending a former employee an exit questionnaire about six months after their departure may be another way to get a more honest response and reveal any hidden problems in the company.
Confidential attitude surveys.
Annual questionnaires that can be filled out anonymously are a good way to track what is happening in your workforce, even if yours is a small company with a handful of employees. These surveys should address a member of staff’s career aspirations, their feelings about their current position and the work climate in general, as well as their wants in terms of training and development. You could even ask about any intentions to move jobs, given the confidential format. When employers use these analytical tools correctly and act on what they reveal, they can make a great difference to how a business is run.
Too many businesses, particularly smaller ones, fail to conduct proper annual staff appraisals to give employees feedback on what they have achieved that year and where they might improve. Vitally, these meetings also give workers the chance to express any grievances they have. If people feel that they have no voice in a company, they may reach the conclusion that resigning is the only solution. Also, include staff retention as one of the measures for line managers in their appraisals.
Professional development and career progression.
Smaller firms are less likely to offer employees formal skills development – half of SMEs say that any training is delivered by other members of staff. Cost is a big reason for this, both in terms of money and time. But many SMEs are unaware of the financial help that may be available to them for training up their workforce, when taking on an apprentice for example. And UKCES points out that any investment in staff training should pay for itself in the longer-term – through fewer orders being lost to competitors, reduced operating costs, and removing barriers to expansion by developing new products or services. In terms of career progression, if promotions aren’t feasible, think about moving an employee sideways or giving them a different challenge to keep their work interesting.
Flexible working and avoiding presenteeism.
Where possible, accommodate employees in working flexible hours or to a rota that suits their domestic arrangements. Obviously, this won’t be appropriate in all roles, but if a person does need a better work-life balance and they can’t find it with you, they’re likely to seek it somewhere else. And fight against any signs of presenteeism, where people work long but unproductive hours. Often, it takes just one employee trying to impress the boss by being in the workplace at all hours to start this rot setting in. Make it clear that you value efficient working more than hours clocked – and set an example through how you work yourself.
Of course, churn in the workforce is inevitable. Some job opportunities are too attractive to turn down, people retire, and others leave for personal reasons. And natural attrition can be a welcome chance to say goodbye to employees who are under-performing. But it‘s important to know the real reasons why people leave your business, and to track their satisfaction while they’re in your employ. Treat staff fairly, put processes in place to allow them to tell you when something is wrong, and take action when these things come to light. Your enterprise should be happier – and more productive – as a result.
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