How Small Business can Conquer Low Employee Retention Rates

There is a lot of information devoted to how small business owners can spot the behaviors of employees who are about to quit. But according to research, it isn’t the obvious cues like the employee who wears interview attire more often, or who suddenly has doctors’ and dentists’ appointment regularly or even the employee who leaves their resume on their open laptop.  According to a Harvard Business Review article, “13 Signs That Someone Is About to Quit, According to Research,” ­ the obvious signs that predict whether an employee plans to leave their job look quite different.

The 13 behaviors that made the list, among employees about to quit, include low work productivity and behaving less like a team player. (You can read the entire list by clicking the link above.) It’s not so much that these behaviors are unique. In fact, at first glance, the behaviors might even seem obvious. But according to Professor Timothy Gardner of Utah State University and Professor Peter Hom of Arizona State University, the takeaway for managers or small business owners is now that you’re aware of these pre-quitting signs; wouldn’t it be more advantageous to focus on what you can do to retain top talent?  Sure, workers will leave their jobs. This is the business world, after all.  But in the short term, it’s better to focus on retaining those employees who are the best, who bring value to your business and whose skills would leave your organization vulnerable when they leave.

In a high turnover situation, it’s too easy to focus only on the feedback gained from exit interviews. Here we address some retention strategies that can work for small businesses who want to get ahead of impending departures:

  1. Confusing goals or lack of goals

A cashier at a small business has to pick between getting the order keyed correctly from the current customer in line, or addressing a second customer who is waiting for an order that has not finished cooking. In a situation where slow service is the equivalent to bad service, she knows that time limits are placed on the service of every customer and that long wait times can get your written up or fired.

The solution for competing expectations is to provide a list of priorities for every role in the organization. For example, safety first followed by courtesy to customers, then performance and then lastly efficiency. These priorities must be provided through training and reviewed consistently to improve performance.

If it helps, review the priorities with employees to ensure there are no contradictions or overlaps. Give your employees opportunity to speak up when something isn’t working well. Open dialog helps others in the team also, and keeps managers or small business owners in the loop. Overall, engaged employees are more productive and provide feedback when asked.

  1. Lack of resources or conflicting demandsA technical writer needs a first draft completed by deadline. However, the employee has a non-working laptop that requires frequent fixes, a developer that has not handed over the needed specifications for the new software and documentation release and the writer has no in-house style guides with which to work with moving forward.The solution is to talk with your employee to understand where constraints might exist. Evaluate how much control they, and you, have over their production. Use your influence to talk to other department managers to improve the situation.  These conversations won’t be easy, but the results can definitely improve your bottom line, strengthen customer relations and reduce the cost of training, recruiting and relocating another employee.  
  2. Change the ‘fear’ cultureHow do you know there is a culture of ‘fear’ within the ranks of your small business? In meetings, do employees rarely speak up? Do they readily agree with everything you say? Do team members rarely share ideas or their thoughts on how to make improvements to customer relations or workflows? Do they ‘clam up’ fearing unpleasant repercussions if they voice an opinion when they’re asked? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your small business might have a hostile work environment. Under these circumstances, employees feel unsafe. Rather than productive and innovative workers, they are now more prone to errors and less likely to take risks.The solution is to thank employees for their input. Ensure that your team knows there is no such thing as a wrong answer. Incorporate team members’ feedback into strategies and projects so that they know they’re being heard. If the solutions to difficult problems seem feasible, allow employees to take charge and then allow them to create a presentation on the outcome for the next meeting.
  3. Perform audits to avoid the ‘knowledge and skills’ wasteIn a small business environment, do not place employees in job roles that are not suited to their skill level. This ‘skills waste’ applies to employees whose work is too easy and mundane such as a software programmer who is testing code all day  as well as to employees who are overwhelmed with difficult tasks or who may not have the skill set to complete the job such as placing a customer support specialist in a senior software development role. Either way, unused skills equals wasted potential and another employee walking out the door.  The solution is to be transparent about the requirements of the job during the interview process. Failing that, look at their resume and their current work load. If gaps exist, make notes and review them with the employee. You can then decide if more tasks or greater responsibilities are needed or if it’s a situation where the current workload is too great resulting in errors, customer complaints or missed deadlines. Certainly, no work responsibilities are written in stone and the ability to be flexible as demand dictates does go a long way towards team support and customer relations.

Working together, you may find that some tasks are not worth the employee’s time. Conversely, you may decide that creating a plan that allows for greater responsibilities gradually would bring the most value to your business and more support to other team members.

These are just a few examples of retention strategies that can improve your employee’s work experience. However, no manager or small business owner is in control of every employee’s daily work experience every minute of the day. That is the main reason why focusing on your own attitude, behaviors and what you can control rather than what you cannot control will result in more satisfied, productive and engaged employees in the long run.

At the Lynch Law Firm, our team including a business psychologist, HR professional, strategist, and attorney can help your firm make a plan for curbing high retention rates.  Let us know how we can increase your bottom line and employee retention together.


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