Competition for great employees is fierce. Coupled with high turnover rates in the industry, it can be discouraging to struggle with a revolving door of employees. Taking a look at what may be driving them away can help.
“When a company is struggling, we often look to what we can do better for customers or how we can improve the product,” says Stephanie Hammerwold, owner of The HR Hammer, a human resources consulting firm in Aliso Viejo, California. “But we really should start with the employee experience.” She says the priority should be making sure employees are happy with their work environment.
Unhappy employees affect all aspects of business success. People share their experiences all over the internet, through social media platforms and review sites. “One sensational news story will not only drive employee turnover and reduce the number of qualified candidates, but can also negatively impact sales and revenue,” says Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder and chief innovation officer for Workology, a HR consulting firm in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“If employees are unhappy, it is reflected in the way they interact with customers and vendors,” Hammerwold adds. “It stifles innovation because there’s no motivation to work hard. If we want employees to excel and do amazing things, we need to create an environment where that can happen.”
Miller-Merrell says employers need to stop treating employees like expendable robots and recognize them as a valuable resource worthy of investment. “Employees leave managers,” she adds. “Managers and employers need to focus on relationships, building rapport and getting to know their teams, not just on a professional level but a personal level. We need to understand the needs and interests of our team members to get the best out of them.”
Hammerwold says to get up from your desk and interact with them. Walking around not only gives you the chance to see what the workday is like for your employees, but also helps build rapport and better understand their needs.
“Spend time with them in the break room eating lunch; meet their families,” Miller-Merrell says, but warns not to just go through the motions — the effort needs to be genuine. “Ask them about their goals, aspirations and interests.”
William Ringle, business adviser and president of System Ringle in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, says employees need clear boundaries and expectations. “Employers must consistently acknowledge when a team member does well or what is expected — not just exceptional performance,” he says. “And they must stop looking the other way when they see performance or behavior that is contrary to what the business needs. When good employees see poor performance or bad behavior tolerated, it damages morale and encourages mediocrity.”
Ringle says that an employer or supervisor’s role is to help employees succeed by removing obstacles, not controlling behavior or micromanaging how they get results. The employer needs to cultivate an environment that conveys, “This is how we do things here” and then establish a culture of peer accountability.
Hammerwold adds that employees need to be in an environment where they feel empowered to make decisions. “I’ve worked at companies where every decision needed to be approved by someone up the chain — sometimes simple things requiring multiple signatures. Just taking care of that kind of administrative task in order to make a decision is enough to keep employees from offering up new ideas.” Instead, she says, you must trust your employees; after all, you hired them because you felt they had the skills to do the job.
So if you’re dealing with turnover and losing good employees, how do you make the changes necessary to keep them? “Cold turkey changes may get faster results, but usually are very disruptive to the business,” Ringle says. “I would only recommend this in severe turnaround situations where a company is in danger of filing for bankruptcy.” Otherwise, a slower transition starts with setting expectations at the top and letting that trickle down to the employees organically.
Hammerwold acknowledges that giving employees room to breathe can be difficult, and agrees that a slow transition is best. “But once you let employees have the flexibility to make decisions and not constantly worry about seeking approval,” she says, “amazing things start to happen.”
Resources for Improving Workplace Environment
The Employee Experience by Tracy Mallet and Matthew Wride (recommended by Hammerwold)
WorkRise a mobile engagement tool that uncovers patterns in employees’ level of interest, productivity and engagement. (recommended by Miller-Merrell)