7 Ways to Hang Onto Your Best Employees

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With a rebounding economy and a growing demand for skilled executives as baby boomers retire, talented employees are increasingly seeking — and finding —  new opportunities. Unfortunately, they often leave their current employer in the lurch, and most small businesses just can't afford to lose top talent. We checked in with experts who weigh in on the top seven ways companies can retain their best workers — even when other offers come knocking.

1. Offer a strong company culture

"It's getting more challenging to retain people," says Janet Flewelling, managing director of HR service operations at human resources company Insperity. "People who were holding onto their jobs are finding maybe this is a good time to start looking elsewhere, and that's why it's important to make sure they feel connected to their company."

Insperity offers a volunteer program to its employees for just that reason — each quarter workers can perform 12 hours of volunteer work that is paid time off, which Flewelling says "reinforces the value" of the company.

"Anytime a company offers opportunities to contribute to the community where you live and where you work, it's a good thing," she says. "It's also a wonderful chance for employees to work together, which creates a culture of togetherness."

2. Make work fun

"The lines between your work and home life are a lot more blurry than they used to be," Flewelling says. "When you think about employee retention, it's all wrapped up with having friends at work, feeling comfortable at work and really enjoying it when you can."

One of the things Flewelling says "always surprises" her about workplace culture is how popular a "wear-your-jeans-to-work" day is to making a workplace fun.

"People love the ability to wear jeans," she says. "For many small businesses, it may be a relaxed environment already, but for those with more traditional attire, this is a great way to help keep employees at ease."

Other ways to keep the good times flowing include a "team spirit day" where employees wear their favorite team colors or jerseys, and potluck lunches or breakfasts where employees bring the dish of their choosing to share with others.

3. Create a connection with employees; make them feel valued and appreciated

"When the economy is weak, people don't leave a job as long as they paychecks are coming through. But when things improve, it's incumbent upon employers to make them feel like a part of the mission and the culture," says Bob Gershberg, CEO of Wray Executive Search, an executive search firm specializing in senior-level executives.

To really make an employee feel valued, you have to show them — not just tell them — that they are appreciated, Gershberg says. To make them feel better connected to the company, it's important to celebrate their successes at every turn.

"Celebrate them with the whole team, whether it's in a group email or with dinner or drinks," he says. "Announce it to the world and make them feel great about their successes and they will be driven to continue to succeed."

4. Make work healthy

A small business may not be able to afford a gym in the building, but they might be able to contribute to a monthly fitness class for staff members, or encourage other health and wellness initiatives, Gershberg says.

"Employers may want to think about contributing to a monthly gym membership if that's something they're able to do, or maybe they can encourage a lunchtime walk or hike or an after-work bootcamp of some sort," he says. "Employees will love it, but the company is also getting something out of it because when we're at our physical best, we're also at our mental best."

5. Listen and communicate

What do your star employees need from the organization to be happy and successful? What will satisfy them in their jobs, careers and lives? J.P. Giugliano, principal account manager and team leader at recruitment firm WinterWyman says answering these questions can be key to retention.

"Each person's needs and requests will most likely be different — and they don't always require monetary compensation. Yes, the manager who is fast approaching her retirement years with two mortgages and three kids in college may ask for a raise, but others may need more time off, some professional development or even help with their weighty workload to be happy on the job."

It's important to communicate "early and often," Giugliano says, adding that one conversation is never enough; employee retention is an ongoing endeavor.

"Schedule routine sessions for feedback and fine-tuning the retention strategies," he says.

6. Develop and implement a strategy

Unfortunately, one size will not fit all in successful retention programs, Giugliano says. Once you've heard what your employees need from you, work to accommodate those requests.

"If members of a high-performing team are feeling overworked, look to hire an assistant. If a parent is having difficulty balancing his work and home life, work with him to help alleviate that struggle," he says. "The organization should work with that person to make sure he or she is able to give back while feeling supported at work."

Possibly most importantly, employees should be included in the business direction and strategy.

"Include them in the company's growth plan by sharing the leadership team's goals and vision and asking for their input," he explains. "By sharing the vision and direction of the company and asking for feedback, leadership shows employees that they have trust in them. And since the organization has invested in them, they will feel more invested in their employer."

7. Know their generational cravings — feedback and mentoring

When dealing with talented younger employees, be prepared to give more feedback than usual, says Amanda Augustine, job search expert for TheLadders, an online job-matching service.

"Millennials grew up in an age of Instant Messenger, Facebook and texting," Augustine says. "They're accustomed to continuous coaching and feedback from their extensive social networks, and will expect a similar cadence of communication in the workplace."

Employers may want to consider weekly check-ins or other more frequent informal meetings, rather than relying on annual reviews to manage these employees, Augustine explains. Meanwhile, older employees — Generation Yers — will likely crave more personal enrichment.

"While Gen X and boomers consider their managers to be experts, Gen Yers regard their managers as coaches and mentors. To retain these employees who crave personal enrichment, consider providing continued learning opportunities," she says. "While your budget might not be able to accommodate large expenses such as tuition reimbursement, that doesn't mean you can't provide other opportunities in the form of mentorships."

— By Kathryn Tuggle

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