Five Rs and One F Spell Retention

by Mel Kleiman, CSP

Looking for proven ways to keep your best workers working for you? Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. Employee retention is everyone's chief concern today, and with good reason!

The past few years of cost cutting, downsizing and doing more with less have left most American workers more than ready for change. In fact, a recent Gallup survey found that more than 70% of the 700,000 U.S. employees polled feel disengaged from the work they perform, and that this sense of disconnection increased the longer employees had been with an organization.

Only 20% of those who had been with the same employer for 10 years saw themselves as engaged with their work and more than a third said they planned to leave their present positions the moment better opportunities appear.

Best practices studies clearly show that companies with high retention rates have created work environments which consistently provide what I've dubbed the five R's and one F of retention: recognition, rewards, respect, rules, responsibility and fun.

Taking employees for granted is the single worst mistake an employer can make. A survey by Robert Half International found that 25% of employees who change jobs do so because they feel unappreciated and unimportant. Because they feel disengaged, they literally disengage from their employers.

Employees who understand why the work they do is important to the company's success are far more likely to feel engaged, enjoy their work and remain with their employers. Make sure your employees know not only what you want them to do, but also why and how their jobs are important.

And for heaven's sake, don't punish good performance! Managers often expect employees who do their work well to do more of it or do it better, leaving employees who work less well with less work to do. Be aware of the punishing effects of everyday occurrences such as delaying the start of a meeting because one person is late, which punishes everyone who got there on time.

Rewards go hand-in-hand with recognition, but are usually something tangible. Regardless of whether you reward your good performers with something as modest as an additional day of paid time off or a prize as lavish as an all expenses paid Caribbean cruise, you should identify the behaviors you want to encourage and reward the people who give them to you.

For the past 60 years, studies have regularly shown that employees covet respect almost as much as money, sometimes rating respect higher than cash. Treat your people with at least the same respect and understanding you would show your customers. When you respect your employees, they'll respect you, your customers, and one another. Nothing you do will be valued more than giving employees your time and attention; it's the most potent form of respect.

Too many rules stifle creativity, but no one can win if they don't know the rules of the game. Clearly communicate what's important and what people have to do in order to get a raise, promotion, or the employee-of-the-month parking spot. Without some basic guidelines, your management decisions and recognition program will appear arbitrary and even unfair.

If you want your employees to perform responsibly and well, show and tell them what good performance looks like. Make sure they know the quality, quantity and costs of the work you expect, including what it will cost the company if the work isn't done well. Take time to fully explain what you want and why you want it. Don't micro-manage-—give employees some leeway in how they do their work. Sam Walton swore some of Wal-Mart's best ideas came from their stock clerks.

Remember that all new hires are beginners in your company regardless of their skill levels. Figure out and communicate what new employees need to know about your business in order to apply the skills for which you hired them.

Employees' most important work relationships are with their immediate supervisors. If you want your employees to stay motivated and loyal, be sure that supervisors provide honest feedback and unstinting support. Without feedback on how well they're doing, employees have no way of knowing what management desires and no tools to use for improving job performance.

Celebrate success! Do something unexpected. Have balloons delivered or throw an impromptu picnic lunch. There's no reason work can't be fun. A good part of Southwest Airlines' success is because they found a way to make flying more fun. Wal-Mart has clowns in the aisles. McDonald's doesn't sell sack lunches, they sell Happy Meals. People flock to minimum wage jobs at Disney because they think it would be fun to work there. If your employees are having fun, your customers will too. Employers who create workplace fun won't have any problem finding or keeping good people.

Finally, consider your employees as investors, for that's exactly who they are. They're investing their time, effort, energy and abilities to make your business succeed. If you've ever courted investors, take a moment to remember how you treated them and compare that to how you treat your employees. Any gap between the two is an opportunity to improve employee retention and profits.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally recognized consultant, author, and speaker on strategies for hiring and retaining the best hourly employees. He is the President of Humetrics, a leading developer of systems, training, processes, and tools for recruiting, selecting, and retaining the best hourly workforce. Mel is also the author of four books, including the best selling "Hire Tough Manage Easy." You can reach Mel at (800) 218-0930 or (713) 771-4401 or