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Retaining Top Employees
By J. Leslie McKeown
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2002The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Along the journey we commonly forget its goal.... Forgetting our objectives is the most frequent stupidity in which we indulge ourselves.
A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
In this introductory chapter, we will:
Look at exactly what "employee retention" is.
Explore where the concept first came from.
See how it has developed over recent years.
Examine three trends that are currently shaping employee retention strategies.
Just What Is "Employee Retention" Anyway?
There is no secret code or formula that precisely defines "employee retention." Ask 10 managers what they mean by the term and you'll receive 10 (sometimes very) different answers. Answers like these:
"Employee retention? You mean stopping people from leaving this organization?"
"Employee retention is all about keeping good people."
"Getting our compensation and benefits into line with the marketplace."
"Stock options, crèche facilities, and other perks."
"It's got to do with our culture and how we treat people."
"Staunching the high employee turnover we have in department x or job function y."
"Presenting a consistent, effective employer proposition across the entire employee life cycle, thus ensuring we source, hire, manage, and develop employees who partner with us in achieving our organizational goals."
As you can see, managers' perceptions of the meaning of employee retention can vary from the mechanical ("Reduce this employee turnover figure to an acceptable level") to the abstract ("It's about our culture and values"). Definitions can be couched in curt, wholly objective phrases or in flowery, vague "corporate speak." Some managers view employee retention as a distinct, controllable element of labor management ("It's a matter of compensation and benefits") and others consider it a cross-functional, pervasive, and seemingly all-encompassing set of values or methodologies ("It's about our culture and how we treat people").
Which of all these "flavors and colors" of employee retention is right?
Is employee retention any single one of the definitions cited above? Is it a specific combination of two or more of those definitions? Is it something else entirely that we haven't mentioned?
Well, the answer to all those questions is ... "Yes."
Employee retention is each of the definitions cited above. It can also be a specific combination of two or more of those definitions. And it is some other things that we haven't even mentioned yet.
How can this be? How can one seemingly straightforward concept be so many disparate, sometimes contradictory things?
The answer is because employee retention—effective employee retention—is not some externally generated set of activities or metrics that have a life of their own and that are applicable to every circumstance. As we will see throughout this book, effective employee retention is something that is very specific to each individual organization.
Two organizations in the same industry, making the same product, in the same town, with the same labor pool and the same customers and the same suppliers can see employee retention very differently, because of differing management styles and different past experiences. Even within the same organization, employee retention can mean something entirely different from one division to another or from one manager to another. And within any one division, under any one manager, what's key to keeping one employee may not be relevant to another.
Biotech vs. Burger Bar
What employee retention means to the biotech company down the road, peopled with chemists and concerned with R&D issues, is very different from what it means to the burger chain franchise in the next street, employing students and facing speed-of-production issues. And the way each company addresses it is necessarily different as well.
The biotech company may think of employee retention primarily in relation to a handful of key chemists whom they want to retain for a period of years, while a product moves through its R&D cycle, through testing and certification, and finally into marketing and sales. In contrast, the burger joint is likely to be concerned about retention problems across a much broader category of employees and with a time horizon of months rather than years.
So you will not find in this book (or elsewhere) one prescriptive, generic answer to the question of employee retention, no single plan that fits every situation. Instead, you will discover how to define employee retention for yourself, for your organization, and even for specific departments or divisions in your organization. You will learn how to establish realistic, organization- specific employee retention goals, how to select the right strategies and tactics to attain those goals, and how to gauge the success of those strategies and tactics. Finally, and most importantly, you'll learn how to monitor and vary your employee retention goals, strategies, and tactics over time, as your organization's circumstances change.
What "Employee Retention" Used to Mean
Let's start by getting our definitions and vocabulary right. This entails understanding just a little history.
The term "employee retention" first began to appear with regularity on the business scene in the 1970s and early '80s. Until then, during the early and mid-1900s, the essence of the relationship between employer and employee had been (by and large) a statement of the status quo:
You come work for me, do a good job, and, so long as economic conditions allow, I will continue to employ you.
It was not unusual for people who entered the job market as late as the 1950s and '60s to remain with one employer for a very long time—sometimes for the duration of their working life. If they changed jobs, it was usually a major career and life decision, and someone who made many and frequent job changes was seen as somewhat out of the ordinary.
As a natural result of this "status quo" employer-employee relationship, an employee leaving his or her job voluntarily was seen as an aberration, something that shouldn't really have happened. After all, the essence of "status quo" is just that little or nothing should change in the relationship—and leaving was a pretty big change!
So, in the 1970s and later, as job mobility and voluntary job changes began to increase dramatically, the "status quo" model began to fray substantially at the edges. Employers found themselves with a new phenomenon to consider: employee turnover.
The Rise of Employee Retention as a Management Tool
As organizations began to feel the impact of the rise of voluntary employee turnover, so a matching management tool began to be developed—employee retention.
In this earliest, simplest form, employee retention was the aspirin for the headache—a straightforward response to the rise in employee turnover: how can we stop people voluntarily leaving this organization at the rate they are doing?
Understand the Reasons for Job Mobility
The increase in voluntary employee turnover is in large part the result of an increase in job mobility—in essence a reduction of the friction involved in switching jobs—and is c
Excerpted from Retaining Top Employees by J. Leslie McKeown. Copyright © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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