After profitability and debt to equity ratios, employee churn is probably the best indication of any company’s fundamental health. Every time someone hits the road, all their training, experience and knowledge leave with them. If that person was in a key position, it can take months to rebuild their internal and external relationships, familiarity with the industry and basic competence in that role.
Reducing staff turnover by offering higher salaries is a very poor solution. In the first place, this obviously costs the company money. Secondly, there are certain things people simply won’t do for a wage, with the possible exception of lawyers. Instead, organizing work so that employees don’t end up feeling unappreciated, overburdened or unnecessarily stressed can increase their job satisfaction, company loyalty, and productivity without having to spend a cent. A pat on the back or words of appreciation or acknowledgment can do wonders, and conversely, can seriously affect employee motivation if otherwise.
Provide Clear Direction
Why do employees at start-up firms cheerfully work insanely long hours for a paltry salary and little job security? Aside from things like stock options, part of what motivates them is the feeling that they are contributing to building something worthwhile; that they are somehow making the world a better place.
Certain leaders are reverently called “visionary”, but merely having a vision is not sufficient by itself. Visionary leaders are those who manage to clearly communicate their objectives and have the ability to do them and teach them to their subordinates. If this is not done, each worker will feel like they are just another cog in the machine instead of a member of a team, unappreciated and easily replaceable.
On a day to day level, it is extremely important that each individual understands what his tasks are, what resources are available to him and what result is expected. This principle is simple to state but is often neglected in practice. It is very dangerous to assume that everyone is always on the same page as far as operational issues are concerned.
Don’t Play Favorites
Every company has more or less valuable employees, but how easy is it to tell the difference? Some people have a talent for putting themselves forward and highlighting their achievements, but the impression this creates is not always directly related to their real productivity.
This issue is magnified in a context where it is difficult to measure performance accurately. Where this is the case, however, a situation often arises where the only reward an employee can expect for good work is more demanding tasks. If a stellar performer realizes that he is doing far more than his colleagues, but receives the same compensation, he will most likely start looking for greener pastures where his contribution will be appreciated.
To avoid the appearance of favoritism, rewards such as promotions and bonuses have to be issued based on a transparent framework. A manager should aim to spend a roughly equal amount of time with each of their subordinates in order to avoid creating a yes-men culture. Where rules regarding dress, timeliness and administrative procedures exist, they should apply equally to every employee with no exceptions.
Pay Attention to the Little Things
An off-hand comment such as “we pay you too much for this” will often cause a highly skilled specialist to walk out, with no notice given and no intention of returning. However many dollars and plastic trophies a person receives, if they feel like they and their work are not appreciated, their dedication will be lost even if they choose to stay a little longer.
Although it’s not required to socialize outside of work or become friends, a good manager will get to know their subordinates as individuals. Building a basic level of rapport and beginning to understand a person’s values and way of thinking is crucial to efficient two-way communication.
Simply knowing how to talk to people is a management skill that’s more valuable than is commonly realized. Asking people for their input on a decision that’s already been taken, failing to practice active listening, and waiting for a formal review before providing feedback on workers’ performances are all frequent yet avoidable mistakes.
Trust Your Employees
When someone is hired, it is implicitly assumed that they will be able to perform the tasks set out in their job description. Constantly looking over their shoulders, asking for updates at every single step and reprimanding them for trivial mistakes are all indications that the employee is not trusted, which will quickly leave them feeling demotivated.
An employee who does feel like he’s being depended on, by contrast, will be that much more likely to seek help or guidance when needed and be more willing to share suggestions and opinions. Occasional mistakes are a part of innovation and improvement, and if workers are afraid to fail, they will be too afraid to work towards progress and efficiency.
Respect the Work/Life Balance
Naturally, at times work will be urgent and overtime required. If this happens occasionally, it is not a problem. If it is a constant occurrence, chances are that a team is understaffed or workflow not being properly managed. Should an employee be forced to choose between his job and his relationship with his family, the family is likely to win out.
In a different world, management might be about maximizing some attributes or metrics. In the one we live in, though, the correct word is optimized. A manager needs to be assertive but not over-controlling, approachable while still maintaining some distance from subordinates, and make employees feel empowered but not rudderless.
This constant balancing act is not easy to accomplish, but the clearest indication that something is not being done right is frequent resignations. Remember: people rarely leave jobs or companies, they leave managers.