How to stop talent walking out the door

Did you know that 40% of employers worldwide are finding it hard to fill key positions in their organisation? There’s a shortage of talent globally. In an increasingly mobile and connected world, attracting and retaining the best employees is more competitive than ever, and startups are not excluded from this.

Fortunately, your business can address this issue in a cost-effective way.

By maintaining open channels of communication with your staff, you can understand their needs and desires on a deeper level. By offering new benefits and perks you can help build your business into a workplace which attracts the best and brightest minds – and keeps them for longer.

But it’s not just about retention.

It’s about increasing engagement and developing strong internal communication. Implementing modern benefits will improve both well-being and productivity, and will set your company apart from the competition.

And it’s all possible without breaking the budget.

Engagement and retention: why the difference matters

Employee engagement and retention are two distinct approaches to managing staff, and it’s easy to get them confused.

True, at their core they are about keeping staff on board. The costs of poor retention can be staggering, and this alone makes it a serious priority, without even considering the subject of attracting top talent. One American tech company, quoted in a paper from Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, reported turnover costs of up to USD 200,000 per employee. In the same paper, pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co estimated their turnover costs as between 150% and 250% of annual employee salary. And it’s not just in the US that retention is a problem.

So what is the difference between these two principles?

In simple terms, where retention is a reactive thing, engagement is proactive and always seeking new ways to improve the well-being and mood of employees. Salary increases may well help keep staff on board, but they aren’t sufficient on their own to improve employees’ view of the company, or to reinforce people’s commitment to their work and the company’s future. Engagement digs deeper.

In simple terms, where retention is a reactive thing, engagement is proactive and always seeking new ways to improve the well-being and mood of employees.

The good news for a startup, which may not have the resources to throw at the problem, is that actively pursuing excellence in engagement doesn’t need a large budget. In essence, it’s about communication.

Better internal communication – three key approaches

Communicating with your staff will always be a prime focus in your efforts to retain them and improve their well-being and motivation. This is increasingly a priority for companies large and small. Many businesses are now looking to implement social initiatives and wider strategies aimed at improving both retention and attraction.

Below are some examples of effective activities which can improve employee engagement, followed by some of the benefits and perks that are available to support your engagement strategy. But it’s important to note that benefits like this should not be implemented blindly. You won’t see consistent improvement by simply throwing perks at the wall and seeing what sticks. Better internal communication (IC) must come first, so that the actual needs and desires of your staff can be uncovered and acted on.

Push and pull: It’s important that your IC includes both pushing and pulling of information, to maximise its uptake. If all your efforts involve information being pushed out, your employees may start to feel disinterested and disconnected. Conversely, relying solely on pulling information, from sources such as a company intranet or file repository, can result in unfair expectations on employees to act.

‘Push’ information channels include news pages, newsletters, noticeboards, digital displays and staff emails or text messages. They are particularly well suited to high-value information items. ‘Pull’ sources on the other hand include the company intranet and the use of change champions – valuable employees who act as aggregators and knowledge sharers across the whole company.

Change champions: These individuals are a powerful part of an effective IC plan. In short, change champions are usually your best and most engaged employees, the ones who are willing to both cascade information and engage with peers to discern important issues and feelings in the workplace.

Appointing change champions opens up a significant channel of communication in your company, enabling information to be both pushed and pulled effectively, and giving a route for employees to offer feedback to a safer, more intermediary figure.

One article published in the 2015 edition of Public Relations Review highlights the importance of this function. It is based on social exchange theory – the concept that interactions which elicit approval are more likely to be repeated than those met with disapproval. The research found that IC plans which provided more chances for employees to express their values and goals led to stronger relationships with their employers, and greater engagement as a result.

Simply put, the change champion removes the barrier between senior management and employees, to help you truly understand the well-being and priorities of your staff. It doesn’t cost much, and it establishes a solid foundation for your future retention and engagement efforts.

Community: But communication should not just be encouraged between the organisation and the employee. You can cultivate a strong sense of unity and purpose across your company by encouraging more discussion between colleagues and by setting up social events.

Initiatives such as this reduce the danger of unhappy employees feeling isolated. Instead of their challenges and frustrations going unheard, if staff have the means to talk openly but safely with their colleagues they will feel more part of a community, and more inclined to flag issues and concerns. These tools also improve engagement by reinforcing that every single member of the company is valued, and has a voice, which will be heard by both colleagues and managers.

Initiatives and perks – what you can do

After communication comes action. Retaining and attracting the best talent is a competitive arena, and companies are constantly experimenting with new ways to solve their staffing issues. Here is a selection of ideas that you might consider implementing in your company, whether it’s a startup or a more established business.

Telemedicine: It’s no secret that physical and mental health matter in the workplace. Telemedicine plans enable employees to access the services of doctors over the phone, internet or email. While the extent of telemedicine plans can vary, most allow for basic diagnoses and prescriptions, without you ever needing to leave the office.

This is especially relevant for businesses here in the UAE. Public health problems are a major issue in our workplaces, with cardiovascular disease alone accounting for 25% of deaths in 2010 and incidences of cancer projected to double by 2020. Easy access to doctors, particularly in a convenient way that minimises disruption to work, provides a tangible and significant benefit to a workforce that statistically needs it more than most countries.

Leadership programmes: How to engage with the disengaged? Well, offering advancement and opportunity often does the trick. One study on engagement in US companies was commissioned by polling giant Gallup in 2015. It found that while disengaged employees are less productive, they are also more likely to accept new opportunities if presented.

By creating a clear method for hard work and talent to be recognised and rewarded, you improve retention of your staff and boost engagement at the same time. Staff members who feel stagnant will recognise the new potential for accelerated career growth, and the greater potential for recognition will entice prospective employees towards your company over others.

By creating a clear method for hard work and talent to be recognised and rewarded, you improve retention of your staff and boost engagement at the same time.

Volunteer hours: These are a growing trend in business. Paid time off to enable staff to take part in volunteering and charitable work is fast becoming a staple of corporate social responsibility plans, and for a good reason. It can drastically improve engagement and retention.

A number of studies, including one published in the Journal of Management in 2016, reveal that both individual and company performance are improved by implementing volunteering and community initiatives. The same improvement is found in engagement. The CEB/Gartner Corporate Leadership Council Report in 2010 indicated that both engagement and turnover rates improved in companies with volunteering programmes in place. The study concluded that around USD 2,400 of additional turnover is generated by each employee volunteer.

This is a benefit that is easily scalable and adaptable to the culture and location of your business. And, of course, volunteering also offers the added benefit of improving your brand image, through subsequent PR activity.

The ideal workplace

In the ideal workplace you are developing powerful tools to build your business into a motivated and productive space – to which the top minds in your industry will naturally be drawn. And while none of the changes are quick fixes, over time they combine to produce tangible results that will protect your company from the dangers of poor retention.

With your communication lines open, you have a fresh channel to help measure the success of your newly implemented benefits and perks, and the response of your employees to them. In time, your efforts in this area will bear valuable fruit – the greater durability and lasting success of your business.

Virtuzone Mainland is dedicated to helping clients open a company on the UAE mainland, providing advice and assistance with every aspect of the company formation. To set up a consultation, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to maria.capin@vz.ae or click here.

About the author: John Hanafin, CEO at Virtuzone Business
About the author: John Hanafin, CEO at Virtuzone Business

With 25 years of experience in the company formation industry, John Hanafin is well known in the UAE and beyond as a specialist in corporate services, and shares a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses across the UAE and wider region. John joined Virtugroup in 2017 after spending 12 years with The Sovereign Group as their Global Sales Director, and two years as CEO of Arton Capital.