Posted by: Rael Kalley | October 4, 2014

270. Be nice to me, it costs nothing.

Several years ago I was asked to do a series of workshops on employee retention.

As my company had been conducting exit interviews with employees departing from client companies for many years I thought a really good place to begin my research would be in reviewing the content from those many interviews we had conducted.

It was an interesting and enlightening experience. At that time we were conducting these types of interviews for a variety of companies from many different industries and at the outset I thought I would discover some industry-specific reasons as to why people were quitting their jobs.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

What I discovered then and what holds true to this day, as we still do many of these types of interviews, is that regardless of the industry from which people quit their jobs – particularly those that suffer from high and unwanted turnover – if their management paid attention to a few simple things they could plug the hole through which so many of their employees were escaping.

In the years since I began my research I have also read the results of research from many larger organizations with far broader depth of experience in dealing with these matters than my company has, and their findings have served to deepen my own conviction that the old axiom, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers” rings as true today as it always has.

While it is certainly true that there are an infinite number of reasons for people quitting their jobs, when one looks at the reasons given for doing so, those myriad explanations only apply to a tiny percentage of departing staff whereas the reasons for leaving given by the majority fit into only a tiny handful of categories.

Generally speaking when a person decides that the time has come to move on from his or her present employer and seek and commence employment elsewhere, it is most often because that person has come to the conclusion that – real or imagined – he or she does not feel valued or appreciated within their present workplace environment.

That is not to say that they are not appreciated it is simply to say that they do not “feel” appreciated and over time small and often innocuous incidents simply serve to validate those thoughts and feelings until they reach the point where they actively seek opportunities elsewhere.

It seems to me that the solution to unwanted employee departure is to pay attention to what they are telling you as to why they are leaving and, if enough departing employees tell you the same thing, it may will be a case of “where there is smoke, there’s fire.”

We hear countless stories from people who tell us they have grown tired of being “talked at, not talked to” and how far a simple “please and thank you” would have gone, but was never heard.

The data appears to be uncontroversial. We all seek satisfaction through feelings of fulfilment and we all respond well to being respected. We like to clearly know what is expected of us, and we appreciate small tokens of gratitude when we do well.

The cost to an organization in recruiting and training employees carries a high price tag. In many cases, the cost of keeping them engaged and productive, thereby saving the cost of replacing them, is zero and yet not a week goes by when we do not hear stories from departing employees of how they would have stayed in their jobs if only one person had taken the time to let them know they were appreciated.

A number of years ago I attended a retirement party and, as is usual at these types of events, a number of colleagues and bosses spoke of how much they would miss not having this person at work with them each day.

When he was his turn to respond the retiree, with a huge smile on his face, picked up the microphone and said, “if I’d known how much you appreciated me and how much you are going to miss me, I would’ve stayed another five years.”

Naturally, this was followed by much laughter and yet behind it all, I sensed a strong grain of truth.

Of course, retaining good employees requires more than just a smile and a thank you, it’s just that I am constantly surprised by something that costs nothing, and can bring so much, is so seldom deployed.

Not all of the exit interviews we conduct reflect what is written above. There are always exceptions and among our client base there is one – a government agency – that has elevated the data contained in the exit interviews to a higher level, made adjustments where necessary and seldom loses an employee for any reasons within their control.

The management of this organization absorb the information we provide them and constantly look for ways to do better and while some turnover is inevitable – indeed, some is desirable, knowing you are doing everything possible to create an environment in which people willingly want to come to work, must be enormously rewarding.

Like anything, we only do what is important and until it becomes important enough to treat people the way they want to be treated, organizations will continue to spend good money hiring people to replace those they should never have lost in the first place.

And that truly is a waste of money.

Till we read again.


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