The all-consuming pandemic has shone a heavy spotlight on employment and job security, so much so that it can be easy to forget that employee retention has always been fundamental to any successful business – way before the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (or furlough) was brought in.
But retaining employees pre-pandemic naturally looked very different from furlough. And, as the country moves ahead, working towards helping the economy bounce back after lockdowns and restrictions, companies need to look at ways to improve employee retention.
What are employee retention and absenteeism?
A comprehensive definition of employee retention defines it as the organisational objective to keep talented employees in the business. Doing so by adopting a positive work atmosphere that promotes engagement, shows appreciation to employees and provides competitive pay, benefits, and healthy work-life balance. The desired outcome of this is a happy and productive workforce, little absenteeism and low turnover.
Absenteeism can be more tricky to navigate. Generally speaking, it is a pattern or habit of an employee missing work, but this can be for various reasons, such as mental health, personal reasons and ad hoc sickness. With over 11 million working days lost every year due to work-related stress, which can lead to poor mental health and issues in life outside of work, there are a combination of contributing factors to absenteeism that snowball when combined. Employers that are in tune with their employees should be able to acknowledge this and act on it within their employee retention strategies.
The advantages & value of employee retention
Retention, by said definition, is to retain talented staff and that is the key advantage here. Keeping talent within your business allows for progression of institutional intelligence and expertise, and growth, as new hires come in and benefit from the wealth of knowledge. If employees stick around to learn all that they can and then leave at the earliest opportunity, you have a retention issue.
Cost and time effectiveness
To recruit and onboard successfully takes time and money. Preparing the role and the team for a new hire, advertising the role, CV selection, interviews, onboarding and more. While new blood is, of course, beneficial for some roles, when scaling, purely relying on new hires can work out less cost-effective on all fronts – especially if you are haemorrhaging talent out of your business in the process. Investing in the development of existing workers as part of your employee retention strategy, and bringing in new talent where necessary, can give you a welcome mix of fresh ideas and specific industry know-how gained from experience both within your company and outside of it.
Adopting a workplace culture where less absenteeism occurs and successful employee retention strategies are in place is not only a favourable workplace proposition for people coming to work for you but also a vital morale booster for your existing employees. It can be demoralising for workers when turnover is high, and relationships can’t form. New blood will, of course, come into the business as you grow and demands change. But if your employees can see a clear, progressive future within the company that speaks genuinely of a positive employer brand, the retention of your staff can come naturally while leaning on the measures you have in place to make people want to stay with the company.
From a client-facing role to supplier management, consistency in communication and knowledge breadth are vital. If customers and suppliers are dealing with a different person at every touchpoint due to turnover, it can instil a lack of trust and confidence in the company, with all rapport lost. This inconsistency can cause neglect in customer service and continuity, which customers value so highly. In a world of low brand loyalty and with more than half (56%) of UK consumers put off buying from a brand again due to a bad experience, anything you can do to improve the customer journey is time and effort well spent.
Strategies and tactics to improve employee retention and decrease absenteeism
The employee experience (EX)
A 360° approach to the employer/employee relationship may seem alien to some, but research has shown that employees with a great EX at work are retained at much higher levels (77% in 2020) than those that don’t have it. While this is positive, there is still work to be done with just over 60% of employers in the study stating that they have worked to improve the EX within their business – a green light for anyone that hasn’t done it yet to get in and stand out, and achieve a far more attractive candidate proposition.
Talk to your teams and employees individually and find out what they need to be happy and productive at work. Depending on the nature of the business, create a discovery process that delivers the information you need, yet does so in such a way that your employees are honest with you. They need to feel that their answers, questions and comments are valid and they’re not in danger of repercussions derived from any negative feedback. This kind of internal research provides invaluable information about many aspects of your business, and gives you actionable insights from the start. With the aforementioned research finding that only one in three businesses act upon the employee feedback they receive, businesses that don’t do this cannot argue that they have done everything in their power to keep employees happy and onboard.
Following the forced working conditions of lockdown, the option to work flexibility or dynamically is no longer a major perk afforded to the few. Workers have largely proven themselves to be highly productive when working remotely and/or when given the flexibility to manage their own schedule to balance work with personal commitments. Coming second only to job security in a number of studies, and with the new government legislation to allow employees to request flexible working from day-one, flexible working is high on the priority list for jobseekers and is a primary factor for an employee to stay. It should therefore be a prime feature in your employee retention strategy.
Perks and benefits
Think about what kind of tailored, localised perks and benefits you can offer your employees. This can range from private medical care, to wellness apps and coffee subscriptions; the key is being specific to your employees and communicating with them to find out what they will realistically use. Doing this not only makes the best use of your perks allowances, but crucially makes employees feel included, part of the bigger picture and valued in a way that doesn’t focus solely on pay. Coming out of the pandemic, you may not be in a position to offer pay raises, and the existing culture and offerings may not be bettered by more money, even if you do. So, find out what else makes your colleagues and employees tick to offer a comprehensive employment package they won’t want to leave behind.
Stress, anxiety and depression are all too common due to the pandemic, and as studies find that poor financial wellbeing alone could cost the UK economy over £4bn a year, there is an immediate need for accessible physical, financial and mental health wellbeing measures in the workplace. Not to be confused with a perk, employee wellbeing should be front and centre of a successful employee retention programme – all the material things in the world cannot make up for poor physical and mental wellbeing, which so often go hand-in-hand. And, we’re not talking facemasks and spa days here. Instead, it’s the security and comfort you can provide employees by implementing a well-structured, approachable and attainable wellbeing programme that makes itself known and present in the business’s day-to-day running. If access to wellbeing support is obvious and employees are encouraged to seek help, absenteeism will decrease and a more open and honest workplace culture will emerge as a result.
As with any cultural shift or a change in the way of doing things, the best place to start is research. Find out where the issues lie, but also use positive findings to help steer your retention strategies and the fight against absenteeism in the right direction for your business. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to successful employee retention, but by tailoring it to your findings you have an invaluable point of reference to move forward with.