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What Does the Future of Employee Retention Programs Look Like?

From Digital Recruitment to Marketing Recruitment

Employee retention programs will be taking a new shape in the next few years.

The past year has dramatically changed how we look at the world of work, but it hasn’t diminished people leaders’ concern over losing team members that are of strategic value to the business. You could argue that it’s far worse to lose a valued team member when you have just gone through a round of layoffs, or when the business is floundering.

Even if employee retention programs have to take a backseat right now to, say, emergency hiring or operational changes, they will be back at the top of the list soon enough. Like all times of economic uncertainty, the Covid-19 related crisis will pass, and companies on the other side will be faced again with the challenge of keeping their employees happy and productive.

If you only start thinking about retention when employees show signs of wanting to leave, it’s too late. This case study highlights the many challenges that come with a reactive approach to retention, and makes it easy to see why being proactive about this is an absolute must.

The two sides of employee experience

Employees leave for many reasons, but experience is the one that springs the most readily to mind. If we are unhappy at work, we are far more likely to start looking elsewhere.

According to Gartner, only 13% of employees were satisfied with their experience at work in 2019. Perhaps more worrying is that 46% of employees feel like their expectations aren’t met at all. So how do we keep these employees? By working harder at meeting these expectations, right?


… Well, yes, but not just that.

It’s easy to forget that as humans, we do not have wholly intrinsic and fixed expectations from our work experience. Depending on our past experiences, comparisons to our peers, and what has been suggested to us as “normal” in the workplace, we look for different things to decide whether we are satisfied or not. Most of us expect a relative degree of safety at work, for example, and yet there are jobs where physical or emotional safety are not expected at all. They are simply part of the job description.

Gartner’s study revealed that there are two sides to creating satisfactory employee experiences: Providing what employees want, but also managing what they should expect from their work environment. In fact, there is greater ROI in being clear about what the company can or cannot do, versus simply asking people what they want and striving to execute on that.

employee retention programs through managing expectations

So before diving into creating employee experiences that will improve satisfaction level, it might be worth communicating with honesty and empathy around what the company can and cannot do for employees. This doesn’t give businesses a pass on actually improving what they can improve; both sides of the equation have to be present, otherwise people lose faith in the company’s willingness to make any effort at all.

Internal mobility is key in employee retention programs

One of the aspects of employee experience that companies can and should improve is internal mobility and opportunities for growth inside the company. The concern over retaining top talent for the long-term success of the company is real: only 15% of companies in America and Asia feel confident about their ability to internally promote employees into key positions. And yet, only three quarters of companies have internal mobility programs in place, despite internal mobility being a company’s best best to fill key roles, as it costs less and produces higher quality talent.

Modern TA teams should be deeply involved in internal mobility programs, because their core competency is to identify great fits between a role and a candidate, and that can be applied to their internal marketplace in the same way that it is applied to the external one.

Although it’s worth noting that internal mobility is not a cure-all for retention. In some cases, like we see in this case study, it might even have no impact on retention top managerial talent.

Employee retention starts with good talent acquisition practices

According to Jobvite’s 2018 Job Seeker Nation study, almost 30% of candidates have at least once in their life left a job in the first three months. These new hires leave mostly because their expectations didn’t match the reality of the day-to-day job or the company culture, or because they experienced an unpleasant incident early in their employment.

Nurturing candidates and building relationships has a direct impact on retention simply because it offers candidates the opportunity to learn more about the company before they accept an offer. They get a chance to discover the culture, mission and values, and to learn the specifics of a type of job they might be interested in.

There is a large element of expectation management in proactive recruiting. If two candidates accept an offer for the same role because they like the company, the product and the industry, but only one of them is prepared for the competitive environment and the occasional deadline crunches, the other one is far more likely to quit within a few weeks of starting. This is another opportunity for good talent attraction practices to play a role in employee retention programs.

Understandably, many talent leaders hesitate to prioritize retention in any meaningful way when they allocate resources and set team targets. Fortunately, they will have less of a tradeoff to make in the future, as they build a better talent pipeline, reinforce their employer brand, and organize their recruiting activities around nurture and long-term relationship building.

Similarly, people leaders who make early investments in expectation management and internal mobility programs will find it easier to plug the remaining gaps in employee experience, and will be rewarded with employees who are willing to stay longer, and a reputation for a fair and enjoyable workplace on the job market.