Why Great Employees Stay: Building & Retaining Top Talent

In our post-pandemic world, it’s no secret that the workplace landscape is changing. Employees are leaving workplaces far more frequently, citing a myriad of reasons for their departures.

This has left employers asking questions like, “How do I keep my best employees?” and “How do we make our organization one that people are reluctant to leave?” 

Building and retaining top talent remains one of the most important yet evidently elusive focus points for employers. What exactly is it that employees are looking for?

Why Employees Resign

Before we get to why employees stay, we need to talk about why they leave. 

Following the “Great Resignation” of 2021, Pew Research conducted a survey to find out why people were quitting their jobs at some of the highest levels in 20 years. 

What they found was that the reasons that people were leaving workplaces were many. 

Respondents cited low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected as main reasons why they decided to quit, amidst others like childcare, lack of flexibility, and less-than-satisfactory benefit packages.

At the same time, the pandemic was pushing businesses and employers to re-think working arrangements faster than many were prepared for, shifting expectations to hybrid and even fully remote work environments.

Amidst this drastically changing landscape, employers are finding themselves asking tough questions about how to retain their employees. Instead of just thinking about why employees leave, we also need to think about what encourages them to stay.

  • What is it about our culture that makes people want to stay here? 
  • How can every organization—even a very small one—provide opportunities for advancement? 
  • How do I ensure that my employees feel truly satisfied in their roles?

As an executive search firm working with top nonprofit organizations and employees across the nation, our team at Blair Search Partners has a few ideas for you. 

And you’ll be happy to hear that they may not cost as much as you think.

Strategies for Building and Retaining Top Talent

 

Talent Acquisition

In order to build and retain a team full of talented people, your first step is to take a look at your talent acquisition and recruiting process. 

Ensuring that you are recruiting the right people to your team in the first place—people who share your values, goals, and mission—is the first step toward employee retention.

When a new employee has clear expectations for their role and your company culture right off the bat, they’re much more likely to stick around long enough for you to think about retention in the first place!

Competitive Compensation

Let’s get the obvious piece out of the way. People need to live. With the rising cost of living throughout the nation, paying employees a competitive living wage is the baseline for workplace satisfaction.

However, it’s important not to get hung up here. Throwing money at your employees is decidedly not the only, or even the most effective way to increase employee retention, despite it frequently being the first solution people think of. In fact, it’s almost never what current employees are actually looking for when it comes to workplace satisfaction!

That said, offering competitive salaries to your staff from the get go establishes a foundational culture of trust and safety with your employees, and can help you stand out in a competitive talent market where you’re up against not only other nonprofits, but the for-profit sector as well. 

Offering salaries that are commensurate with experience and don’t leave employees living paycheck to paycheck will set you apart. But don’t forget–the conversation doesn’t end there. 

Career Development Opportunities

In order to feel satisfied in their career and avoid stagnancy, employees want to feel like they are learning, growing, and developing their skills. It’s important for employers to offer these types of opportunities in their workplace, that is, if they’d like their employees to stick around.

It’s worth noting that it can be common for employers to miss the mark here. While formal training programs and structures can “check the box” of career development, it’s much more effective to get to know the strengths, desires, and interests of your staff and offer opportunities tailored to their individual personalities and interests instead. 

In an article on employee retention, Harvard Business Review states that the “most impactful development happens not through formal programs, but smaller moments that occur within the workplace: on-the-job learning opportunities that are wholeheartedly catered to the worker’s unique needs and challenges.”

One example of an organization that does this well is SANDAG, which recently created a new position for a Talent Development Manager. We were delighted to lead the search for this new role which reflects the agency’s investment in expanding and evolving the skills and talents of their workforce through formal development programs as well as those everyday moments of mentoring that support career advancement for employees at all levels.

By personalizing career development opportunities to the individual and bringing training and growth opportunities in house, you not only enhance the experience for your employees, but you are saving money while building deeper connections and a happy and responsive workplace community along the way.

Mentorship

Connected to career development opportunities but worthy of its own discussion, is the more specific topic of mentorship.

In an increasingly digital workplace, young employees have less access to their supervisors in work settings than they did before. This means they have less opportunities to see their managers navigate complex work problems, have less access to informal workplace mentorship from peers, and less one-on-one opportunities to discuss topics that lie outside of their daily tasks.

Career mentorship, formal and informal, instills a sense of belonging and future in young employees and more senior employees alike. It allows them to consider their career pathway in your organization and to ask questions and share uncertainties about big life choices. This can look like shadow days, regular one-on-ones, or informal check-ins with your staff over coffee – whatever style of mentorship makes sense for you and your organization.

At Blair Search Partners, one of the ways we do this is to have monthly 1:1 meetings with our CEO, Trevor Blair, at a location selected by the employee. We are encouraged to pick a location convenient to us, not necessarily him, for coffee, lunch, happy hour, or something else we’d enjoy. While we do these at least once a month, we have the opportunity to do them more regularly too if needed or desired.

However you choose to do it, make sure to prioritize mentorship and learning opportunities for young staff, especially if you are in a remote work environment where it may not happen organically.

Work-Life Balance & Workplace Flexibility

It’s no secret that the global pandemic completely transformed employees’ expectations for flexibility in the workplace. 

Whether this looks like a hybrid work environment, allowing employees to have autonomy over which hours of the day they work, or adding additional days off throughout the year, recognizing that your employees are human beings with children, friends, family, doctors appointments, and life events means that you understand that a traditional in-person, Monday through Friday, 9-5 work day just doesn’t work for everyone anymore.

Consider what flexibility looks like in your workplace. Are there tasks that need to be completed during specific hours, or is it possible to allow employees to do them on a timeline that works for them? Is it possible to give employees autonomy to adjust their hours so that they can attend their child’s recital? What could flexibility really look like for your team?

We love the way that Rancho Santa Fe Foundation approaches flexibility. Employees work onsite a minimum of two days a week. To ensure that RSFF staff have collaborative time together, all staff are in the office every Monday.

It’s up to you to decide what seems fair in your particular line of work, but the verdict is clear – leaving room for work-life balance and flexibility has become a non-negotiable for employees in 2024.

Creating a Culture of Trust

In order to offer true flexibility and work-life balance in your workplace, there must be a high level of trust and support embedded in your workplace culture. That means when you pass off responsibility to your employees, you must fully trust and believe in them to do their best. 

It’s easy to understand that when employees feel micromanaged, mistrusted, and second guessed by their supervisors, they become frustrated and disengaged from their work. This type of work environment can lead to self-doubt, disconnection, and ultimately, resignation.

On the flip side, employees who are empowered to make decisions and solve problems on their own tend to feel trusted by their supervisors and are undoubtedly more satisfied, motivated, and productive in their day to day work.

Creating an environment of feedback is also important to establishing trust. When an employee knows that they can come to you with concerns, questions, or feedback and will be heard, they are far more likely to feel they are in a safe and trusting environment, which is critical to retaining talented employees.

Inclusivity and Belonging

This strategy for employee retention should not be overlooked or underestimated. In today’s world, the importance of creating an environment where employees feel appreciated and welcomed for their diversity of ideas and identities cannot be overstated.

When employees feel valued for who they are and listened to for their unique ideas and experiences, they develop deeper connections with their colleagues in the workplace and enhance their satisfaction and longevity in an organization.

It’s important to note that creating a culture of true belonging goes beyond surface level DEI programs and cookie cutter hiring practices. Creating an environment of true belonging requires that a workplace offer regular opportunities for connection and collaboration and that they foster a culture of transparent communication that includes an openness to a diversity of thoughts and ideas.

As opposed to expecting new employees to blend in, creating a workplace culture that sees and celebrates each employee’s unique individual gifts, talents, identities, and roles can have an enormous impact on employee satisfaction and retention.

If you want your employees to feel like they belong, find ways to notice and honor what they, specifically, bring to the table. Ask them about themselves and their motivations and then really listen to their responses. Creating a sense of belonging this way will have an enormous impact on your workplace culture, and will do wonders for employee satisfaction down the line.

Strong Leadership

The corporate world is beginning to understand more and more something that the nonprofit sector has known for decades: that vision, mission, passion, and purpose are incredible motivators in the workplace.

A strong leader is someone who can not only articulate these things, but infuse them into everyday work for each employee.

When an employee has a manager, supervisor, colleague, or CEO that is a strong, inclusive, and supportive leader with clear passion and direction – they are far more likely to affiliate personally with their work and therefore feel more engaged and loyal to the organization.

Employee Recognition

Everyone likes to be recognized. Truly effective employee recognition, though, goes beyond choosing an employee of the month and calling it a day.

A 2023 research report by Gallup and Workhuman outlines that employee recognition that is personalized, fulfilling, authentic, equitable, and fully integrated into the company culture is essential for developing a workplace culture where everyone thrives.

In fact, not only is thoughtful, well integrated employee recognition great for morale, but significantly reduces turnover, saving businesses up to $16.1 million annually!

By ensuring that you are appreciating your employees in an individualized and intentional way that is specific to them – you are ensuring that your organization will continue to have top notch employees for years to come.

There are a number of ways to improve employee retention and make sure your top talent feels connected, empowered, and supported in the workplace. As a search firm, we can tell you that the same aspects of your organization’s culture that will help you retain great employees often help you recruit new members of the team as well. 

While there is much to be discovered in the coming decades regarding the changing workforce environment, what we can say with certainty is that starting now, it will take more than just the traditional strategies of compensation and promotions to keep employees engaged and satisfied enough to stay with any organization or business long term.

Need help exploring what it looks like to build and retain top talent for your organization? Contact Blair Search Partners and let’s see what we can do together.