Take Holistic Approach to Stemming Departures by Top Talent

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Mar 19, 2012

It’s no secret to staffing professionals that the first half of the year is prime time for employees to seek out new job opportunities. But there are purposeful steps employers can take to prevent their top talent from jumping ship even at the eleventh hour, according to an expert at New York-based recruiting firm Harris Allied.

“Employees have just received their year-end bonus and companies have fresh budgets for hiring new talent this time of year, so we typically see a lot of job changes right about now,” said Kathy Harris, managing director at Harris Allied. “But there are steps a hiring manager or a team leader can take to close the back door to retain their best employees and prevent them from taking a job elsewhere. People join companies but leave managers, so the difference can really be made at a departmental or even team level.”

Corporate culture is not only determined in the C-suite; it’s really felt at the department level. And it’s often not money, but culture and work/life issues, that make or break the decision to seek new opportunities, Harris said in a statement. She offered the following guidance to hiring managers and team leaders interested in retaining their top talent:

Don’t rely on the corporate HR department to set the tone. Team leaders and department heads should set the stage for how their employees can best balance the demands of work and life. Be flexible. Make sure there are interesting projects to work on. Be a mentor.

Treat people like they are the most valuable assets managers have, not like a commodity. Many tech workers, for example, worry that their jobs will be outsourced when managers start referring to them as “resources.” Once the seed of doubt has been planted, it can lead to attrition problems.

Give employees opportunities to stretch. Top performers want the opportunity to work on beefier projects, to learn a new technology, to have an impact and to be part of a solution. Outline clearly the career tracks that matter deeply to educated, top-performing employees.

Give credit to individual contributions. Make sure that people outside your department know about its top performers. Nothing demoralizes an employee more than a manager taking credit for all the hard work his or her team has put in.

Last-ditch efforts can make a difference. Even if there’s the sense that an employee has one foot out the door, ask him or her what is not working and try to ascertain what the concerns are. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of recognizing those concerns and showing that management is trying to address them seriously. A good manager, however, will touch base with team members periodically to see how they are feeling about things, perhaps over coffee or lunch one on one.

Engage, engage, engage. Talk to your team—constantly. Offer feedback and solicit their opinions.

“This kind of proactive approach to retaining employees is a 180-degree shift from the way things have been in the last three or four years, when it was decidedly more of an employer’s market,” said Harris. “This requires a real cultural shift at both the corporate level as well as at the group level.”

Engaging Virtual Employees

A study released March 15, 2012, by The Forum: Business Results Through People, an affiliate of Northwestern University, identifies strategies that contribute to engaging virtual employees.

“With off-site workers now representing up to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce in companies with 5,000 or more employees, and [with] 43 percent of recently surveyed companies anticipating growth in their virtual workforces, we felt it was important to examine current methods that are helping employers better engage their remote employees,” said The Forum President Patty Saari.

While the study found that the quality of talent supersedes employee location, small companies struggle more with engaging virtual employees than large ones. Among the study’s other key findings:

Engaging remote employees must be part of a bigger virtual employee management strategy supported by top management.

Engaging virtual employees requires technology platforms that enable people-oriented aspects of work.

Some face-to-face contact with virtual employees is necessary.

Virtual employee engagement should be integrated with internal branding and organizational culture.

“We found that the boom in virtual employment that is taking place [because of] advances in technology and other economic factors puts many organizations in the difficult situation of trying to manage and engage employees in ways with which they have little expertise because their legacy has routinely been to manage workers at a given location,” said Saari, who is also vice president, product and strategy, business loyalty at marketing firm Aimia. “We hope The Forum’s findings provide leaders with tangible ideas to better engage an increasingly virtual workforce and maximize the success of this growing reality.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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