Retaining employees has become more challenging as many seek a higher level of work/life balance and are eager to structure their jobs around their personal requirements, which pulls them away from their job’s responsibilities. However, linking the employee experience more closely to the following five strategic components can help employers meet workers’ demands while embedding them more securely in the organization. These more loyal employees become better aligned to the strategic direction of the company and more productive in their jobs.
The five strategic components are mission, values, goals, vision and purpose. For each, the role of HR is to support employees by providing tools and procedures to their managers, who in turn can leverage them to lead their employees to greater loyalty and productivity. Here is an overview of those five strategic components:
- First, employees are looking for recognition within the organization and acknowledgment of their need for personal time. The employee’s position combines material factors such as hierarchical rank and compensation with immaterial factors such as esteem and reputation. These factors can be cultivated for all employees by linking them to the company’s mission.
- The organizational “reason for being” defines the company through its image, market standing, prioritized stakeholders and so on. These criteria can serve as the basis for recognizing employees materially through promotions, salary decisions and bonuses, as well as immaterially via feedback from supervisors and sharing successes in team meetings, posts on company whiteboards and announcements in internal communication.
- It is beneficial to break down the company-level criteria to the operational specifics of individual teams in order to achieve the desired mission. Recognition works best in a corporate culture that regularly celebrates success and attributes it, depending on the culture and the circumstances, to the capabilities of individuals, teams or the entire company. Recognition becomes part of the daily experience, and employees appreciate the acknowledgment of their individual or collective contributions to the organizational standing.
- Without prying into personal affairs, supervisors can be made sensitive to the position of their employees at home. Leslie Hammer, professor of psychology at Oregon’s Portland State University, has shown that by providing an instruction kit plus two hours of manager training in family-supportive behavior leads to improved loyalty, job satisfaction and mental health among team members.
- Second, workers want to feel part of a team in the workplace. Even those employees who work part time, under contract or outside of the workplace feel this need. Company values like excellence and respect characterize the nature of relations between workers and can inform how employees are included in processes and internal communication.
- Within a company that values excellence, an explanation about how the work produces market-leading outputs and company successes can be made transparent by leadership. At Intel, leaders prioritize regular communication with employees through such channels as emails, newsletters, video messages and face-to-face interactions. They share updates on company strategies, goals, achievements and challenges. Each employee becomes engaged to orient their own work, no matter how routine, to contributing to overall excellence.
- In an organization valuing respect, communication should be two-way and informal, inviting employees to share feedback, comments, suggestions and ideas. Email, digitalized documents, video platforms and online meeting software should be widely available to include everyone whenever and wherever they work. Transparently seeing their own contributions to the work and staying informed raises employee engagement, especially when they work part time, as temps or outside the workplace.
- Third, many people want to experience greater self-determination and control on the job and when dividing their days between work and personal activities. The Self-Determination Theory highlights employees’ needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Autonomy begins when employees are given clear guidelines and expectations regarding task outcomes and how these outcomes can help achieve company goals, such as raising customer satisfaction or speeding processes.
- Different companies will encourage differing degrees of leeway in task performance; the leeway enables employees to better achieve the goals. Competence is gained via experience in the skills needed for goal-oriented task performance, particularly when combined with autonomy. In such circumstances, errors or failures are bound to happen sometimes. For this reason, supervisors need to demarcate critical areas of behavior where leeway cannot be tolerated, as well as treat errors that occur as a learning experience for all. Relatedness is gained from the team via dividing up the tasks, supporting each other in performing the tasks, sharing knowledge, and acting as a kind of “checks and balances” in minimizing errors and aligning tasks to strategic goals.
- MIT professor of management Lotte Bailyn has shown that reducing stress and improving people’s work/life balance improves their performance. In her studies, work activities were restructured to accommodate personal lives while at the same time raising goal achievement due to reduced stress. The result can be the lever to change work practices. By linking self-determination and work/life balance to strategic goals, employees can be given more freedom in how, when and where they accomplish their tasks.
- Fourth, employees strive to realize a personal vision of their professional development and social life on and off the job. Workers can align their personal and professional vision to the company vision. At many companies, an internal talent marketplace system matches employees’ skills and aspirations with future opportunities for work. However, placing the right employees to drive the fulfillment of the company vision requires building a culture of trust and putting the whole company first. Managers should not hoard their best workers, but rather become knowledgeable about future company developments to help identify growth opportunities for their workers. Employees should be willing and able to adopt a growth mindset to push forward their skills in line with the company’s future while developing with their supervisors their personal vision, which may go beyond their current team.
- Cultural changes are needed even when a company foregoes a talent management system. Low-tech measures in the appropriate cultural setting can reproduce the functionality of an internal talent marketplace. Examples include systematic mentoring, posting all new vacancies or projects for current employees to see, and introducing career advancement potential to job descriptions by indicating what taking on the opportunity can lead to afterward.
- Mai Lan Nguyen, head of human resources for North America at Schneider Electric in Boston, said it’s critical for HR to assist managers in identifying and realizing the required cultural changes behind new people management practices and policies. A key cultural change is to build trust in new types of behaviors and activities, she said. In such initiatives, HR should start small and then iterate to build up. A pilot with a team open to innovative people management can be the spark for change in the entire organization.
- Fifth, people increasingly seek meaning on the job and an employee experience in accord with their personal lives. Meaning can be found in the company purpose, which positively impacts wider social issues such as sustainability and equality. At companies without a stated purpose, employees can find meaning in work that expresses their personal values, such as creativity or collaboration. HR can suggest this topic as an agenda item in team meetings or internally post interviews with selected personnel.
- Jennifer Herrity, a career coach with Indeed in Austin, identified seven life lessons that can be learned at work and applied in private life. HR can initiate a discussion group or post internal think pieces about her suggestions, including: “Make connecting with others a priority” or “Learn how to change the situation, not the person.” HR can then develop company-specific life lessons or ask employees what they have experienced.
- Employees experiencing any or all of the following—feeling entrenched in the company mission, embodying the company’s values, performing goal-oriented tasks, developing themselves in line with the company’s vision, or feeling absorbed in purposeful and life-enhancing work—are more likely to feel bound to the fulfilling working conditions of the company. And such strategically oriented employees are exactly the ones that employers are happy to retain.
Benjamin Wall is a Switzerland-based management consultant with more than 30 years of experience, including at KPMG, who has taught at a range of business schools. Wall's fields of specialty include strategy, HR, diversity, organizational development, performance management and knowledge management. He is the author of Amazon: Managing Extraordinary Success in 5-D Value (Morgan James, 2019).