How to Make Employee Retention a Proactive Strategy

Did you know that almost 3.5 million American workers contemplated quitting their jobs in April 2019? Why, you ask? Let me tell you. CNBC and SurveyMonkey rolled out a Workplace Happiness Survey that reached nearly 8,000 working adults in the U.S., and a third of workers admitted to seriously considering quitting their job in the first quarter of 2019. Four areas named in the survey were pivotal driving factors in employee decision making.

  1. Salary - Only 57% of persons that considered quitting last year said that they were "somewhat" or "very well paid" for the work they do.

  2. Lack of Appreciation (Value) - Just 67% of workers who thought about quitting said their colleagues valued their contributions at work. Among workers who hadn’t thought about quitting, the number was 90%.

  3. Stunted Growth - 24% of Gen Z and Millennial workers (age 18-24) said that "having opportunities to advance" is the most critical factor in their overall happiness at work — second only to their desire to" [feel] that their work is meaningful."

  4. Bogged Down in Legacy Technology - 49% of workers who considered quitting said their company was not spending enough on new technology.

You might be reading this and think, "Well, what about loyalty?" After all, this was one of the most valued traits workers in the Traditionalist era of work (pre-1946) had. According to David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, who are researchers, consultants, and authors inside the O.C. Tanner Institute, cultivating loyalty takes time. Sturt and Nordstrom also believe that there are a million reasons why people leave, and proactively having crucial conversations with your employees about their future can keep them with your organization long-term.

We can now wrap our heads around why people leave but let's make sure that we, as leaders, know precisely how to make employee retention a proactive strategy.

First and foremost, employee retention has to be a personal mission of every leader in your organization. And to get the job done, leaders must be empowered to lead. Reaching beyond management and tactics, and into people's lives is a must, and organizations have to set leaders up for success so that they can effectively support their teams.

Second, when it comes to success, we have to really take a step back and make sure that we are removing obstacles from our employee's paths so that they can meet expectations. Defining success and making sure to have a two-way conversation about it is critical. Employees are looking to feel connected to a larger purpose, and once this connection is made, performance becomes a byproduct of employee happiness.

Last but not least, pull your career planning toolkit out of your arsenal. If employers don't want their employees to move on, then they need to say this explicitly, check in with them and draft a plan that gets them to where they want to be both financially and professionally. If you're worried that employees will demand more or take advantage of the situation by doing so, then leaders need to reflect on hiring processes as a whole and focus on getting the right people with similar organizational core values in the door.


Apart from the good sensations that employees get from feeling valued and appreciated, the fact of the matter is that when companies invest in people, people will in-turn invest in their company. Employee engagement should never be an afterthought or a strategy that's implemented after a mass exodus. Being proactive when it comes to employee retention is literally what keeps companies alive and allows leaders to raise up others to carry the torch. 

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