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How to Keep Your Key Employees From Quitting

As a business owner, reliable talent is, hands down, your biggest asset. You’re never going to be able to completely eliminate employee turnover, but if you put into practice everything you’re about to read here, you’re going to have a much better shot at retaining your most valuable employees.

I want to lay two serious truths on you right now.

Truth Number One:

Losing good employees is hands-down the most devastating occurrence in a small business. The time, money, and opportunity cost of recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and training a new staff member is immense, especially relative to the level of cash flow most small businesses are working with.

In a growing business, you’re already undertaking these costs strategically, adding roles to the org chart and filling them with great people as a path to scaling, and probably stretching yourself pretty thin to do it. So, when someone leaves a role that you’d already invested so much in to fill, especially when you weren’t expecting it, it can grind the functioning of the entire organization to a halt and leave you scrambling not only to replace that person, but to figure out how to redistribute their workload until you do. (Spoiler alert: this often means that you, the owner, are doing your job AND theirs AND spearheading a hiring process…not a good time).

Truth Number Two:

We are currently in a period known as the “great reshuffling,” in which tons of folks took a hard look at their lives during COVID and realized they wanted to make some major changes. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, 40% of employees are currently looking to change jobs this year. If that doesn’t scare you shitless, you didn’t pay enough attention to Truth Number One.

Plainly stated, you are in serious danger of losing your key employees right now, which will be an awful blow for your business at a time when you are probably least prepared to absorb it. You’re going to want to do everything in your power to keep them around. Here’s how.

1. Build a Compassionate Company Culture

Most small business owners spend way too much time down in the weeds of their business, and “build a strong company culture” gets pushed farther and farther down the “things to deal with later” list.

This is huge mistake. Nobody wants to go to a job where they feel replaceable, aren’t connected to the other people they work with, and don’t feel cared for by their boss.

Employees thrive in an environment where their contributions are valued, they feel seen and considered as individual people, and they know they’re contributing to a greater mission that they’re personally aligned with.

While getting clear on and articulating your company’s mission and values is a start, it’s not going to fully solve this problem. You have to dig deeper and put policies in place that show your employees that you value their health, wellbeing, and sanity above your bottom line.

After almost 2 years of COVID craziness, your employees are likely burnt out – ESPECIALLY the working parents. Your staff is no longer willing to accept a life in which their presence is demanded at work first and everything at home falls second. According to the American Enterprise Institute, 86% of Americans now say that workplace flexibility is a key factor in choosing a new job.

Create a culture of compassion, understanding and flexibility…or risk losing your best people to a company that already has one.

2. Provide Vision & Context

In our work training managers and teams how to better communicate with one another to work more efficiently together, the number one complaint we hear from employees is that they don’t exactly know what their job is, how they fit into the larger organization, why they matter, and what their growth trajectory with the company looks like. This leaves them feeling meaningless and unsure why they even bother showing up to work every day. People need to feel like they matter to be happy.

Of course YOU, as the owner of the business, know the answers to these questions…but are you keeping them locked inside your head?

Take the time to articulate your short-, medium-, and long-term visions for your company to your staff on a regular basis (we do it quarterly). Then, make the space to follow up with each employee to go over exactly how THEY (as a person, not as a role) fit into making that vision a reality, and what their growth path looks like as the company expands. Reiterate it often. There is a huge difference between “something my boss mentioned once” and “this is definitely the plan” in an employee’s mind.

Your staff is looking to you to provide a sense of security and meaning. This is your most important responsibility as a leader. Don’t shirk it.

3. Share the Wealth

Your staff, especially your younger staff, is being constantly inundated on social media with narratives about how bosses don’t care about workers and how every company cares more about profits than about people.

As a boss yourself, you KNOW that isn’t true. You regularly put in twice the hours of anyone else on your staff. You go weeks or months without a paycheck to make payroll. You spend nights tossing and turning about the most compassionate way to let someone go when you really, deeply LOVE them.

I get that. Your staff doesn’t.

To them, money talks and bullshit walks. If you aren’t currently in a position where you’re hoarding all of the profits to build your personal wealth while your staff works for basement wages (and if you are, we have a much larger conversation to have), be transparent enough to let your employees know that.

This doesn’t mean that you have to fully open your books to everyone on staff (though there are certainly arguments to be made for that), but it DOES mean that you need to be transparent enough about what’s going on financially with the company and how you’re dealing with it that your employees understand how hard you go to bat for them on a daily basis.

If you’re not profitable yet, let them know that in a way that leaves plenty of room for future optimism and doesn’t unnecessarily burden them with financial stress that is your responsibility to handle.

If you are profitable, figure out a fair way to share your profits with your key employees (or even better, with ALL of your employees). It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s hands-down the most effective tool you have for employee retention.

The bottom line here: employees don’t work for companies, they work for people.

If you want to keep valued employees from quitting, show them you care about them and have their best interests at heart, provide them with consistent growth opportunities, and cut them into the profits. If you’re doing this consistently, they won’t have any reason to want to work anywhere else.