If you want engaged and motivated employees, you may have to lift your own game

Estimates vary but it can cost anywhere up to 18 months of their salary to replace a worker1. For SMEs without dedicated HR departments, having a valued staff member leave can be very disruptive. While some level of turnover is inevitable, even healthy, if you want to improve your staff retention run through this 14-point checklist.

1. Do I understand my employees' motivations?

Apple employees were willing to accept Steve Jobs’ hard-charging management style because they embraced his dream of “putting a dent in the universe”. Likewise, your employees may be willing to tolerate some disappointments, including less than stellar remuneration, if you can identify and provide what they really value, be it a friendly workplace, professional development or the opportunity to travel.

2. Is there mutual understanding?

'Unmet expectations' is one of the top five reasons employees leave2. Early on in the employment relationship you should make clear what you expect from the employee and what he or she can expect from you in return. If you manage your staff’s expectations, they’ll have no reason to feel aggrieved.

3. Can I offer work-life balance?

Work-life balance is now the number one factor workers look for in a new role3. A growing number of private and public sector organisations are introducing schemes that allow staff to choose how many hours they work. An employer who does what they can to accommodate workers with children, study commitments or other responsibilities is likely to have grateful staff who stick around.

4. Do I provide competitive remuneration?

Less than one in eight employees leave a job for a bigger pay packet4 yet 'unsatisfactory remuneration' is one of the top five reasons a worker quits5. Employees don’t necessarily expect top dollar but are likely to become dissatisfied if they’re being paid less than the going rate. To hold onto top performers, make sure they’re getting at least the industry standard.

5. Do my benefits pass muster?

Employees in tech companies, such as Google, clock extraordinary hours partly because their employer offers benefits ranging from free food to concierges to games rooms. At minimal cost you can make your staff feel valued by taking them out to lunch, allowing them the day off on their birthday or the chance to help out at a charity during work time.

6. Do staff have something to aim for?

Staff, especially Gen Y staff, are likely to head for the door if they feel they’re not going anywhere. Small business owners may be limited in what they can offer. Nonetheless, they’re almost always able to give ambitious workers more responsibility, extra training, new challenges and maybe even regular pay rises.

7. Have I created a sticky workplace?

Two in three job seekers consider 'cultural fit' a significant factor when seeking a new role6. Armies have recognised the vital importance of esprit de corps for centuries. That’s why they create a culture where recruits feel they’re now part of a 'band of brothers'. You don’t need to go that far but at least create a workplace culture where staff feel valued for their contribution.

8. Am I providing the right leadership?

Almost one in three employees name 'good leadership' as a factor in their job satisfaction7. Unfortunately, there’s no one form of good leadership. That bubbly sales rep probably wants to be managed differently to the introverted computer programmer. A little trial and error should be sufficient to determine what type of leadership individual staff members respond best to.

9. Do my staff have ownership of their role?

Unsurprisingly, research shows employees are motivated to perform well when they feel they own their role. That translates to their boss trusting them to do their job and giving them sufficient autonomy to do it8.

10. Are my staff supported?

Employees feel engaged when their employer trusts them to get onto with the job9 but that feeling of engagement can turn to stress if they believe they can’t access support. Make sure you’re there with a pep-up talk or the offer of extra resources when you see an employee is struggling.

11. Do staff get appropriate recognition?

Think about how good you felt when someone you respected praised your abilities. Now imagine how much loyalty you could generate in a staff member by praising them in front of their peers in a staff meeting. Even not entirely positive feedback can show you take an interest in an employee and make them feel valued10.

12. Can staff review my performance?

Your staff will hang around longer if they can raise issues with you. If staff aren’t volunteering their feedback about how they think the business – and its owner – could be performing better encourage them to do so, anonymously if necessary.

13. Do I run an admirable business?

Staff who are proud of what their organisation does are more likely to be engaged workers11 and engaged workers hang around. If your business operates ethically and practices corporate social responsibility, that should be enough to ensure it attracts and retains talent.

14. Is there buy-in to the business's mission?

Giving your staff a grand ambition they can be part of will ramp up their loyalty. For example, would Starbucks have been quite so successful if its staff were told "You serve coffees" rather than reminded of the Starbuck’s mission: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time"?

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