The old my-way-or-the-highway style of management is a thing of the past. Neither is the boss always right nor the last word in today’s workplace. And if he insists he is, he will soon see the best talent walk out of the door, often to join the competitor’s boardroom. Employee retention in today’s working environment involves sensitivity to people’s needs and demonstration of a customised people investment through various strategies
By Ananya Mukherjee

It is true that many employees join organisations simply for the money, but very rarely do they leave companies for purely monetary reasons. More than compensation, it is the corporate ecology, the challenge of the role, and the personal development opportunities and branding that drive choice and eventually retention.

Interestingly, oftentimes, pre-emptive measures are easier and more inexpensive to implement than the loss of an invaluable employee. For example, you may have an extremely productive and loyal employee who feels he has not been recognised down the years. In that situation, the solution could be as simple as treating the employee to lunch or giving him a corporate membership in his favourite golf club and show appreciation for his hard work. Yes, it will cost time and an investment, but it is only a small effort when compared to the cost of replacing a top employee.

In today’s challenging and competitive business landscape, talent retention is critical to the long-term health and success of any organisation. Cliche’d as it might sound human capital is the most important asset for every employer. There is no denying that it is only the knowledge and strength of employees that help drive an organisation’s growth curve to exponential heights and desired objectives. Losing invaluable employees simply equates to compromising on the quality of your brand.

Different strokes for different folks

Typically, the key reasons why employees leave an organisation are that there are more learning and development opportunities, better compensation
packages and more opportunities for career progression available elsewhere. However, whilst these challenges hold true for most employees, each
generation of employees is driven by a different motivation. For instance, the traditionalists are motivated to build a lifetime of career with a single
company and they value security, fair compensation and rewards. On the other hand, baby boomers look for career progression opportunities, recognition and a generous remuneration package in a company.

For generations X and Y, employees look to build a career that equips them with a repertoire of skills and experience. These employees are attracted to a company that offers immediate rewards and career portability, work-life balance and training and development opportunities. Naturally, to be able to retain such a diverse workforce, the primary challenge for companies is to build an environment that can cater to the different generation without becoming overly complex.

Clearly, you need to go an extra mile in designing innovative retention strategies, each customised to match the motivational needs of your employees, especially the top performers. The trick is to imbibe robust strategies in your human resource programmes and implement triple-level strategy for top performers.

Begin with understanding their career goals, objectives and passion. Then gauge what motivates them and what added values they can bring to the table. Last but not the least, recognise their contribution and make them feel appreciated and engaged.

In short, organisations have to acknowledge that each individual is unique with different needs and wants. “Some may desire to be a regional manager overseeing a team of 20 while some may only be keen to be groomed as an individual contributor and a specialist. Therefore, as managers we have to understand individual career goals, objectives and their passion. I strongly believe that employees will do well in areas that they are passionate in. If top performers can enjoy what they are doing then the work itself can give them much satisfaction,” says Gina Kuek, senior HR manager, Asia Pacific, Frost & Sullivan.

Google, for example, recognises that people are more productive and engaged when they are working on projects that really excite them. Flexibility is one of its key retention tools. Engineers at Google are given a lot of flexibility in choosing which projects they join. In addition to having input on their main work focus at Google, engineers are also encouraged (but not required) to pursue any other Google-related interest for up to 20% of their normal working hours – whether that be researching a better parking plan or creating a new programming language. The engagement works brilliantly. “We have found that the 20% programme is a critical driver in Google’s development of innovative ideas and products” shares a Google spokesperson. Over the years, the 20% time programme has generated several Google products, including Google News, Gmail, Google Talk and Ocean in Google Earth.

Let them grow…with you

When an employee sees that an organisation isgenuinely interested in grooming him/her and is actively supporting a long-term talent development
programme, it fosters loyalty. Based on this rationale, the OCBC Bank for example has launched the Career Best Programme to help its employees evaluate their strengths and career orientation, and find the best fit between their talents and OCBC’s needs. The Bank has also introduced the OCBC Learning-3 in 2007. A structured three-year development programme for its employees, the OCBC Learning-3 clearly delineates learning roadmaps for individual employees during their first three years of service with the Bank. Furthermore, the bank has created the OCBC Learning Academy and The Learning Space @ OCBC for the sole purpose of learning and development. The average training hours per-employee-per-year has
increased by 12% from last year, which is 70% above the annual target.

Employees are also given the first opportunity to apply for job-openings within the OCBC group through its internal job-application programme (IJP),
shares Jacinta Low, head, HR Planning & Employee Communication, OCBC Bank. In addition, the OCBC Employee Share Purchase Plan (ESPP) was introduced to encourage its employees to take up ownership of the company and play vital roles in the company’s future by becoming stock owners. “Not only does it inspire greater teamwork, it also forges a stronger sense of alignment between employees and the long-term prosperity of the OCBC Group, as well as help the Bank to retain talent to achieve better long-term performance,” Low observes.

Never say goodbye: adjustments are possible

Yes, there is always room for every talent. With just a few strategic tweak in the workplace and a few adjustments in functions and roles, you can retain key performers. Not all of them leave for money or career progression, it could be something as simple as the work environment or the job profile that no longer matches the expectations of the talent. With a few  adjustments, you may not lose them forever.

Take the example of McDonald’s. Women currently account for over 60% of its crew and restaurant manager workforce. The key retention challenge is convincing some of the women employees to stay on after they become mums with young children. At the same time, it has many part-time employees who are students. Upon their graduation, many may choose to leave the company, having picked up portable service skill sets at McDonald’s. So how does it cope? “We have a Singapore Women’s Leadership Network (a local chapter under the global McDonald’s Women’s Leadership Network) that advocates for the advancement of women into positions of greater responsibility and leadership, while cultivating an
environment that supports work-life harmony,” Hana Lee, human resource head, McDonald’s Singapore, points out. A wee bit of flexibility in the working arrangement has worked well for the organisation.

For the part-timers, it works on a different strategy. At the outset, HR openly shares with this group of people the career pathway at McDonald’s that
could take them from crew to manager – and even to management positions. Internal communications is key to ensuring that the employees are aware of and are engaged to embrace the many training and development opportunities available, Lee underlines. At the same time, HR communicates “i-stories” of McDonald’s employees who play role models toothers by sharing their experiences on how they have seized opportunities to grow their careers and become leaders at McDonald’s.

And the effects are clearly visible in tangible results.Overall, the turnover rate for crew and managers has improved by over 1% to 3%. Furthermore, two statistics speak volumes about the success of these initiatives. Fifty per cent of its restaurant managers started as crew, and the average length of stay for a restaurant manager is 15 years.

Last word: use carrots, not sticks

Overall, you have to focus on creating an inclusive, high-energy working environment where all employees are aligned and energised to contribute to
your business success. Take the example of Philips Electronics. Its strategy is based on a full employer value proposition framework, focusing on a threepronged approach – providing a competitive, relevant and flexible rewards package; developing talent and enabling numerous development opportunities for growth and career progression; and creating an inspiring workplace and developing platforms that connect, engage and inspire people.

For example, its rewards package is geared towards growth and performance by reinforcing and rewarding behaviour that supports its business objectives. In addition, the organisation has a programme called ‘PhilChoice’ which offers medical benefits, familyorientated programmes, allowances to purchase digital infrastructure, self-improvement courses etc. “Last year, our turnover rate is below 10%, which compares favourably against the average turnover rate at 12.4%,” Wong Lup Wai, Country Manager, Philips
Electronics Singapore, informs.

In the end…

The top performers, the talent that you want to retain seek opportunities to learn and grow in their careers and desire to be appreciated for their efforts. Without these they feel restless and look for opportunities elsewhere. They are more likely to stay if you can provide those growth opportunities and recognition within the organisation.

Retention strategies are not always easy to implement. They take time, and involve taking risks and making adjustments. Use some of these tactics to “re-recruit” employees every day as you did to attract them in the first place. The time, effort, and possible money invested will give you big returns in the end.

The dark side of attrition

• Loss of knowledge base
• Loss of productive time
• Loss of business opportunities and resources
• Loss of training time
• High cost of hiring new employee
• High cost of training new employee
• Loss of employee morale
• Break in teamwork (especially if the talent lost is working as part of a team)