To have and to hold

Don’t lose another good employee. Here’s how to get your best and brightest to stick around for the long haul.

In 2011, Jessica was a mid-level manager at a large Canadian retailer based in Calgary and had a handful of direct reports — many of them junior staff straight out of postsecondary schools. “I often hired people early in their careers because I have a strong interest in mentoring,” she says. “I looked for people with passion because I knew I couldn’t teach that. The rest was just a matter of cultivating their skill sets.” As a result, she had a strong, loyal team whose members quickly grew into — and subsequently out of — their roles. When she realized one of her team was capable of much more, Jessica went to her supervisor to discuss internal promotions and salary increases for the staffer. “I was told there was no appetite for raises and that he’d have to apply for a more senior position whenever one came up,” she says. “It was an abrupt no, with no room for discussion about other incentives or development.”

Jessica then did what some might call the unthinkable: she worked with her employee to help him secure a job with a competitor. “If senior management wasn’t going to recognize talent, I wanted my people to leave and work where they’d be appreciated. Maybe it was a risky move, but I couldn’t look someone in the face and tell him that this entry-level position, with an entry-level salary, was all he amounted to. It simply wasn’t true.” In hindsight, Jessica thinks the situation could have been easily avoided. “I understood that budgets were a factor, but rewards don’t always have to be financial. What about education and training incentives, or flex hours for employees who live out of town? The bottom line is good work should be fairly compensated.”

Leigh-Anne John, a supervisor of human rights operations in Mississauga, Ont., agrees. “A compensation package isn’t just about the salary,” she says. “It’s about how much an employee is worth to the company, and there are lots of ways to show someone he or she is appreciated. At the end of the day, you don’t want to lose good people. It’s bad for business and bad for public image.”

So what can you do? How do you get ace employees to stick around for the long haul? Keep the edge over your competitors with one (or all) of these employee retention strategies.


This is the big one: if you do nothing else for employee retention, this strategy will put you ahead right out of the gate. According to the Towers Watson 2014 Global Workforce Study, base pay is the most oft-cited reason for joining (and leaving) an organization. New employees won’t feel valued if you undercut their experience from the outset. Offer competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits packages wherever possible, from the offer letter on. “If people — consciously or subconsciously — think they’re being underpaid, they’ll get to a place of discontent faster than someone who is happy with their compensation from day one,” says John. This doesn’t mean you have to give the ceiling salary on a job, though; just be mindful of the candidate’s previous positions and contributions as well as industry standards when crafting a compensation proposal.


“For people who commute or have childcare issues, the option to make their own hours is enticing,” John says. As long as the employee is devoting the required amount of time and handling his or her workload properly, this strategy costs the company nothing. Other options include telecommuting — where the staffer works from home on a predetermined number of days — or shortened weeks, where the employee fits his or her workweek into four days instead of five. Word to the wise, however: make sure your business can provide the resources required to make this kind of working arrangement possible. Lack of or frustration with the necessary processes or technology will inevitably lead staffers to be unproductive. (The same goes for team members in the office. “You have to make sure employees have the tools to do their job well,” says John. “If they’re constantly struggling with the same bottleneck, technical issue or lack of resources, they’re not going to be happy in their work.”)


It may seem counterintuitive to encourage and support staff members to develop beyond their current roles, but employees who are learning and growing every day are ultimately happier. “Most people have aspirations beyond the role they’re currently doing,” John says. “Supervisors should support that ambition.” Scheduling regular check-ins with each staff member is a good place to start, as it allows you to monitor growth and development and suggest ways in which your team members can further their experiences. “I’m a big fan of touch-point meetings. Just read each situation and person individually: one person might love having lots of face time with the boss while someone else will feel micromanaged.”

Don’t forget to stay up-to-date on your company’s training and education opportunities so you can steer your team toward these offerings. Many people don’t know these incentives exist.


There is something to be said for the old adage “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If work becomes a drudgery, no one’s going to look forward to coming in to the office. “That’s when you start to see multiple sick days and sliding performances,” says John. Look for ways to build morale, whether it’s a team outing or a group lunch. Check out the other businesses nearby too. Maybe there’s a gym in the area that’s willing to offer a staff rate, or a bakery that’ll offer a daily employee coffee-and-muffin special. At larger corporations, where the discounts are deeper and the perks more official, make sure everyone knows what’s available to them.


An organization is only as good as the people who represent it. First-tier managers are brand ambassadors and should be trained to present themselves as such, both internally and externally. Towers Watson discovered that, in environments where leaders are seen as effective, 72% of the workforce reported being highly engaged. Everyone has a story about a bad boss who abused his or her authority in the treatment of employees — make it an unacceptable practice for anyone managing staff. Offer leadership and conflict resolution training at regular intervals, as well as easily accessible resources should someone need further guidance.

There will be times when a staffer is adamant about calling it quits, regardless of the retention strategies used, and that’s OK. Make sure you did everything you could to keep top talent in the fold. Just ask Jessica. Months after secretly helping her employee secure a new job elsewhere, she left the company too, despite a significant counteroffer from senior management. “Too little, too late,” she says. “I’m not just a number with a price tag. It was about so much more than that.”