BusinessHuman Capital

Employee retention: More difficult, more critical, than ever


The HR Department

I recently read: “43% of young employees will change jobs within the next 2 years.”

For years, we’ve talked (and complained) about recruitment – “there are no good candidates out there!” Organizations are in a constant state of hiring. Every day, I see classified ads for job recruiters. How about job retainers? If we find a way to keep good employees, we can stop looking for them. Sounds simple and I know it isn’t. Employee priorities seem to change faster than we can keep up. That’s especially true when you consider your generational diversity. My recommendation? Start with a small, manageable retention plan and build as you go.

Not convinced? I recently read an article written by Gabrielle Bosche, president of The Millennial Solution, that estimates the cost of turning over one employee at 150 percent of the annual salary of the job. Are ready to consider that retention plan yet?

One step you can take immediately to improve employee investment in your company is to give employees opportunities to take on new responsibilities or projects that will help them grow professionally and within the organization. What?! Yes! Research consistently shows two key factors people consider when changing jobs: “Am I being challenged?” And “Are there growth opportunities for me here?”

Another essential piece of your retention plan is employee recognition. This doesn’t have to mean over-the-top reward programs or bonuses. In fact, the most effective recognition is free – tell your employees what they did well, how it benefited the organization, and that you appreciate their time, effort and commitment. Nothing is more motivating, especially for younger workers, than genuine, positive feedback. But it’s more than “You did a good job today!” Employees want to be recognized for something specific, with gratitude expressed sincerely. I had a meeting recently that included a two-year employee, who I heard was job-seeking. During the conversation, I shared a little story about when she was new to the agency, and was thrown into a committee she wasn’t prepared for. I told the small group how she had jumped right in, was engaged, gave ideas and volunteered to help. I appreciated her enthusiasm and told her she really impressed me that day – that I knew we had a “good one” with her. The following week, when I was back in her building, she told me how much that meant to her, to be recognized and appreciated. I don’t know if it will make a difference in her job search efforts, but it made her day anyway. Stay tuned on that.

According to LinkedIn, 50 percent of workers dislike their jobs. Employees who dislike their jobs will not stay in those jobs for long. In fact, they’re probably in a constant state of job searching. How committed are workers who are job searching? I don’t think we need to answer that. Employees need to like their jobs. And insuring that starts with making the right hires for the right jobs. When you interview, do you give a really clear picture of what the job will be like and do you ask questions to see if the candidate will even like the job, let alone be good at it? And when they’re working in the job, are you gauging their job satisfaction in addition to their job performance? I spent some years working in a nursing home. We found we were losing people who were qualified and good at the job because they didn’t like the shift they were on, or the unit they were assigned to. Those were easy fixes. Once we figured that out, and offered opportunities to move around, we eliminated that obstacle. Sometimes you can’t make employees happy. But when you can, do!

If your organization is concerned about turnover, consider developing a retention plan. There are tools and professionals available to help you get started, track your progress, and make changes as you go. As important as getting good candidates in the door is keeping them. Good luck!

Michelle Ish owns The HR Department in Oak Harbor and serves as human resources director for the Ottawa County Commissioners. Her professional resume includes 15+ years of progressive human resources management experience in public, private and nonprofit industries and has served on the boards of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the Ottawa County Safety Council and Our Lady of Lourdes/St. Boniface Parishes. She is also currently a Councilwoman for the Village of Oak Harbor. Contact Ish at or 419-261-4746.