Staff retention

It goes without saying that staff retention within the creative sectors is critical to the stability and performance of a business. It is even more prevalent within the digital sector where there is a real shortage of qualified personnel. Due to the recession and the fact collegesand universities have been slow in incorporating specific courses into their curriculums, there is a lack of skilled candidates in the digital marketing and creative industries. Therefore, once you have skilled people under your roof, it makes sense to keep hold of them.

Most business owners, including ourselves, agree that retaining your most valued employees ensures client satisfaction, a positive and cohesive working environment, and an in-depth product and business knowledge which has a positive impact on revenue.

It may seem somewhat ironic to have a recruiter writing about staff retention, but it can be healthy for medium- and long-term personnel to move on, since they may have taken all they can from the role, and as the employer you want keen and eager employees. It is also encouraging for existing personnel to learn from new and experienced members of staff; a new employee can add value and encourage existing employees to “up their game” and participate more in the development of the department or business. However, you of course don’t want to lose your star performers.

The danger zone is what we call the “seven month itch”: the time when the honeymoon period has worn off, and work frustrations and office politics have started. This moment may come earlier for more determined or able employees but it is traditionally around this point where problems may start to rise. Most employers will feel their new employee has grasped their new responsibilities but this can often not be the case at all: it is at this point a new employee may need more guidance and help with their role. They may need more guidance on internal procedures or certain client expectations which are hindering their performance. We have found this most common in agency account management-based roles, where an experienced Account Manager in a new environment is not only having to learn new internal team structures and processes, but also having to take on board new clients and their individual expectations.

It is sometimes prudent to understand what motivates each employee and explore the reason(s) for their dissatisfaction or problems grasping the responsibilities of their role. It is sensible for employers of small to medium-sized businesses to involve employees in the company’s decision-making process, which creates a feeling of goodwill. At a more senior level, giving your workforce a stake in their collective future will ensure emotional buy-in.

Employee retention is one of the most solid indicators with regards to the health of your organisation. A collective loss of staff members has a negative impact on your business, both internally and externally. If you are losing key staff, you can safely bet that other people in the business will also be looking.

Another important factor involves treating your staff as individuals, and finding solutions to the “push” elements in their jobs. For many, flexible hours will be far more important than money; for others, the ability to choose better holiday options or the opportunity to negotiate childcare will be crucial.

Some of the key reasons why people seek a new role are:

  • Changing expectations – a satisfied employee knows clearly what is expected from them every day at work. Continual changes to their daily routine keep people on edge and create unnecessary stress. We are not suggesting that a job role can’t change, but an employee needs a specific framework in order to know what is expected from them
  • Quality of management – more often than not, an employee will leave a manager or supervisor rather than leave the company or job. The quality of supervision and management an employee receives is critical to staff retention
  • Lack of consultation or opportunities to contribute – a company which provides an environment where employees can offer ideas and areas of improvement tends to have better levels of staff retention and a healthier working environment. If not, they tend to bite their tongues, lack commitment, and under-perform until they leave. Hold regular meetings where employees can offer ideas and ask questions. Have an open door policy, where employees can speak frankly with their bosses
  • Unfair treatment – it is vitally important that employees are treated fairly, honestly and consistently. A common complaint we hear from candidates is that some managers don’t even know they exist, or are unaware of the long hours they work, or are oblivious to their commitment to an award-winning campaign. It is crucial that each employee has an equal and fair chance to be valued and rewarded
  • Pay/bonus – at the time of writing (May 2014) the scarcity of credible and qualified candidates is pushing up salaries. For example, a standard Account Executive’s salary, over the last two years, has been approximately £15-16,000, but we are now seeing Account Executives hired at a starting salary of £18,000 alongside excellent benefits. We are also seeing PR Account Managers acquire salaries of between £27-30,000 where average salaries in the past have been around £25-26,000. In the digital sector, we are seeing a huge disparity between agency and in-house salaries. It is very important to offer a salary which is competitive and in-line with market conditions
  • Lack of internal promotion – promotion from within gives all employees a clear signal that there is room for progression, and rewards for those that work hard. Employees will definitely seek pastures new if they see no clear future for themselves
  • Lack of fun – not a word typically associated with work, perhaps, but try to make work fun and enjoyable. We all spend a significant amount of time in our office environments, and the more pleasant the environment, the more positive your employees will be! Praise their efforts and demonstrate respect for your employees at all times

Will a pay rise work?
Research shows that giving someone a pay rise has an effect on how they feel about their job for just 14 days. This is worth bearing in mind if you decide to counter offer an employee who has handed in their resignation letter. At the time of writing (May 2014), one in three employees are counter offered at the point of resignation, which may create goodwill for a short period of time but, in our experience, will not work in the long term and the employee will move on within the next six months. It may save you the cost and time of having to recruit again, but in the long run it may not necessarily be the best answer to the problem. Of course, each case and individual will need to be treated on their own merits as there will be certain employees that are worth trying to keep, but throwing money at the problem may not be the best long-term answer.

How to Manage Miserable People
Some people exude negativity: they don’t like their job or company, they think they are always treated unfairly or that their bosses are idiots, and they believe that the company is in terminal decline. Most organisations have someone like this, and as a manager you could minimise their impact on you by placing them out of earshot. However, this is hardly fair on your colleagues, or on the unfortunate employee who is probably not going to fulfil their potential if the problem is not addressed.

Sometimes people who are normally positive become negative, and sometimes their reasons for negativity may be entirely reasonable and understandable. The employee must therefore be made aware that they are perceived as being unduly pessimistic, and the manager should then investigate the reasons behind this. The negativity could be a symptom of bullying at work, a problem at home, or a problem at work that the company can help to solve or alleviate. Follow these steps:

  • Listen to your employee until you are certain that they feel they have been heard and understood. Sometimes people repeat negative sentiments over and over again because they don’t feel they have really been listened to. So ask questions. Clarify statements. Make sure that you have actively listened. People work for people, not companies, and people need to communicate effectively to ensure that their voices are being heard and their concerns addressed
  • Decide if you believe they have legitimate reasons for their negativity – if you decide in the affirmative, ask if they’d like your help to solve the problem
  • If they ask for help, provide advice or ideas for how they can address the reason for their negativity
  • If the reasons involve other staff and their attitudes, do not try to solve the problem without consulting HR, your superior, or an outside specialist in order to ensure you don’t make the problem worse
  • Short-term advice that points a person in a positive direction is welcome – but your role is not to provide therapy or counselling. Nor is your role to provide comprehensive career advice or long-term recommendations. Point them towards helpful books, seminars, or the HR department to solve their problem
  • If you decide that their concerns are not legitimate, practice personal courage and tell them what you think and why. Tell them you care about their concerns and about their happiness at work, but you disagree with their assessment of the current situation. It may be, for example, that they are letting an old personal slight sour their current experience
  • If all else fails, talk to your own supervisor or HR about the challenges you are experiencing in dealing with the negative person
  • Persistent and unjustified negativity that impacts on the whole office is a work behaviour that may require disciplinary action

To retain your staff, a favourable salary will always play a part but a range of benefits including a fair bonus scheme or profit share, flexi-time, corporate days out, and tailored training can be of equal benefit. Transparency with the true objectives and success of the business, and involving employees in key decisions, will also create a sense of wellbeing. This will lead to personnel becoming motivated to deliver great work, which will lead to a high retention rate, increased revenue, and overall business success.

For business owners, managers, and heads of departments – nothing is better than having a motivated, engaged, and happy workforce in place that is unified in its focus on the company’s performance. Hiring top-quality individuals is a difficult task on its own, but it is worth bearing in mind that hiring does not end when the candidate has accepted the position. A positive culture and environment, coupled with credible benefits, must be in situ so that employees will have good reasons to remain with your company, so that growth can continue. It’s impossible to hold on to all your best people, but you can certainly minimise the loss with a well-nurtured hiring and retention plan in place.