Low retention and high turnover is a nightmare scenario for just about every manager – and employer. In fact, most companies will go to great (and sometimes even surprising) lengths to tip the scales in the other direction. Take the tech industry, for example. When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, the nation’s top technology companies are seemingly at war with each other over who can offer the best, and most lavish, perks.

This mindset has led to a veritable arms race, and a kind of one-upmanship that has seen companies race to do everything from hiring 5-star chefs and building nap rooms to offering free massages and house cleanings. You name it, and Google is probably already offering it to employees.

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, companies are seemingly at war with each other over who can offer the best perks.

Of course, while offering beer pong tables or on-site barber shops may improve office morale over the short term, we all know that true retention goes a little bit deeper than employee hair care.

Certainly, employee-friendly benefits like unlimited vacation can and do have a real impact on workplace culture, but when it comes to their jobs, what people really care about is meaning.

According to a new study on talent retention by Great Place to Work, what separates top workplaces from the rest is their ability to imbue employees with the belief that there’s real meaning behind the work that they do on a daily basis. People who define their work as “not just a job” tend to be happier and are less likely to leave their jobs. Fortunately, there are many ways in which companies can inspire that feeling in their employees and see much higher retention as a result.

1. Make Your Mission Clear

The bottom line is: To make your employees happy, context matters. Across the board, people are much less likely to find a sense of purpose in their work if they don’t trust the company (and the people) they work for, the overall mission, or its motives.

So the first thing that you can do to improve talent retention is to clearly articulate your mission. Even if you’re a paperclip manufacturer, try to define the impact your company has – on an industry, on a group of people, on the world, or even just on paperclips. Give your products – what you make, and the work that your employees do on a daily basis – some context. 

It will be extremely difficult to inspire loyalty without giving your employees a sense of how they are having an impact.

This isn’t just an exercise in pandering to Millennials or an attempt to force every company to re-write its mission statement in an aggrandizing (or disingenuous) way that makes the company sound like a foundation dedicated to eliminating world hunger. The fact of the matter is that it will be extremely difficult to inspire loyalty without giving your employees a sense of how the hours they dedicate to your company are having an impact, both on the company itself and on the bigger picture.

The importance of clearly articulating your mission applies not only to your company at large, but also to the role of individuals as well. Employees want to know how their roles fit into the broader mission of the organization, and that of the teams they work in every day.

Companies and managers who can clearly articulate and define the purpose (and goals) of a particular job, and draw out the connection between that individual and the group are much more likely to see happier employees, and that means increased retention.

2. Show Them Your Customers

Another great way to highlight the relationship between the work that your employees do every day and the final product, or the overall picture, is to showcase your customer. As the Great Place to Work report notes, most employees within your organization have limited interaction with your actual customers. By giving workers a better idea of the ways in which your product or service is influencing or improving customers’ lives, you give your employees a greater sense of ownership and purpose. 

Giving workers a better idea of how your product or service is improving customers’ lives provides a greater sense of ownership and purpose.

According to Great Place to Work, simple ways to connect employees with customers include launching internal communications campaigns, incorporating customer feedback and stories into their corporate communications, site visits to retail stores, satellite offices or plants, and bringing customers or partners into the workplace to talk about their experience with the product.

3. Build a Community

One great way to increase employee retention within your organization is to create a better sense of community in the workplace. Great Place to Work’s research found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, a common quality among “great” workplaces is employees’ belief that they’re part of a family or real community.

That’s because work isn’t always easy. When facing a challenge, employees want to feel like they can fall back on trusted relationships and that handling the challenge is a team effort.

4. Help Employees Give Back

A great way to engender this sense of community and to help employees feel good about where they work is to commit your organization to some sort of volunteer work or philanthropy. Organizing company-wide volunteer initiatives or encouraging employees to take time off to clean cages at the local animal shelter will work wonders for your company morale. Employees who feel they’re able to make meaningful contributions not only to their company, but to the community and world around, are happier people and far more likely to stick around. 

People who believe they work for bosses or leaders that actively seek out their opinion are much more likely to be happy.

5. Give Them a Voice

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly: People who believe they work for bosses or leaders that actively seek out their opinion and manage workers more democratically are, you guessed it, much more likely to be happy. Avoid taking a top-down approach to management, or making your employees feel like it’s your way or the ole highway.

Companies that encourage a management style that prioritizes connecting with employees – meaning that you actually get out there and hobnob with the masses – have the highest retention rates. The more opportunities you give employees to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas, and make them believe those voices and opinions have a real influence on the way the company is run, the better.

If you do that, not even the likes of Google’s 5-star chefs and Facebook’s barbershops will be able to tear your employees away from your company.

About the author

Rip Empson

Rip Empson

Before a stint at a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, Rip spent four years as a staff writer at TechCrunch, researching and reporting on technology news and the exciting array of startups, entrepreneurs and technologies that are reshaping our world. He also loves The Boston Red Sox, drinks too much coffee, and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.

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