How do you keep employees from jumping ship – especially when yours is a smaller enterprise, and the competition is dangling increases in salary and benefits that you simply can’t match?

Smaller organisations can compete effectively if they take a focused approach, and find creative ways to meet – and even exceed – their employees’ needs and expectations. In addition to getting creative, ensuring your efforts align with what your employees actually value is crucial, as is communicating clearly (and consistently) about the initiatives you’ve implemented.

Make job flexibility your superpower 

One of the most significant changes employers are facing is the demand for increased job flexibility from workers of all disciplines and professions.

“Flexibility” means different things to different people. Knowledge workers are continuing to express a decided preference for working at home, at least part of the time. Some are also seeking location-agnostic roles, as they trade city dwellings for new locales in small towns and suburbs.

For others, including site-specific industrial and construction roles, flexibility means implementing flextime, providing people to ability to select hours and days worked, and even work based on outcomes, not hours.

A recent study in the United Kingdom found that introducing flexible working for construction workers increased the number of workers who felt they had enough time to look after their health and wellbeing from 48% to 84% – a huge increase. The study also found that overtime work decreased, and that trust between team members rose.

Another trend that is gaining momentum is the 4-day workweek, which is proving to deliver remarkable results for the organisations that have tested shorter workweeks.

According to a study by the University of Reading’s Heney Business School titled, “Four Better or Four Worse?” Half of UK businesses surveyed reported they have enabled a four-day working week for either some or all of their staff, and reported they are reaping rewards, including increased employee satisfaction, improved productivity, reduction in employee sick leave, and a resulting savings of almost £92 billion (around 2% of total turnover) each year as a result of improved operational efficiency.

Flexible options are extremely popular with employees, to the point that people are making decisions to leave employers who are unable or unwilling to offer employees any flexibility related to when and where they work. Making flexibility your organisation’s superpower could be a boon to both your retention strategy as well as making the firm more attractive to potential employees.

Ensure your managers are not compelling people to leave

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. So goes a common adage about why employees leave. However, there’s more to it than this simple statement suggests. In 2019, a comprehensive study by the Society of Human Resources Professionals found that 58% of employees who left their jobs cited their managers as the primary reason for their departure. However, the study also found that employees also strongly connect the company culture to their managers.

“Toxic workplaces—where employees dread going to work, don’t feel they can be honest with their manager, and may witness or experience sexual harassment or age discrimination—are a primary reason workers quit their jobs. They often hold the managers in their workplaces responsible for creating the toxicity,” wrote Beth Mirza in the SHRM article, “Toxic Workplace Cultures Hurt Workers and Company Profits.”

Ensuring your managers aren’t compelling employees to leave is a key component to limiting employee turnover.

In addition to issues related to inclusion, fairness, and culture toxicity, employee burnout is another preventable driver of employee turnover – and managers could be unwittingly driving employees to leave.

Asking employees questions about their work and the team dynamics they’ve observed can bring previously hidden issues into sharp focus. Here are some examples:

  • Are you able to maintain consistent boundaries between your workday and personal time? This is especially important for employees working remotely, as many have reported working more hours when they work from home. Allowing work to spill over into personal time is a surefire way to frustrate people, and may even lead to burnout (and their subsequent departure.)
  • Is your workload manageable? An impossible workload is a leading cause of burnout. Employees faced with tasks they feel are impossible can become hopeless and less motivated.
  • Does your manager treat people fairly and equitably? The perception of unfair treatment can lead to feelings of frustration and can pose other risks for the organisation, as well as leading to burnout if a manager is playing favorites or distributing work unequally,

To quickly find out if leaders within your organisation are compelling people to leave, use our Leadership Perception Gap survey in conjunction with our comprehensive Benchmark Assessment employee engagement survey. Taken together, these surveys provide leaders with a clear view of which teams are thriving, and where leaders are struggling. And if you need help coaching struggling leaders, our ebook “The 7 Qualities Leaders Need for Post-Covid Success” provides guidance and tools to improve leaders’ self-awareness and soft skills.

Get serious about growth opportunities for employees & hiring internally

One challenge smaller enterprises face is the comparative lack of growth opportunities for strong performers. It’s not uncommon to lose motivated employees who were otherwise happy simply because there was no opportunity for upward growth. However, smaller organisations can create opportunities for development within their own ranks, providing valuable experience for employees, whilst also building up the company’s bench strength.

Two ways to do this include:

  • Project leadership: Invite talented employees to lead cross-functional project teams. Placing them into business sponsor roles, for example, will provide unparalleled visibility into the organisation’s project processes and enable the employee to build their project management skills.
  • Leadership development: Consider creating a leadership development plan that includes putting high performers into different roles across the organization. Even better, rotate them through different departments. You’ll present them with new challenges, increase their agility and adaptability, and hone their skills as leaders.

Cross-functional opportunities can be incredibly beneficial to all concerned. Both employer and employees benefit when people find new strengths and hone their unique abilities. Similarly, the impact of “cross-pollination” across the organisation can be profound: as employees develop new relationships and a deeper understanding of the business, they will spread new ideas and perspectives across the organisation.

Exposing different employees to a variety of managers can also help those leaders become less biased, enabling the company to more strongly supports its diversity and inclusion goals, and expanding the pool of candidates hiring managers will consider.

Talk about it, communicate it, make it all visible 

These are a few of the actions an organisation can take to immediately make tangible differences employees will appreciate and value, thus removing hot-button issues that motivate people to leave.

However, no matter how well your organisation executes against these ideas and others like them, all will fail if employees aren’t aware of the opportunities you’ve created and the efforts you’ve made on their behalf. As you craft your plans, be sure to include ongoing communication elements. Investing time in creating visuals and messaging for the programs you develop and the benchmarks you establish will enable you to reinforce the messaging for employees, as well as to strengthen your pitch to job candidates, as well.