People Management

Ways to naturally retain people and fight off attrition

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Let’s get on the same page first. No one will stay in a company forever. There’s no point being an ass about it: people leave at some point and that’s that. Looking at it from the other end, you should’ve figured out by now that not everyone will become a leader or a manager and anyone (from CEO to receptionist) is replaceable in the end. As a company, if you’re 5-10% below the market’s average attrition, you’re doing more than OK  (and yes, you can be 10% below, if the industry’s average attrition in your country is 30% – see Northern Africa).

Despite common beliefs that exist out there, compensation has rarely been a way to retain people. It can be an attrition factor of course, because everyone’s got bills to pay. You don’t have to be the highest bidder, but if your company is paying below the market average, good employees will not stay in for long. If you are aligned with the market, a counteroffer will retain someone who’s ready to leave, for another few months at best. So yeah, an honest pay is important, but it’s not what keeps employees within a company.

Ok, we cleared that out. So, what could you do to have a lower average attrition?

Utilize skills and encourage the team to discover new ones. Nobody likes to be underutilized or do ‘dumb’ work. Nothing hurts more intelligent folks, than being asked to do work that is significantly below their IQ. People want to learn and feel like they are expanding their expertise. It may involve a risk every now and then, but at the end of the day, everybody aims to reach their level of incompetence.

Express your appreciation. You can read more about this, right here in a separate article. While appreciation can make people want to stay, lack of positive feedback or worse: a toxic environment, will definitely drive them away.

Respect people’s private time. Don’t overwork the existing staff and respect their working hours. There are good reasons, from a PM perspective, to prefer asking for overtime from the regular staff, rather than hiring someone new. That’s due to ramp-up time (from recruitment to getting familiar with the project) and as long as that overtime is voluntary, it’s fine. If it becomes a constant need, just bring in someone else – it might be more efficient, money wise. In the global context we work in, the time zone difference is affecting private schedule. We need to be cognizant of our co-workers’ regular hours and avoid adding them to meetings outside of those.

Learn to communicate and always keep an open door. Most people will not speak up when they are bothered by something, but if they see that your door is always open and whatever they tell you doesn’t fall on deaf ears, they will come to you. That allows you to be aware of risks before they become an issue.

Support your staff. Support can vary from encouragement or providing means and opportunities, to literally defending it, if needed. I’ve seen cases of employees trashed around for simple mistakes, in front of a customer. It doesn’t serve anyone. Teach people to fail fast.

Be aware of changes in one’s personal life. Getting a house, having a kid, these are big events that shift needs and priorities overnight. Simply stating you’ll have the same expectations is just bullsh*t. Be understanding of the situation, without discriminating others. Offer work from home where possible, flexibility, consider new benefits, but treat people equally, granting them the same rights.

Stop micromanaging immediately. It’s a toxic behaviour with various root causes. Intelligent people, experienced people love autonomy. There are situations when micromanagement may be needed, but those are few and specific.

Respect their current role/ status. Even if you were someone’s former team lead and that person has advanced to a team lead role, you’re on the same level now. If someone has shifted careers, respect that. Don’t treat people based on what they were, because they will go and build a new identity elsewhere.

As you’ve went through this list, you may have noticed that they are all part of what could be called a healthy organisational culture. It’s not something that emerges by itself, it has to be cultivated at every level. The bigger the boat, the more difficult it is to steer, so don’t let it become an issue or you will need some expensive captains to turn it around!

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