5 ways to lay longer-term foundations for employee retention

Employee retention

Many leaders are thinking about how they can better engage and retain junior talent in their organisations.

While employee retention isn’t the only metric that matters, leaders are often required to ensure a certain level of employee retention to mitigate the impact on the bottom line.

In a previous article, we explored the steps that organisations can take to address high employee attrition fast.

In this article, we look at some of the longer term foundations that leaders should consider when building an organisation that people want to join and grow with.


1. Adopt an experimental mindset


There’s no silver bullet to improving employee retention, but adopting an ‘experimental’ approach or ‘lab’ mindset can help new initiatives to land:

“Employees want to be part of the innovation process just as much as business leaders want new solutions.”

Be open and transparent

Be open about the objectives of the programme and invite employees on the journey with you. This could be as simple as sharing highlights from surveys via email or inviting employees to join workshops to collaboratively tackle a question, hypothesis or problem.

Avoid change fatigue

Doing too much, too soon can be overwhelming for employees who have to keep up with the changes whilst dealing with their usual workload. Employees might end up enrolled in lots of different initiatives and projects and feel overwhelmed.

There are some practical ways to avoid this and to help make any initiatives more effective:

  • Before implementing company-wide, set up a focus group to test new tools and techniques.
  • Prioritise different initiatives based on how much impact they will have and how much investment/effort they require.
  • When implementing a new tool or approach, ensure everyone knows how to use it to its full and how it will benefit them. For a large roll-out, consider a dedicated internal communications plan.
  • Have clear KPIs and metrics in place to measure the success of any initiative over a month, 6 months and a year. Review the use of tools and different initiatives regularly to ensure they are still working well for your firm.



2. Establish a culture of honest ‘career conversations’


Having honest career conversations begins with your culture. Employees need to feel able to have open conversations about their career aspirations, in order for their managers and leaders to best motivate, support and, where appropriate, retain them.

There are 3 important elements to enable a culture of honest ‘career conversations’:

  1. Create a culture of openness – An honest career conversation can only happen when people feel confident that their honesty won’t be used against them or lead to penalisation. Easier said than done, but the alternative is people hiding their true aspirations and leaving the firm without it fully understanding why.
  2. Empower individuals – Give employees the tools to help them understand their strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. Enable them to come to each conversation with a good idea of what they want to cover and achieve.
  3. Train managers – Having an honest career conversation is different to day-to-day team leadership, so managers need the appropriate training to understand how to carry-out an effective discussion.

A great place to start is to draw inspiration from Moorhouse Talent Partner, Richard Goold, who recommends three key questions to ask employees:

  • Why did you choose to work here?
  • What do you want to get from your time here?
  • How can I help you?



3. Invest in development


Career advancement and learning is very important to junior team members – which offers a great opportunity for employers to engage them with development opportunities and improve their skills at the same time.

Encourage self-leadership skills earlier

Many organisations offer manager and leadership training which focuses heavily on self-leadership skills.Equipping junior talent with self-leadership skills from an early stage can help them to better navigate their personal growth and proactively contribute to your organisation.

Flex to meet different needs

Consider the different needs and learning styles of your workforce and provide a range of tools and options for them to use. Having an external career coach come in, or offering online coaching, will also help employees better understand their career development.

Encourage career coaching

Coaching helps to complement existing learning and development programmes, as well as annual appraisals and career conversations. Employees often report feeling more prepared and ‘plugged-in’ with the process because of coaching.

Consider your culture

In an organisation with a development culture people are more likely to take the opportunities available to them and actively seek out further options.

How to cultivate a development culture:

  • Have regular performance and career discussions.
  • Make a range of learning materials and options available – remember, there are informal learning sources such as TED Talks too.
  • Have dedicated space (both physical and time-wise) for learning.
  • Reward career development efforts. It doesn’t have to involve a bonus or be monetary, it could be a development leaderboard or stretch assignments.



4. Think creatively about careers


Encourage internal mobility

This is two-fold, both upwards and sideways. Always look internally first when hiring a senior-level position, as it proves to employees that they can progress their career at your company. Second, encourage lateral movements within your company if someone wants to take on a new challenge – this is much better than losing them to a competitor. Stretch assignments with different departments also help people build news skills within the firm.


Consider how someone might work flexibly

Most organisations adopt flexible working policies to enable greater autonomy in where, when and how employees work. At PwC it’s reported that 90% of employees incorporate some kind of flexibility into their schedules.

As we discussed in our article on ‘why junior talent leave professional services’, we explore how managing work around other life commitments is often a priority for junior talent. However, often, limitations are applied to more junior talent who are expected to do long hours on client site.

If there are opportunities to apply flexible working options to better retain junior talent, it can be an effective way of helping junior employees feel listened to and valued. There is likely to be a level of compromise here to both meet client and employee needs, therefore it all starts with an open, honest conversation.



5. Inspire people-based R&D


People-centric projects can help fulfil some of the development ambitions of juniors and offer new ways to develop skills.

Incubator H-farm has designed an internal culture that aims to help its employees explore, discover and innovate. Before, not all team members felt like they were using all of their talents and potential. Now, everyone has a say in important decision making and H-farm’s culture is defined on:

  • The levels of autonomy and responsibility given to the team members
  • The values that guide decision making
  • The behaviours that are rewarded

Under this new, more fluid structure, project teams needed some guidance on personal development. So, H-farm decided to introduce mentors and sponsors to help employees connect with the company culture and their professional growth path.

In H-farm’s R&D function, teams act as self-organising units that focus on self-proposed topics for an entire year. Everyone has an opportunity to suggest a project for consideration. If they can gain buy-in from two fellow team members and budget from an elected committee, then their project can go ahead. In this way, all employees can actively change what H-farm is doing and how they will do it.




In this article, we’ve explored some of the longer term foundations that leaders should consider when building an organisation where employees can thrive.

Understanding some of the trends around what junior talent want and what employees in your organisation want can be valuable when thinking about how to apply these approaches at different levels within your organisation.


If you’d value talking with one of the GroHappy team about employee retention and career development in your organisation, please get in touch here.


Header photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash.


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