Is employee retention the right measure?

Employee retention

While many leaders are incentivised to ensure a certain level of employee retention, an over-focus on employee retention alone is a risk. Indeed, focussing solely on reducing employee attrition could miss a more important point.

When companies over-focus on ‘keeping someone’, the first port of call is often to offer a pay rise, yet this is not always an effective way to retain talent. When a pay rise doesn’t have an  impact on monthly income and lifestyle, then employees prefer culture and other company perks.

Indeed, the authors of Radical Candor reinforce the importance of letting people go when the time is right – both for business performance and individual wellbeing.

When discussing letting someone go, Radical Candor’s Kim Scott explained:

“One thing that I have found really helpful is to go into the conversation with a sense of compassion — to think about a job that I’ve sucked at, to think about a job that I’ve hated, and what a relief it was not to be doing that job anymore.”


Accept that most employees will move on eventually

Increasingly leaders recognise that, since the vast majority of employees will eventually move on, the focus needs to be on helping people be their best whilst they’re with your organisation and have a good experience working for you.

In professional services, employees are often doing project-based work which means that there are regular opportunities to help employees think about their next move in the organisation.

This working style lends itself to the ‘Tours of Duty’ approach, championed by LinkedIn in Silicon Valley. Proponents of this approach recommend taking a more deliberate approach to each project (or ‘tour’) to form a mutual, time-bound contract between the employer and the employee.


But some will return…

Boomerang employees (ones who leave and then return to an organisation) are a rising trend.

40% of employees would consider rejoining an organisation that they have left.

Often, the presence of boomerangs signal a strong internal culture. If an employee had a good experience when working and eventually leaving an organisation, they may feel inspired to re-join at a later stage.

One of the perks of rehiring a former employee is that both parties understand what they’re getting into. The employee will already know many of the ins and outs of the company culture and everyday practices, which will make onboarding much easier. Boomerang employees often return with a fresh perspective on the company, its culture, practices and market positioning. Some may also return with enhanced external networks and competitor insights.

With employee tenure decreasing from decades to just a couple of years, boomerang employees are likely to become more common. Almost half of Millennials will consider returning to a former employer.

Boomerang employees offer a way for professional services firms to address the rising skills and knowledge gap in the sector.


Boomerangs in action


Credit Suisse Group AG created the Credit Suisse Alumni Network to allow it to remain in contact with employees who had left. The network enables Credit Suisse to recruit former employees or get referrals, as well as share available jobs that network members can spread via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and email.

The network also allows the company to spot new business opportunities through ex-employees who have moved to potential client firms – giving the bank an edge over others that are pitching.


Booz Allen Hamilton also uses an alumni network to remain in touch with former employees and offer them a way to boomerang if the opportunity arises. The returning talent pool has allowed the firm to re-enter some international markets and new sectors.

Managing your alumni well, either through formal networks or a regular means of communication, is the first step in encouraging ex-employees to return to your firm. Fostering a good working culture is another critical component to attracting boomerang employees.


What other measures are good indicators?

Leaders need to continually challenge employees and create opportunities for them to make meaningful contributions, develop themselves, solve problems and have fun.

In doing so, employee retention is likely to increase and when they do leave, they are more likely to be positive advocates of your company and potentially encourage new talent to consider applying.

Developing the skills of your employees can vastly pay-off in productivity terms. A recent study found that high performing (highly skilled) employees in information and interaction-heavy roles are 800% more productive than their peers.

Many organisations measure employee engagement as a way to gauge how employees are feeling about work. Culture Amp and Office Vibe are examples of popular tools for measuring employee engagement.

At OC&C Strategy Consultants, a weekly ‘happiness survey’ helps the leadership understand how employees are feeling about work on a regular basis. The project teams that ‘rank’ the lowest in terms of employee engagement are supported to see where improvements can be made.

The happiness survey is used alongside other data, such as actual hours worked, how well late nights have been anticipated and project resource overruns, to support and nudge project management in-flight. On a quarterly basis, upwards feedback is anonymously collected to not just measure how well run the projects are but how engaging the experience has been for all staff.


For more insights on how to retain junior talent in professional services, click here.



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