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4 ways to kick off the Great Retention

Instead of worrying about everyone's who quitting in the Great Resignation, get started with retaining who you have. Here are some tips from a chief people officer on better retention.

7 min read


4 ways to kick off the Great Retention

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We’ve all heard plenty about the Great Resignation, but why are we not paying attention to the employees who are staying? Gallup reports that 48% of employees are searching for new roles. That’s a huge loss, especially now.

These employees ushered their teams and businesses through the chaos of the past two years. Undoubtedly, they will take with them vital institutional knowledge and professional skills that they developed during a time of international crisis. What went wrong to make them leave their employers?

Employees are feeling disconnected on certain fronts. Let’s refine our strategy for asking our employees about that before they invite interviewers to do that work for us. Employees experience burnout, fatigue, restlessness and boredom in their roles. As their employers, if we don’t know how they’re feeling, we can’t fix it.

We have to mindfully keep our fingers on that pulse. It’s far more cost-effective for employers to retain employees than to go to the expense of recruiting someone. Protecting our institutional knowledge and growing talent internally are important tools for success.

How do we re-recruit our people and let them know they’re valued? Create a plan to retain your employees. Learn why they stay with your company by deploying a series of routine check-ins. Get feedback about what your company is doing right and wrong. Engage your staff members so that you know what they want and need. Sometimes, we get a blind spot around employee retention, as though there’s nothing we can do to avoid the next Great Resignation. There’s a lot we can do. Here’s how to get started.

The value of engagement

Engagement has become one of those buzzwords that we may read but not really internalize. Engaged employees are absorbed in their work; they earn more than their living from doing it. It motivates them on a deeper level. Their work gives engaged employees a sense of purpose, pride, connection and direction in life.

Engagement doesn’t happen accidentally. Part of it has to do with employee personalities, but it also has to do with the culture we create and the relationships that leaders orchestrate.

No doubt, it’s hard to remind ourselves to do that while also faced with the rigors of running a business, especially during the obstacle course of challenges leaders met over the last two years. We all have our natural blind spots, but we can’t afford to allow employee engagement to become one of them.

Stay interviews

An exit interview is a helpful tool to learn about a departing employee’s experience in an unfiltered way. Exit interviews are valuable, but it’s too late by the time we ask the employee for this input. They’re checked out, mentally and physically. By this point in their process, there is nothing we can do to recruit them back.

The stay interview, on the other hand, is a powerful retention tool to use regularly.

One reason employees hit the interview circuit is because they need new challenges, new responsibilities, new ways to use their skills and talents at work. I’m always interested in seeing that compensation doesn’t rate highly when fostering engagement. It’s a short-term fix. Employees are seeking opportunities to shine to feel ignited. They are eager to refine their talents, use new skills, work with new people. Employees are eager to grow at work.

Re-recruiting them gives us the chance to assess how their current role suits them. Then we can strategize about how we might enhance their role in the future — maybe through new opportunities in the department, stretch assignments, or promotions.  

A stay interview anchors a re-recruitment initiative, a core function of a retention strategy. We pose a series of questions without judgment and invite the employees to respond honestly. These are some samples:

  • If you could re-create your role at the company, how would you change it?
  • How would you describe our culture in one word?
  • What was your most recent win at work? How did you feel about it?
  • What was your most recent challenge at work? How did you think about it?
  • What skills would you like to use more in your role?
  • What are some elements of your job that you would like to do less of in the future?
  • Do you see yourself in a leadership role? What skills have you had the chance to develop since you started working here? What would you like to develop further?
  • Do you have a mentor? Have you been a mentor? What have you learned from this?
  • What do you love about your job?
  • What is most challenging about your job?

Pulse surveys

We can’t take engagement for granted. If we’re not hearing much from our staff, that doesn’t mean everything is OK. It means it may be time for a quick check-in. We’re all wired differently, and what each of us needs to feel engaged at work is different. These check-ins help us take a routine measure of how everyone is doing what the vibe is among our staff.

Pulse surveys give us a quick, easy tool to see how employees are handling daily demands and workloads. It also gives them the chance to share with management a sense of how we’re meeting staff needs. Our management team has used pulse surveys a lot in the last two years when life felt a bit out of sorts for all of us. This enables us to reach out and make sure that everyone feels dialed-in, healthy and engaged.

These are the kinds of questions we pose in a pulse survey:

  • How have you been feeling over the last week?
  • My manager checks in with me (the right amount/too much/too little)
  • How easy or difficult is it to work effectively these days? (difficult/in the middle/easy)
  • I have access to the information I need to stay healthy and well (agree/disagree) 

Development conversations

Inviting your staff to discuss their future with the company bolsters engagement. It feels rewarding to know that management sees their skills, values them, and plans to grow them.

We recognize that the people who work for us are talented professionals. They are hot prospects. We want them to have conversations about their future, and we want those conversations to be with us. There’s always been a bit of a taboo around this, as though it’s somehow disloyal to talk to your current employer about your dreams for the future.

For the sake of employee engagement, I suggest we challenge that and create a plan for talking with our staff about their hopes and dreams for the future, especially if we would like our company to be a part of that future.


Tammy Perkins is the chief people officer of PMI Worldwide, where she leads HR for PMI’s family of brands including Stanley and Aladdin. Prior to joining PMI, Perkins worked with major brands and startups including Amazon, Microsoft and Fjuri – leading HR and talent acquisition during periods of high growth and transformation. Find her on Twitter @TammyPerkinsHR and LinkedIn.

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