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Opinion: Executive involvement means everything in employee retention

During this ‘Great Resignation’ where workers are leaving jobs in droves and finding employees feels impossible, how do you make employees want to stay?

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The worker shortage has many companies fighting for employees with competitive salaries, good benefits and fun work environments. Once you get employees, how do you keep them?

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After months of a historically tight labor market and companies offering unprecedented benefits in an effort to lure workers, there are signs that the market is cooling. Unfortunately for companies needing hourly workers, the cooling is primarily happening at salaried levels. It’s not unusual during times of chronically low staffing for senior leadership to get involved in the hiring, onboarding, training and retention of hourly employees. This leads to a rash of trendy solutions like referral bonuses, probationary periods and the like. Right now, the solution that’s en vogue is the 90-day rule.

According to The Wall Street Journal, many executives and HR departments consider 90 days to be the magic threshold for retention. If an employee stays 90 days, they posit, they’ll stay at least a year.

To help get as many new hires to the 90-day mark as possible, companies are giving new emphasis to their onboarding and training programs. Some organizations have a buddy system, where they pair a new hire with a tenured peer. Others have frequent, mandatory check-ins between the new hires and their managers. Still others have assessments throughout the first three months to ensure the new hire is receiving the information, tools and support they need.

While some of these tactics will surely yield results, what we fail to acknowledge is that we’re likely to see great success in the short term, not because of the programs, but because of executive involvement in them.

It’s an old adage but a true one: what matters to the boss gets done. When an executive is focused on a specific initiative, execution instantly improves because employees know their work is being evaluated and they will be held accountable for the results. As execution increases, results improve. When results improve, the executive focus tends to move on to other things. The diminished focus means relaxed execution, and the cycle starts all over again.

To be sure, this increased emphasis on new hire success and retention is a great thing. It puts the spotlight on issues like deficient onboarding programs, poor training and lack of manager involvement while providing the focus and funding to fix them. The challenge for human resource managers is to find a way to sustain the results after the executive team has moved on to other initiatives.

Here’s how that can be done.

Create an evergreen awareness system: The key here is to keep key measures such as turnover in front of executives as a standard of course. For example, simply adding a small chart that shows current job openings, number of resignations, number of new hires and the average length of employment to a Monday morning meeting report can work wonders.

Solicit new hire feedback: Create a short, simple survey that is administered at the 30-, 60- and 90-day mark. This survey should ask the new hire to give feedback on their training, onboarding, peer support and manager support. Consistent use of such a survey will help new hires feel that their experience matters to their leaders and management will gain valuable feedback which they can use to improve the new hire experience.

Create a peer mentorship program: Placed every new hire with a veteran for the first six weeks of their employment. They should follow the veteran everywhere, observing and asking questions. This provides a safe place for them to be vulnerable, to ask questions without fear of reprisal and to start using their new skills knowing someone is by their side to make sure they don’t flounder.

Amid the difficulties of trying to attract and retain hourly workers lies a unique opportunity to make positive and lasting changes to talent management programs that will pay dividends for years to come. Wise HR leaders will take full advantage of the increased focus, budget and executive support to create organizations with high retention and even higher employee and customer satisfaction.

Heather Mellick is the owner and lead consultant at Webb Consulting Group LLC, a management consulting and executive coaching firm in Bountiful, Utah.