Retaining the Best Talent

Bonnie Milne, PhD

Bonnie Milne, PhD

This blog post was written in response to the May 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “What will it take to retain the best talent over the next 5 years?”

When one works internationally for a local employer, retention is a big issue, for both the employee and the employer. In the UAE, all expatriate workers have working visas which are not transferable, so it isn’t just a case of finding another job, giving notice and transferring one’s visa. In some organizations, there is a six month notice period. Most employers do not hire six months in advance, so many employees resign without another job in sight.

Resigning is serious business. It means preparing to relocate to another country, which means shipping or selling artwork, clothing, sporting gear, selling one’s vehicle, and finding new homes for pets or organizing their transport to another country.

So, one could say that the deck is stacked in favour of the employers. Most of us work out our contracts in our case are for three years.

Having said that, this year a number of my colleagues have given their six month notice and are preparing to leave. Those I interviewed are leaving mid-contract and, so far, none have firm job offers. They are leaving to leave, not to go to a new job. I consider every one of these colleagues to be excellent, dedicated workers – people I would like to see stay.

When I asked what it would take to keep them here they responded:
• an improvement the air quality in our community (we have a number of cement plants spewing dust into the air and the rate of asthma here is very high)
• better educational options for children
• more promotional opportunities
• personal days off
• family events organized by the employer
• better medical coverage
• an opportunity to develop expertise in one area and apply it rather than constantly switching and learning new things

My initial thought was that the community issues, like the air quality and the availability of educational opportunities might be unique to this area and not of much interest to those of you who reside in North America or Europe. But I’m not so sure that this is correct. I think organizations have a duty to the communities in which they operate and that duty could include monitoring air quality and contributing to schools to make sure that they are able to maintain high educational standards. Perhaps Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which often falls under the auspices of HR, could focus on things that are vital, like air quality and education, which in long run affect everyone. I wonder if CSR programs like this, in any organization, might energize employees.

According to Cummins, ‘engaging employees in community problem-solving helps us attract, retain and develop employees. We set an expectation for community service at all levels of the Company.’

My colleagues mentioned that they wanted an opportunity to excel in their work, to develop expertise and use it. They felt that this would make it possible for them to contribute to the organization and would increase their commitment. More importantly, they wanted to do a good job and they felt they were hindered when they had to move into new areas before they were comfortable with their current area.

Doing a good job and being engaged, go hand in hand so It would seem that increasing engagement in employees would also increase retention. A recent study in Europe and Britain identified the top five drivers of engagement as: career opportunities, organizational reputation, pay, work processes and innovation.

Latin America has the highest engagement score at 74 per cent so I decided to see what companies in Latin America are doing. I went to the Best Companies to Work for site (this group has been in existence for 20 years!).  One of the things that caught my eye was that statement that ‘Great workplaces usually perform better on the public markets, attract more job applicants, retain more employees, and suffer less theft.’

So what do these Latin American companies that are rated the best, do to retain their employees? What stands out for me is that they provide a lot of training for their employees – an average of 61 hours per employee per year and they promote /hire women into senior management roles – 31% of their senior managers are women. (In Canada women hold 22.9% of senior management roles)

HR leaders have many avenues to take if they want to increase the retention of their best employees. They can look at their organization’s contribution in the community. What changes are needed for their employees to ‘settle in’ and feel comfortable in the community? Increasing their awareness of the obstacles employees face in their children’s education and their family’s health could provide opportunities for the organization to contribute to the community and it is fair to surmise that this involvement would increase employee engagement.

HR leaders can also look at training opportunities, keeping in mind, that once employees gain new skills and expertise, they want to apply the skills and use the expertise. They want to do a good job and this is possible when they have time to develop their strengths.

As well, many employees want to move up in the organization. Top performers are seldom happy to stay in one position for long. It could be that more women in senior roles will also increase retention. This is something I will continue to think about.

Related Pages:

What Will it Take to Retain the Best Tlent Over the Next Five Years? by Joanne Kondo, CHRP

Planning and Communication are the Keys to Retention by Christine Ramage, CHRP

The Magic Bullet by Nicole Davidson

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