Why Employees Stay: Top Companies Share Their Secrets
By: Scott Cawood Date: July 31 2006
When high-performing employees leave an organization, leaders tend to ask, "Why are you leaving?" What they don't do enough of is ask those who stay, "Why are you staying?" It's important to know why your top contributors have been able to be top contributors in your workplace so you can replicate that experience throughout the organization.
We took a close look at a dozen "best companies to work for" to determine why employees stay. We found these organizations that have created workplaces where employees are happy, loyal, and want to stay—giving their best effort to drive profits forward—share seven secrets:
1. Accessible leaders. Change flows from the top down, so it's vital that the top be visible and a part of everyday business. This isn't to say that leaders can personally get to know every person in their organizations, but they can set the tone of open communication and accessibility—sending the message that they value every person as an individual and that their doors are always open.
At software company SAS, founder Jim Goodnight still takes an active part in developing code and maintaining software applications. He often walks through the halls, offering to help employees with bugs they've found or code that isn't working quit right. How many software industry CEOs are that aligned with the employee experience?
2. The fairness principle. It's a basic human need to feel that we've been treated fairly. When employees believe they've been treated unfairly, they have prime cause to disconnect from their organization and, in the end, to leave it. In the meantime, they can retaliate in all sorts of ways. They take things—and not just things from the supply closet. They withhold ideas, perspectives, service, communication, and their best performance. That withholding costs the organization at every level.
Low-cost airline Jet Blue has followed a unique fairness principle by eliminating the word 'employee.' Everyone is considered a crew member, from customer-service crew members to technical operations and in-flight crew members.
Product innovator W.L. Gore has removed the traditional role of supervisor, providing instead sponsors who serve as coaches, not bosses. Their role is to make sure employees maximize their contributions. Compensation is based on team members' assessments of each person's business contribution.
3. Letting go of the 'stagnant quo.' Organizations where people want to stay are quick to let go of the stagnant quo. What is the stagnant quo? A system that everyone knows isn't working yet is still in place because 'that's how we do business.' In organizations that have broken the stagnant quo, employees speak up and ask questions freely—without the fear of 'looking stupid.'
4. Human beings, not human doings. Winning organizations are helping their people be 'human beings,' rather than feel like 'human doings.' SAS offers a work-life center with programs that address the issues its people are most concerned about, from raising children to taking care of aging parents. SAS leaders believe that if employees get the help they need with the issues they face, they'll be less burdened and more productive on the job.
To encourage a balance between home life and work life, Perkins Cole, the largest law practice in the Pacific Northwest, lets its employees determine how much time they want to work. Associates guarantee the number of hours they'll work in a year, and if they work over the designated amount, they're rewarded with a bonus. It's an extraordinary shift from the business model of 'billable hours' to one of personal choice.
5. Fun, fun, fun. People-centric organizations know how to have fun. In fact, they consider humor a core value. At East Alabama Medical Center, laughter is essential. While not making light of the critical work they do each day, the people of EMIC like to have a good time. In an effort to get employees enthused about a visit from the Joint Commission, health care's accrediting body, CEO Terry Anders staged a Wheel of Fortune event. Dressed up as show hostess Vanna White, he walked through the entire organization, quizzing employees on likely questions from the Joint Commission. Not only was it entertaining—but how could anyone forget the answers after seeing Terry in an evening gown?
6. The purpose-driven job. In today's information age, we're surrounded by stimulation, yet most of us are still starved for some sense of meaning or purpose. People say over and over that what matters most to them in the workplace isn't money. It's meaning. Pay and benefits alone aren't enough to motivate even the best employee—much less your under performers. All employees want to feel good about themselves, the work they're doing, and the organization they're working for. Whatever your product or service, helping people find meaning in what they're doing is essential to giving them a sense of lasting connection to the company and to each other.
At leading educational loan company Salle Mae, employees are inspired by the end product of their work. According to Senior Vice President Joni Reich, making higher education possible for millions of Americans is a mission with meaning—and one, employees naturally want to be a part of.
Medtronic, a leading medical device company that builds heart valves and other life-saving devices, invites people who use their products to come in and talk about the difference these products have made in their quality of life. The stories are often touching and inspire employees to give more in their work.
At global manufacturer SC Johnson, everyone—from CEO to line worker—feels the need to leave a legacy. A legacy may be large or small. It may be that the line manager runs the best line possible or has reduced production time by a nanosecond. It could be making a distinct contribution to the culture. But it is indeed a legacy, and infuses every workday with purpose.
Meaning extends beyond individual jobs to opportunities to give back to the community or to the world at large. Timberland has made community service an integral part of its strategy and brand identity. Employees can take months off to volunteer for community projects, as long as their team will work extra hours to cover for them.
7. Living the connection. Top-performing organizations have succeeded in connecting people to the six business relationships we believe every company must nurture to function at its maximum capacity. The three primary relationships are company, supervisor, and colleagues; the three secondary relationships are job, career, and customers. If any of these relationships is unhealthy, the organization will pay in lost revenue and waning performance. Living the connection begins at orientation and extends throughout the employee experience.
In mastering these seven secrets, building the bottom line is a simple equation: Engaged People = Enriched Profits. Successful organizations are achieving unsurpassed employee and customer loyalty—and chart-topping growth—by putting people at the very heart of their drive toward business excellence. Their workplace is one where the full engagement and passion of each employee drives sustained profits, every hour of every day.