Employee Retention:

How to Make Sure High Performers Stick Around

Why is employee retention important? Employee retention is one KEY to patient satisfaction and positive financial outcomes. Employee retention starts with employee engagement. Over the last decade, billions of dollars and millions of hours have been invested by organizations across the country to foster greater employee engagement, yet employee retention is on a downward spiral. Why? Because we’ve been missing a key piece of the engagement puzzle: the employees!

How do you improve employee retention?
It Takes 3™ to create sustainable engagement. The 3 elements I’m referring to are:

  • An organization that deliberately and consistently supports employee engagement & retention at the strategic level;
  • Leaders who regularly drive engagement at the tactical level;
  • Individuals who are accountable for engagement at a personal level.

What’s missing in most employee retention discussions is the individual employee’s personal responsibility for his or her own engagement.

For years, experts and healthcare leaders have focused on the first two areas and their role in engagement. Until recently, there was very little focus on employees taking responsibility for their own engagement. Consider the typical employee engagement survey questions. Are they focused equally on the employee’s role in creating engagement for themselves? Usually not. (And they should be.)

Unfortunately, healthcare organizations and their leaders have been misguided to believe that it’s their job, and theirs alone, to engage employees. That’s not the case. As a leader, you are indeed a powerful influencer of engagement. Your organization must be committed to creating a culture of engagement as well – and this will directly impact employee retention. Yet no matter how supportive the organization is and how engaging a leader you are, you will never be able to engage an employee who doesn’t want to be engaged.

When team members accept responsibility for their own engagement, we can achieve sustainable results – including positive employee retention statistics.

This is powerful, and it’s time we acknowledged that truth. In the It Takes 3 model, engagement is represented by the point in the center where the organization, leader and employee circles all overlap. The organization and leaders are purposefully shown on the bottom because these two are foundational and they support engagement. All three circles are the same size to show that all three elements are equally responsible for employee engagement and employee retention. In addition, there’s give and take between each component (Organization to Leaders; Leaders to Individuals; and, Organization to Individuals).

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How do you keep employees from leaving?

Let’s look at the three elements in this employee retention strategy in more detail:

  1. An optimized organization that deliberately and consistently supports engagement at the strategic level. You may be thinking this is obvious. I agree. Yet when I talk with organization leaders across the country and ask them about their strategic initiatives regarding employee retention and engagement, I get “umms” and “ahhs.” These leaders are not able to clearly articulate their organization’s strategies that focus on employee retention and engagement. If they can’t articulate them, they probably aren’t being consistently implemented or measured. (Some organizations do actively track employee turnover, which is one way to view employee retention.) Can your leadership group identify your organization’s strategic initiatives concerning employee retention and engagement?Organizations that are successful in creating a culture of retention and engagement have a strong and compelling mission/vision that drives behavior. Not long ago, I was with a group of leaders who weren’t able to convey their organization’s mission without referring to it in writing. The mission was about six sentences long – no wonder they couldn’t articulate it. It wasn’t compelling – in fact, it was confusing. What is your mission? Does it compel employees to be engaged and connect to why they took the job in the first place? Does it positively impact employee retention?From a strategic perspective, other important elements of sustainable engagement include fair compensation and benefits and working in a safe environment (physically and psychologically). In addition, open and honest communication from executive and frontline leaders is the foundation for employees to feel a positive connection to work. The final element of an optimized organization is the opportunity for growth and development. These are all must-haves at the organizational level for sustainable employee engagement and employee retention. (In its how-to series, the Wall Street Journal tackles the subject in this article: “Employee Retention – How to Retain Employees.”)
  2. Leaders who regularly drive engagement at the tactical level. When it comes to engagement, a leader’s primary job is to “grease the wheels” for team member engagement and help them develop accountability for their own engagement. But distractions abound that pull leaders away from a focus on engagement and employee retention. This is a problem that is evidenced over time through unwanted turnover, poor employee retention rates, employee complaints and low morale. Leaders who embrace employee engagement as a key priority will meet their goals faster and more productively.Engaging leaders regularly measure and monitor employee engagement; they don’t wait for the annual survey to determine levels of engagement. In addition, they work to create positive connections with each member of their team through one-on-one meetings, daily rounding with staff, impromptu gatherings and interactive team meetings. These leaders also purposefully focus on the positive actions and outcomes of staff and celebrate their success. These actions directly and positively impact employee retention.Effective leaders are not afraid to call a challenge a challenge and seek to minimize the challenges that are within their control. I often see leaders try to put a positive spin on big changes, but employees just don’t buy in. Transformational leaders understand the ramifications of these changes and are open and honest about the work it will take to move forward together, as a team. (Again, this impacts employee retention.)
  3. Individuals who are accountable for engagement at a personal level. It’s not enough to focus only on the organization’s and leaders’ roles in creating engagement. Each individual must own engagement at a personal level. Without question, external factors (such as the culture of the organization, pay and benefits, the team leader’s support, etc.) play a key role in employee retention and engagement. However, ultimately, engagement is an internal issue. Each of us decides to be engaged or disengaged, energized or apathetic. It’s not something that someone does to us. It’s a choice each of us makes every day. All three elements are necessary.Modern Survey, in the State of Engagement report for U.S. employees shared some employee retention statistics. Here’s one of my favorites: “17% of employees hold themselves primarily accountable for being engaged on the job.” In addition, 39% of respondents said that a combination of direct managers, senior leaders and employees are equally responsible. That’s over half of employees. When I ask at team meetings, the majority usually responds that they as individuals are responsible.

This tells me that some employees are open to and accepting of the idea that being engaged is their responsibility and that sometimes it’s probably just easier to blame leadership or to want someone else to take responsibility. The bottom line is that you have to have the discussion or you won’t know. You need to ask and listen to see what your team thinks because that’s the team that matters to you. As leaders, we have an opportunity to shift beliefs and mindsets when we facilitate a discussion that creates the awareness that It Takes 3 for engagement and, ultimately, employee retention. In the end, everyone benefits when individuals “own” their own engagement.

Recently, when talking with a very engaging leader about her daily rounding with team members, I asked her to share the questions she asks each employee. She told me she asks about how the person’s day is going, what resources he or she needs and what obstacles she can help remove. I suggested that she add this question to her rounding: “What are you doing today to feel positively connected to your job?” She loved the idea, and I bet her employees did, too. And I bet that her employee retention rates will continue to improve over time.

We have to stop promoting the idea that it’s someone else’s job to make folks happy at work. Instead, let’s promote shared responsibility for engagement and encourage team members to be accountable for their own engagement. I call this being the Chief Paradise Officer (CPO) of your job. People universally love this idea. After all, who doesn’t want to work in Professional Paradise™ and be a Chief Paradise Officer?

When team members decide to become the CPO of their job, they make conscious choices to be more engaged. They come to work with the intention of being satisfied, energized and productive. And, they support this intention with purposeful actions that drive positive outcomes, even on challenging days. I know you can picture your CPOs as I describe them. They are your high performers; they are in your succession plans. They are very valuable to your department and organization and you want them to stay. What if you had an entire team of CPOs? You’d never have to worry about employee retention again!

Doesn’t it make sense to have CPOs – the people who are focused and engaged, the most significant driver of organizational results?

When it comes to employee retention and engagement, our goal as leaders is to get every team member to commit to being the CPO of his or her job. Think about it … we have the CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO, CHRO and others, each focused on a specific area of the business. Imagine adding the Chief Paradise Officer title to everyone’s business card or name badge. As a leader, just imagine leading a team of Chief Paradise Officers – now that would be a good day at work!

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