Image of a chat bubble superimposed onto a laptop screen

If you have a ‘rock star’ employee, you can bet someone is trying to hire them out from under you. Here’s how to make sure your best folks stay satisfied where they are.

Is the Great Resignation over? Are people still “quiet quitting?” With recent layoffs dominating the news cycle, aren’t people more invested in keeping their stable jobs than ever before?

These are all valid questions with complicated answers. But one thing is certain: Job market volatility isn’t likely to die down any time soon.

Despite a summer of widespread layoffs in 2022, nearly 4.1 million Americans quit their jobs in September of last year. This trend has held steady—and has broken Bureau of Labor Statistics records—throughout the past two years.

Employees are evaluating their jobs and work environments through a post-pandemic lens. And guess what? They’re finding that their careers are lacking. Meanwhile, employers are scrambling for ways to decrease high turnover rates and ensure that their best employees stay happy right where they are.

Companies that are wondering how to retain employees long term need to start prioritizing employee retention strategies that address common pain points like company culture and employee engagement in order to boost employee satisfaction and stop this rapid turnover in its tracks.

What can execs and managers do? Here are some things to consider.

Strategies to build a world-class company culture

Your company’s culture plays a critical role in whether employees feel welcomed and valued by their company and peers. It also impacts employee mental health and wellness and—inevitably—employee turnover.

In fact, in a survey by Oxford Economics, 49% of respondents said they “would leave their jobs for a lower-paying job in exchange for a better organizational culture.” And that was before the pandemic.

So, how do you know whether you’re hitting the mark when it comes to cultivating a work-life balance and healthy culture in the workplace?

Be on the lookout for classic signs of an unhealthy corporate culture, such as gossip, office politics, low morale, and poorly defined company values (or values that leadership fails to exemplify).

Once you’ve identified any red flags, take these steps to nurture a healthier workplace.

1. Assess your current company culture

Before you can make headway on improving your company’s culture, you need a realistic idea of where things currently stand. Anonymous employee surveys are a great way to receive information directly from the source. Another option is to outsource the task to a consultant who can offer an unbiased perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of your company culture.

When assessing your culture, closely examine the following:

  • Workplace diversity. Are there diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives currently in place within the organization? Is a multitude of ethnicities, genders, and viewpoints represented by your workforce?
  • Professional development opportunities. Are there sufficient growth opportunities available within each department? Do employees have access to resources that allow them to hone existing skills or develop new ones?
  • Employee morale. How would you rank morale among your management team? Among frontline workers?
  • Value alignment. What are the core company values? Do they align with the reality of your current corporate culture?
  • Employees’ opinions of leadership. Is your leadership team walking the walk or just talking the talk? How much faith do employees have in upper management’s ability to steer the company?

Individually, these areas may not seem critical. However, they are all important contributors to the overarching goal of a healthy and thriving workplace culture.

2. Identify gaps you can fill to improve workplace culture

Once you’ve gathered your data, take a hard look at the areas of employee experience in which your corporate culture falls short. And identify how you might improve your culture based on your employees’ feedback.

Roll out changes based on prior survey input. Wait a few months after these changes go into effect, then survey employees again to see how they feel. The goal is to actively track your efforts to make sure that they are aligned with your team and headed in the direction of continuous improvement.

Remember that what workers value in company culture isn’t universal. International organizations should take special care to address the values and needs of employees across all the countries in which they operate (more tips on that here). Remember to meet your employees where they are and encourage them to play an active role in bettering the company culture.

Strategies to improve employee engagement

Personal fulfillment matters—a lot. It’s no surprise that employees who feel fulfilled at work are more engaged and more likely to stay with the company long term.

By aligning employees’ interests with the organization’s larger purpose, companies can better engage (and retain) their employees.

3. Use purpose archetypes to understand what drives employees

McKinsey claims companies can categorize employees into three primary purpose archetypes:

  • Achiever
  • Free Spirit
  • Caregiver

Each archetype has vastly different purpose activators (things that fulfill them) and purpose blockers (things that irritate them) within the workplace. By understanding which category employees most closely relate to, company leaders can gain a better sense of employees’ ideal communication methods, motivators, and fit for specific roles.

Charts describing the McKinsey personality types

Image Source: McKinsey & Company

Consider identifying purpose archetypes for existing employees and for new hires during the onboarding process by asking them a series of questions that match them with a particular archetype. Alternatively, you could present them with archetype descriptions and ask them to select the one they most identify with.

4. Match employees with work that aligns with their purpose

Once you know whether employees are “Achievers,” “Free Spirits,” or “Caregivers,” turn your eye to job compatibility.

Using a work management platform like Trello Enterprise, managers can utilize views to see the type of projects each employee spends their time on. These insights can help determine whether the tasks assigned to the employee align with the type of work their archetype typically finds most fulfilling. If there’s a disconnect, managers should meet with the employee to discuss how to reallocate their time or shift responsibilities to make their job a better fit.

Strategies to create positive manager-employee relationships

For many employees, the decision to stay with or leave a company boils down to the relationship they have with their manager. Bad managers drive even the best employees away. In fact, “uncaring and uninspiring leaders” was among McKinsey’s top three reasons employees quit jobs between April 2021 and April 2022.

On the flip side, good managers can help develop the future generation of leaders within the company. They undoubtedly have the potential to make employees better, but they can only do that if they’re given the guidance and tools they need to thrive in their roles.

5. Coach managers on soft skills

The term “soft skills” relates to skills that aren’t necessarily job-specific or technical in nature. Soft skills are often more personality-focused, involving social skills or character traits that are transferable regardless of industry.

While there are many soft skills that are valuable within the workplace, some of the most desirable soft skills for people in management roles include:

  • Empathy.The ability to understand and empathize with others is one of the most important traits a manager can have. Empathy strengthens relationship-building and enables managers to better understand, coach, and develop their direct reports.
  • Adaptability. Change is inevitable, and no one can predict what tomorrow brings. Good managers need to be flexible and demonstrate an ability to adapt to changes within the organization, whether those relate to shifts in their own responsibilities or the needs of their employees.
  • Creativity. Managers who can take a creative approach to problem-solving are better equipped to identify issues, provide fresh solutions, and guide their direct reports through challenges in the workplace—serving as both a resource and a companion.
  • Attention to detail. On any given day, managers are fielding questions and juggling a number of projects, meetings, and deadlines. Being organized and attentive to detail ensures that even the smallest items don’t fall through the cracks.

Managers should take the initiative to improve their new skills through training methods, such as direct mentorship, live workshops or roleplays, courses related to soft skill development, and peer learning.

Check out Atlassian’s Team Playbook for a treasure trove of free resources designed to help strengthen relationships, teams, and workflows.

6. Provide a roadmap for successful 1:1 communication

One-on-one meetings are exactly what they sound like—regular meetings between a manager and their direct report. They serve as a platform for open communication, allowing managers to answer questions, act as a resource, and offer solutions to any challenges employees may be facing.

These meetings are critical for strengthening the relationship between managers and their direct reports, but they can also be a source of anxiety—especially for new managers.

To avoid this, make sure to provide managers with a blueprint on how to approach 1:1 meetings. Include tips like:

  • Pick a frequency, date, and time (then stick with it). Start with weekly meetings and block off the same date/time each week to ensure consistency.
  • Although 1:1 conversations should be fluid by nature, always have a few talking points or action items prepared. You can use 1:1 templates as a guide on how to structure your meetings or set up a dedicated 1:1 board so employees can add questions prior to the meeting.
  • Lead with open-ended questions. Successful 1:1s require two-way communication! When possible, ask questions that are open ended to help get the conversation flowing and encourage employees to share on a deeper level.
  • Avoid status updates. While it can be tempting to use 1:1s as an opportunity to touch base on an outstanding project, that’s not their intended purpose. Focus on building a stronger personal connection with direct reports during 1:1s and opt to request status updates via email instead.

7. Equip managers with tools to simplify the management process

One of the best ways to help your managers succeed is by providing them with beneficial tools that improve the hard work of the management process. Implement a work management software like Trello Enterprise so managers can easily:

  • Delegate tasks
  • Get a bird’s-eye view of what everyone on the team is responsible for
  • Track project statuses without the need for micromanaging

These tools will also help managers spend less time chasing employees down for updates and offer more time for coaching, nurturing, and developing the next generation of top talent.

Strategies to define paths for growth

McKinsey research shows that “lack of career development and advancement” was the top reason employees left their jobs for new jobs in the past year—and that shouldn’t come as a surprise! Growth opportunities illustrate to employees that they haven’t hit the ceiling in their careers. These opportunities encourage team members to work toward specific milestones and help them envision a future within the organization.

Unfortunately, many companies struggle to create and appropriately communicate the growth opportunities available to employees. Here’s how you can better approach growth within your organization.

8. Define growth paths with job leveling

Lattice classifies job leveling as “a system HR [human resource] and People leaders use to define a job role, develop career pathways and internal mobility processes, and create clear levels or job hierarchies within an organization.”

By implementing a job-leveling structure, companies can define specific competency requirements for each role in their corporate hierarchy. From there, they’re able to communicate these requirements to all employees, so it’s clear what the employees need to do to proceed to the next level.

These guidelines can also minimize uncertainty around gender bias and unequal pay. If roles are tied to concrete obligations, employees have a solid foundation to argue for the compensation they deserve.

9. Track goal progression

Once the corporate hierarchy is clear, managers can use 1:1 boards to track each direct report’s progress on individual goals, as well as outline the steps needed for personal growth development. These boards make it easy for employees to see what specific tasks must be accomplished to achieve career path progression.

Strategies to embrace modern work models

Regardless of company preference, remote work is here to stay. The ability to work remotely full time (or in a hybrid situation) has quickly become a desirable perk for job hunters. As of this year, 26% of U.S. workers now work remotely; and by 2025, an expected 36.2 million American employees will be working remotely, according to Zippia research.

On the flip side, businesses that only offer in-office jobs are facing employee turnover. According to Gartner, 16% of employees say they’re willing to quit their jobs if they’re required to work completely on-site; and 8% say they’re willing to quit if they’re required to work even partially in-person.

Companies that embrace remote or hybrid setups have a better chance of not only retaining their current team members but also attracting new employees.

10. Prioritize flexibility and autonomy within the workplace

Flexibility in the workplace is quickly becoming one of the most valuable commodities. The traditional 9-to-5 workday is being slowly phased out as companies across the globe transition into hybrid or fully remote setups on a permanent basis.

To encourage this transition in your company, try defaulting to an asynchronous communication setup that accommodates flexible schedules and employees from different time zones. When it comes to hourly obligations, consider adopting a production-based model of compensation—one that clearly defines workload expectations but gives employees the freedom to autonomously set their working hours and schedule.

Worried about client communications or meetings? Choose a select number of hours where schedules must overlap with traditional working hours to schedule a meeting.

11. Connect employees virtually

It’s hard to beat good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations, but technology has come a long way in recent years. Video conferencing apps like Zoom and async communication platforms like Slack offer a variety of ways for companies to make meaningful, virtual interactions readily available to employees.

Help your employees connect by utilizing some of the following:

  • Set up virtual “watercooler chats” where employees are randomly paired together for quick, casual conversations.
  • Have Slack channels that are devoted to “fun” non-work topics, like pets or kids.
  • Hold virtual “office hours” with members of your leadership team to help employees feel connected.

By taking steps to regularly connect employees with their peers, companies can help ease burnout and instill a sense of belonging—something that inevitably leads to higher employee retention rates and greater job satisfaction.

12. Invest in company-wide work management software

It can be hard to keep things running smoothly when there are multiple people involved in projects and everyone is working from different locations. Regardless of whether employees work in-office or remotely, platforms like Trello make it easy to:

  • Keep employees and clients in the loop. Set up automated updates through Slack, Jira, email, or other connected apps to instantly notify interested parties when a project is completed or requires review.
  • Improve collaboration across departments. Employees can share files, log updates, and quickly add co-workers to cards for any projects that require collaboration.
  • Track project statuses. Card labels and boards make it easy to identify exactly what stage a project is in—without having to chase down the person in charge!
  • Improve workflow efficiency. Use Trello’s built-in automation tips or set up tailored no-code automations to eliminate manual, repetitive tasks and save your employees time.

It can be easy for projects to fall through the cracks when you’re juggling remote and in-office employees, but management tools like Trello Enterprise help get everyone on the same page and eliminate workflow challenges.

Remember that employee retention strategies don’t make things better overnight

Whether the “Great Resignation” is still in full swing or not, there’s no denying that focusing on effective employee retention strategies is crucial. However, it’s important to remember that retention requires iteration. It’s not enough to revamp your processes now and then do nothing for years. The needs of the workforce are constantly shifting, so employee retention requires constant evaluation of what’s working and what’s not.

Companies that commit themselves to prioritizing their employee retention strategies will not only find themselves better prepared to satisfy their current employees but also to attract and retain top talent for years to come.

12 employee retention strategies to keep top talent when you need them most