We all want to feel valued, and connecting on a personal level goes a long way toward building employee loyalty.

Share story

“We need people!” Another client calls for help filling positions. Her problem — employee retention — is a big concern for most employers.

“Why are my people leaving?” she asks. I respond with a flurry of questions: Have you asked them? Do you conduct exit interviews? More important, what are you doing to keep them?

It’s a common refrain heard ’round the Puget Sound: You hire a great candidate only to lose them after a couple of years. Let’s face it, there is a lot of competition in Seattle for talented workers right now. Turnover isn’t cheap — it can cost an estimated 1.5 to 2 times a person’s annual salary to hire a replacement.

That is a high price tag, and one that can be avoided by making sure your employees don’t walk out the door. Retaining your employees and paying them well rather than spending the money on recruiting someone new can be a much better strategy for your business.

Frequent turnover isn’t a new problem, but it is more apparent as it becomes more difficult to replace the people who leave. Every situation is different, but the workers’ impetus for leaving often extends beyond money. To hang onto them, there is no blanket solution or instant cure — it takes a little more time and interest to keep those great employees once you hire them.

People leave for a variety of reasons. The top motivators that we have encountered are money, recognition, career advancement, ability to learn new things, manager, culture, work/life balance, security and flexibility. Most cite a combination of factors.

And, boy, temptation lurks out there. With LinkedIn and other social media outlets, people are more visible in the market than ever before, and they have a lot more options. A candidate in our accounting practice told me he gets three to five recruiting emails per week. If one of your people is feeling unappreciated, underpaid or concerned about the stability of your company, those recruiting emails landing in her inbox put you at risk that she will leave or, at the very least, explore her options.

Conduct a ‘stay’ interview

To counter all that temptation, start by periodically checking in with your people. Conduct a “stay” interview — a structured one-on-one meeting designed to take the pulse of an employee and gather information about what will motivate them to stay with you or what might cause them to leave when recruited by someone else. New hires are especially at risk of leaving within the first year, so it pays to establish your relationship and get to know them right away to support them through the transition.

Meet new expectations

Recognize that there has been a change in what employees want from their employers. According to a recent study by Towers Willis Watson, “Employees expect their employers to connect with them on a more meaningful level similar to how companies connect with their customers. For employers to meet this expectation they must provide not just a job but an experience that will offer rewards and work environments aligned with employees’ changing needs and preferences.”

People often leave at key times in their lives, including their work anniversary, a big birthday, or when their lives change with marriage or family. Other times include when there are changes in company management, negative news events about their industry or company, lack of follow-through with promises made by their manager, or the promotion of a peer.

You need to stay connected with your people or you may miss the signs. By spending the time to get to know them and checking in regularly about their jobs you will understand where they are in their career and life, and they may tell you what they want and need.

We all want to feel valued, and connecting on a personal level goes a long way toward building employee loyalty.

Debbie Oberbillig is the founder and president, and Ryan Biancofiori is vice president of Allen Partners, which provides recruiting and staffing for corporate, finance and accounting professionals in Seattle and the Northwest.