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effective employee retention strategies

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Effective employee retention strategies feel like a moving target in uncertain times and especially when there is a war for talent.

What do employees really want?? What steps can business owners and leaders take to make their employee experience with your company one they DON”T want to leave?

Barbara Mitchell, HR guru and co-author of The Big Book of HR has some tips for how employers can engage and retain the BEST available talent. 

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What You’ll Discover About Effective Employee Retention Strategies (highlights & transcript):

The Big Book of HR* How stay interviews are effective employee retention strategies 

* How healthy business cultures improve the value of stay interviews 

* The role of money in effective employee retention strategies 

* The corner stone of effective employee retention strategies 

* Examples of how flexibility is part of effective employee retention strategies 

* The role of trust in effective employee retention strategies 

* How small businesses can craft effective employee retention strategies 

* Effective employee retention strategies for frontline workers 

* And MUCH more.

Effective employee retention strategies feel like a moving target in uncertain times and especially when there is a war for talent. What do employees really want? What steps can a business owner or leaders take to make their employee experience with your company, one that doesn’t want to make them leave? Our next guest has some tips for how employers can engage and retain the best available talent. Stay tuned.


This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.


Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner and I’m excited to welcome back to the show Barbara Mitchell because she is enthusiastic about helping organizations find higher engage and of course, retain the best available talent. She’s the founder and managing partner of the Mitchell Group, a management consulting practice that helps a wide variety of clients with people and talent management issues.


She’s also the coauthor of The Big Book of HR which is celebrating its 10th Anniversary Edition, and she’s also the coauthor of five other books that belong on every business owner and managers reference shelf. What a treat to have her back. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Barbara.


She’s the founder and managing partner of the Mitchell Group, a management consulting practice that helps a wide variety of clients with people and talent management issues. She’s also the coauthor of The Big Book of H.R., which is celebrating its 10th Anniversary Edition, and she’s also the coauthor of five other books that belong on every business owner and managers reference shelf. What a treat to have her back. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Barbara.


Thank you, Hanna. It’s great to be back.


Effective employee retention strategies are something that just seems to consistently bedevil management and it seems that when a high performing employee leaves unexpectedly, it’s so easy for management to make excuses instead of holding up the mirror to themselves. In your experience, what can help focus management attention on effective employee retention strategies before it’s too late?


Well, I have a very simple idea, and I know I’m not the only one that’s talking about this, but I think it is one of the most effective ways of managing retention. We know we’re always going to lose people. We don’t lock the doors. People’s lives change and they need to leave but what we don’t want to have happen is they leave us because they’re unhappy with the way we’re running our business or the way their job is going. So, what I like to do is something called stay interviews.


Most organizations do exit interviews when people leave, but that’s too late. If you do stay interviews, which are actually fun and I think organizations should do them often. Ask people what is it about our organization that keeps you here and then you just sit back and listen, and hopefully they give you some really good information that then you can use to keep other people. So, that’s my first idea for you today, Hanna.


Wow. I know so many people that just struggled to give a performance review. I could just imagine how they feel about doing a stay interview which to me sounds a little bit like a 360 feedback. Here’s what I like and maybe they’d be afraid to say, “Here’s what I don’t like.”


Well, I hope that that’s not true. Of course, it depends on your relationship with your employee, but I think if you have the culture that lets them know that you are listening and that’s point number – I was going to say point number two, but it really is the most important thing that leaders can do especially today, to be listening to their employees.


And if your employees think that that you really are listening and you really care what they’re saying, hopefully they will be glad that you are honoring them by saying, “We really value your work here and I just like to ask you a really quick question. What keeps you here?” I don’t think that’s a real threatening question. So, I’ve seen it be very, very effective.


And of course, it depends on your relationship with your employees and whether or not they trust you. So there’s another big piece of this is do your employees trust you because if they don’t and they don’t think you listen to them, they’re the ones that are going to be walking out the door.


Well, that’s a great point about the trust because not only is it about whether your employees believe whether you care, but whether they believe if they tell you something that may be a bit negative like, “Gee, I don’t like XYZ,” you won’t use it against them.


Well, and I think it’s all the way you start the process. If you say, “I really want to know what keeps you here,” and most in most cases, at least the ones that I’ve done and I’ve done probably thousands of these in my lifetime, most people tell you very positive things. Occasionally, they’ll tell you something that’s negative but if they trust you, again, that key word pops up and that they know that –


And of course, we should back up a second and say, like in any of these kinds of situations, you make no promises that “Everything you tell me, I can’t promise you that I’ll be able to either change or do more of. I just let you let you know that I’m going to listen to you and do my best with what you give me.”


Well, that’s fair. I have a feeling that there are some folks listening who believe that effective employee retention strategies are primarily about money and promotions which they may not be in a position to give. What do you say to that?


Well, research will tell you that that’s not usually what keeps people. Of course, you’ve got to pay people fairly. You’ve got to provide a good benefit package. You need to take care of your people but that’s not what – why people typically leave organizations. They may tell you in an exit interview that they’re leaving for – because they’re going to get a 50% increase that their new company which we all know is probably not the truth.


But I think the reason people say that is because in an exit interview, if they say you’re leaving for more money, it’s not something the company can disagree with or argue with. But if you say “I’m leaving because I am not feeling as if you as an organization, really take care of me that you care for me, that you provide development opportunities.”


They’re probably not going to tell you in an exit interview, but that may come through in a stay interview where they say, “What I really love about working here is that I get lots of development opportunities and I know that you as an organization are interested in where I go from here, how I progress.” That’s what people want today.


So, what else besides effective development opportunities, if I’m reading between the lines, here is an effective building block or I should say, a building block of an effective employee retention strategy?


Well, today’s word. You can’t use it enough. It’s flexibility. How flexible is your organization toward what people are – need and want in our very difficult working world these days? And I think flexibility has been a key factor for a long time but now after the pandemic and I know we’re right now still in it, but I think now we’re really – we really got it.


We realize that people really do not only want flexibility, they need flexibility and there’s plenty of research that says if they don’t get it with you, they will move on somewhere else where they can. And that is happening over and over. So, how flexible is your organization? And that does not mean that you have to do everything people ask you to do, of course not.


The organization still has to be in charge and manage its process but how – again, this goes back to my point about listening. What are people really telling you when you when you ask them about, how are you doing? Again, something managers should be doing much more now than ever before and I would love to say that this has been true forever, but now we really get it.


So, how are you doing and what? What can we do to make your working life as productive as possible? Because isn’t that what the organization wants? It wants to have the high level of production that it needs in order to stay in business?


Absolutely. But flexibility is such a broad term that means so many things to different people. In your experience, what are some examples of how organizations have been flexible in a way that employees appreciate?


I think more than ever, they appreciate the flexibility to arrange their day in a way that works for them. I think we’re seeing much more of we’re not going to be a 9:00 to 5:00 world, not that we have been for a long time. But if people are productive between 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning before their kids get up and they can get half their work done at that time, and then they pick it up again at 4:00 when their spouse comes home or some kind of configuration that works for them.


That kind of flexibility is really a very powerful thing to be able to offer to your employees. But there again, we get back to this trust word and this means the organization has to trust the employee to get the work done. I think we’ve moved past the idea that work has to be done during certain hours or it’s in a certain configuration.


If the work gets done and it’s at 2:00 in the morning and that works for the employee, they’re productive. You get what you need. What does it matter is that they do it at 2:00 in the morning. So that’s the kind of flexibility I’m thinking and I think that’s hard for a lot of especially traditional managers who just don’t understand that it’s the productivity that matters, not when the work is done.


And also letting go some of that control factor of being able to look over somebody’s shoulder or monitor every keystroke.


Yes, that phrase that I’ve heard for years, “Well, how will I know if they’re working, if I can’t see them?” Yes. Well, let’s think about that for a moment. How will you know? Is the work getting done? Yes. Ok. It’s getting done.


Well, besides the schedule aspect, are there other ways companies can be flexible that would help employees?


Well, I think the “Do they have to be in the office?” that’s, of course, the big one that we’re dealing with now. Are there ways that work can be configured to where there are certain times that everybody comes together and the times when people are not together? And that kind of flexibility can be very powerful? And again, I’ve seen it so much now of people wanting to work where they want to live, as opposed to living where they have to work. And I think there’s an interesting way to think about that.


Again, it’s how flexible can the organization be and do they want people to come into the office a certain number of days a week. All kinds of – there are as many configurations as probably people that you have in your office if you really believe the flexibility can be done and can be effectively managed. Managers really have to change the way they think and I think that’s one of the areas that is maybe causing some turnover.


Do you think that smaller businesses have a bigger challenge when it comes to crafting effective employee retention strategies and especially trying to incorporate flexibility?


Yes and no. I think small businesses with a really fixed number of people that get the job done. Yes, that can be very difficult, more difficult, not less to say, very difficult, but more difficult but I think it can be done. Again, it is – there’s so many options.


This is going back a ways, but if you remember. I don’t know when this – this was really in vogue, but the idea of job sharing where a couple of people had the same job, but one of them did it in the morning and one did it in the afternoon, and that worked towards their flexibility. Things like that that I think organizations are beginning to kind of revitalize. Think about is this a job that we could do in a different configuration, so even small businesses can think that way.


Now I think we’re primarily talking about knowledge workers here. I think the unfortunate people that are suffering so much with the turnover and retention are the restaurants and warehouses, and places where they do not have the ability to have any kind of flexibility. The work has to be done on site, has to be done in these hours, has to be done by this particular person and that’s just the way it is. Those are tough situations.


Oh well, let’s get into some of those tough situations. I love tough situations. Let’s say I’m running a warehouse and yeah, product has to come in, has to go out. And you’re also dependent on when these items get delivered, when they get picked up and it could be in all kinds of crazy hours.


So, I think people who do that kind of work, they recognize some of that, but they still have needs. And what kind of flexibility could they be offered in an effective and as part of an effective employee retention strategy?


Well, I do not ever like to be negative, but I’m going to say that that may not be possible in some situations where the work has to be done in a certain schedule and a certain – by a certain person with a certain expertise. But maybe there are other things that that organization could do to offer that employee perhaps a different kind of work schedule where it’s not five days a week.


Maybe they work some sort of a flexible schedule where the person has the entire day off or a three-day weekend from time to time. Something like that where there is an acknowledgment that we know that your job is very difficult and it’s very time constrained and it’s very – it has a rigidity to it that perhaps a knowledge working job does not have, but we’re going to honor that and give you perhaps a once a month you get a four-day workweek or just being as open and as creative as possible.


And here’s the key, Hanna, I believe and I know this is hard for some organizations, and that is ask people what would work for them. And I know you might get a whole bunch of different kinds of requests, but then can you synthesize those, put them together in some way where you say for them, “Majority of our employees, if we made this kind of a tweak to our schedule, we would have at least some people that would be delighted by it and others who would also acknowledge what at least the company heard us and they’re trying,” and that’ll go a long way.


That’s true. That’s true. I remember there was a time where onsite child care was a real game changer for some companies because it gave parents peace of mind that they had somewhere something reliable and even something as simple as consistent work hours. Because I think one of the challenges is you pointed out to some of these frontline workers and those in service industries, especially restaurants, they don’t always have consistent hours.


One day they may be opening, the next day they may be closing. And it’s really difficult to schedule doctor’s appointments, making sure you’re there to pick up your children from school or daycare, or whatever. It just wreaks havoc with a schedule. So taking into consideration and account that employees have lives and that we have to work together, they don’t just leave all of that in the parking lot when they come to work. And being able to get some of their feedback, I think is terrific because somewhere in there is going to be some nuggets of gold.


Right. And there’s a simple phrase that that kind of flows through all of this. And it really is simple. It’s “How about just treating your employees as human beings rather than your employees?”


What a concept. Yeah.


I think that just change everything if you think of it that way.


Oh, definitely. Definitely it – oh my goodness, we could have such conversations about that.


Yes, we could.


Well, I’m really curious about your 10th anniversary edition, that’s great, of The Big Book of HR. Tell me what inspired the need to have a 10th anniversary edition. What has changed in 10 years when it comes to people management?


Well, pretty much everything, I could say that. We actually did a five-year anniversary in 2017. We updated it because HR things changed so dramatically. Laws and all kinds of things. Five years ago, we weren’t talking as much about emotional intelligence, and now we’re talking a lot about diversity and inclusion that has just taken on a whole life of its own. Technology.


The impact of technology is huge in HR. Also just the idea of employee development. One of the fun things that – one of the chapters I work with the wonderful coauthor Cornelia Gamlem and we split up chapters. And one of the ones that I did was unemployed development.


And I learned so much about things like gamification and how organizations are using games, including video games, to really engage today’s worker in development, in making learning fun, making learning challenging, actually giving prizes for learning the things that five years ago I don’t think we were even thinking about.


So, that’s what we tried to do. We tried to update the book to the best of our ability, but really focusing on areas like diversity and inclusion, and technology where there have been tremendous, tremendous changes and then everything else is just been freshened up.


What would you say the biggest takeaway is from your revised Big Book of HR for people that are looking for a reference volume?


The Big Book of HR really is a soup to nuts for anyone that manages people whether you’re an HR person or whether you run a business. So many businesses don’t have HR support and so it’s a book that that can be used to be your HR reference tool. But I think the thing that I would want to leave with your listeners is that HR has taken on a bigger and bigger role in managing organizations.


I think one of the things that’s happened over the past few years is that HR has – had to jump in in ways that were not even thought of before in terms of all of the issues we’ve already been talking about on this webinar or this podcast. What – I think HR has a wonderful opportunity to really have an impact in how organizations work and so we hope that this book will be a good resource to help people, really make a difference within their own organizations.


Well, that’s terrific. Barbara, I thank you so much. I appreciate the tips on what you’ve included in an effective employee retention strategy and also the updating of this wonderful reference volume because I understand that over the past years, some organizations have actually outsourced their HR function or I want to hate to say, eliminated it.


So, having some kind of reference guide because people issues, they still continue. They don’t go away. If anything, they get a little bit more complicated as we see now in this turbulent environment that we’re navigating through.


So, if you’re listening and you’re interested in beefing up your own employee retention strategies, Barbara’s contact information is going to be found in the show notes at along with a link to her special 10th anniversary edition of The Big Book of HR because it is a terrific reference for executives, managers and entrepreneurs.


And if you know someone who can’t figure out why their best people are running for the door and they want to get off the treadmill of constantly filling job vacancies, please tell them about Barbara Mitchell’s terrific work and this podcast episode. Share the link. Leave a positive review so others can find out about her amazing tips too.


You can do that on your podcast app or come on over to because this is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and I thank you for listening and hope you have a great day and an even better tomorrow.

Best Moments

How Stay Interviews Contribute to Effective Employee Retention Strategies

The Role of Money in Effective Employee Retention Strategies

How Small Businesses Can Craft Effective Employee Retention Strategies

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Guest: Barbara Mitchell

effective employee retention strategiesBarbara Mitchell is the co-author of The Big Book of HR, which is celebrating it’s 10th Anniversary Edition.

In addition she has cowritten five other books: The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, the award-winning The Manager’s Answer BookThey Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace, and The Essential HR Handbook.

She is enthusiastic about helping organizations find, hire, engage and retain the best available talent. That’s why she began consulting after working as an HR Executive in corporations.

She’s the founder and Managing Partner of The Mitchell Group, a management consulting practice that helps a wide variety of clients with people and talent management issues.

Related Resources:

Contact Barbara and connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Other Business Confidential Now interviews with Barbara :

How to Keep Workplace Conflict From Turning Toxic

Three Management Leadership Traps You Need to Avoid


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