Building an Organization That Helps Employees Stay—and Lead

Unhappy employees either quit and leave, or they quit and stay. Disengaged employees who stay may be more damaging for your business than lost employees, and certainly more expensive over the long run.

But it’s even worse when the employee who leaves is a top performer. And it’s a funny thing how often agency principals tell us they were “blind-sided” by having a star employee resign to “take advantage of a great opportunity” (read: I’ve been job-hunting for months…).

Millennials and Employee Retention

Millennials will soon be the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. This group, ages 18-34, are less wedded to the idea of employer loyalty than any generation in the past century. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the average length of time an employee worked in one job was 4.1 years. But millennials told Future Workplace they expect to stay at any one job no more than 3 years. And a recent Gallup report found that 21% of millennials changed jobs—more than three times the number of job changers than the other workforce generations combined.

While Gallup also reported millennials feel higher job satisfaction than older generations, they also pointed to engagement as a growing issue. Just 29% of millennials feel engaged with their jobs or companies, and cite poor opportunities for professional growth and career development as a major factor.

Another big concern is the potential for career disruption due to AI/technology advances. Millennials are at much higher risk of being replaced by automation or technological advances than any previous generation—and they know it. Hence their heavy focus on continuously gaining new skills.

The Lure of Job-Hopping

Even beyond AI fears and waning engagement, there are multiple reasons why agency employees may see job-hopping as smart: 

Smaller agencies can make good use of the benefits of smaller organizations—intimacy, the personal touch and better values alignment—to engage and retain employees.

Four Tactics to Build Loyalty

Give thought to structuring your agency so employees stay and grow within your business. By offering paths that help them earn increasing wages, meet career goals and continue learning and developing skills, you can turn employees into your next generation of leaders.

Keeping star performers—or any good employee—involves planning and attention.Take them for granted or fail to serve their career goals, and your claim of being “blind-sided” becomes self-sabotage. That sense of having failed somehow is accurate; you let a good employee slip away through assuming that they were too loyal, too attached to their position and benefits, or too invested in the agency’s success. Helpful Hint: No employee is that invested. Talk to employees about their goals, help them build a plan, and then support them as they work the plan. Tie their goals to agency goals to increase engagement and a sense of purpose.

Employees are loyal to people, not jobs or agencies.Make sure your managers are good mentors, promoting and supporting the people they manage. If you are a manager, put your back into mentoring, and help employees find paths to advancement and growth.

Show you care, often.Verbal and physical recognition (from public acknowledgment of contributions to tangible bonuses or awards) go a long way to make employees feel appreciated, and more reluctant to leave. Sincerity is everything; don’t lavish praise solely on top performers, but look for ways to single out everyone over time for their positive contributions toward agency success.

Mentor your best people to lead.The future of your agency depends on developing future leaders. No one lives forever, and your legacy as an agency owner and leader will be the people who carry on after you are gone. Find potential leaders, and show them the ropes of managing the agency. Give them authority and support, then begin to step back and let them try their wings. When your fledglings are ready, they’ll fly, and the agency will fly with them.


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