We know these truths to be self-evident: that the success of any company is directly linked to the satisfaction of the employees who embody that company; that retaining talented people is critical to the success of any organization; and that no matter how temporarily challenged the economy may be, ultimately, a company’s most talented performers always have other employment options. So how do companies keep their most valued human resources?

It is tempting to answer that question with pay and benefits. Of course, a company’s pay and benefits must be competitive. But, it is not necessary and it may not be sufficient to just be the market leader in traditional compensation. Employees are motivated to stay or go by more than pay and benefits.

Here are some of those other intangibles: employees want to be informed by their leaders (and not the media or the grapevine) about the company’s important "big picture" visions, strategies and developments. The employees want to know that their individual activities and talents make a difference to the company’s business, and they expect their leaders to be able to articulate how their daily activities fit into the company’s big picture. Employees want accessible leaders who not only talk, but listen too. Thus, managers should regularly meet with their team members to exchange crucial information, answer questions and invite input. Open communications must start with senior management and cascade throughout the entire organization.

Employees also want to contribute their own leadership skills to the organization’s success, whatever their titles or positions may be. They want to have input into the processes and participate in decisions that touch on their jobs. They want their efforts to be noticed and appreciated. Most employees look first to their direct supervisors for daily direction, recognition and appreciation. An old adage says, "Employees don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses." Employers need to ask themselves a few questions. Are we are paying enough attention to the selection, training and development of the managers and supervisors who directly interface with the line level employees? If not, the employer is not likely to be meeting the expectations or aspirations of either the managers and supervisors or their subordinates.

Employees want training, career development and advancement. Most people do not stay in jobs they do not know how to do and do well. Training and development of employees tells them that the company cares about them. Companies shouldn’t overlook its own content experts who can provide inexpensive training on areas of their expertise. That serves two goals: providing a development opportunity and recognition for the trainer and needed information to those who attend.

Finally, employees want the company to recognize and respect that they have lives, interests and demands outside of the workplace. Job sharing, part-time and modified schedules; telecommuting and flextime are all structural alternatives that, in appropriate circumstances, can be powerful retention tools. Flexibility and choice in benefits are likewise important. Some employees are motivated by on-site or subsidized child care; others are more interested in on-site exercise facilities or health club memberships; others need assistance with elder care; and still others may want an allowance to pay for their cell phones. Many employers are abandoning strictly defined categories of sick, personal and vacation time, opting instead for more flexible Paid Time Off policies that give employees flexibility to take time off to serve their needs – and not to have to pretend to be sick.

There is no need to speculate about what employees want. They are usually clamoring to tell their employers. Companies can find out by conducting employee surveys; providing suggestion boxes – both physical and electronic; conducting exit interviews of employees you lose not by your choice. Conducting exit interviews that sit in files and are never analyzed are a waste of time and money. So if companies do exit interviews, they should analyze them and use them to help prioritize needed changes.

But why wait until employees are already leaving? Why not ask the valued ones why they stay? What tempts them to leave? Companies can then get feedback it actually can act on and tell those valued employees – before they leave—that what employees care about actually matters. One caveat about employee surveys, suggestion boxes and the like: affirmatively asking for employees’ feedback and then ignoring it is worse than not asking at all. That doesn’t mean that companies have to implement every suggestion, but they ought to gather and analyze the information and respond in some systematic manner that tells employees they were listening.

There is no silver bullet, job perk or trendy retention gimmick of the day that will work for all companies. An environment with these basic elements must be a sincere, on-going way of working that is organic to the particular organization. Fundamentally, employees want to know that what they do -- and who they are-- matters.

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