In December, your employees will celebrate their hard-earned bonuses. By January, many of those same employees will have disappeared. The “bonus and bounce” is a seasonal loss we take for granted, akin to the trees shedding their leaves.
However, I think the bonus and bounce doesn’t have to be inevitable, and popular retention tactics aren’t helping us counter it. We focus too much on why people leave and not enough on why they stay.
The Seduction of Simplicity
Surely you’ve read heard about the war for talent, the prestige-seeking millennial job hopper, and the shortage of STEM workers hitting “crisis” level. These narratives help companies feel better about hemorrhaging staff, and they are lucrative for businesses that “solve” talent problems.
Reality check: The average employee has become more loyal, not less. In 1983, the average employee spent 3.5 years with one company. Today, average tenure is up to 4.6 years. If there’s a war for talent, no shots have been fired.
How, then, do we account for the employees who take the bonus and bounce? The culprit is a lack of appreciation, says a company in the business of recognizing employees. It’s due to a lack of career advancement, suggests Gallup. It’s because “Most companies design jobs and then slot people into them” rather than “customiz[ing] experiences for their people,” say researchers from Facebook.
Every study in Google’s search results explains why your employees “really” leave. If it were so simple, why haven’t we stopped the tress from losing their leaves?
What Is Working?
At JotForm, we’re lucky to have a 95 percent employee retention rate. We offer competitive salaries and benefits, engaging work, and a friendly atmosphere. I wish I could say that’s why people really stay, but I don’t know! At best, all I can do is point out what we do differently from our peers:
1. Set No Deadlines
No one at JotForm is expected to work weekends, snub their families, and abuse caffeine to pump out code at 2 a.m. Why? We don’t have deadlines.
In B2B technology companies, deadlines are arbitrary, but managers are often assessed on how much code they deliver. To inflate their performance, managers set unrealistic deadlines that make employees feel bitter and stressed.
Instead, my team and I set launch dates once a product is 100 percent ready. You might counter, “Aytekin, you don’t know what it’s like to have investors! If we don’t make aggressive deadlines, they might pull the plug!”
Okay, then partner with investors who don’t think of your employees as disposable, key-striking automatons. Better yet, grow a healthy, sustainable business without investors.
2. Provide Security
Some companies earn a reputation for guzzling employees. “Hire slow, fire fast,” say the gurus.
Your employees need to feed their children, pay the mortgage, and afford healthcare. When you boast about firing fast, employees feel insecure.
I don’t hire anyone unless I have their first year’s salary in the bank. That has been JotForm’s practice since I hired our first employee. Twelve years and 130 employees later, we have never broken that rule. Firing people is our last resort. Someone must severely underperform or do something batty to get canned.
Employees who fear losing their jobs will seek other opportunities. What’s the perfect way to skedaddle? Bonus and bounce.
3. Don’t Fall for Gimmicks
Bruce Pfau, a human resources expert at KPMG, argues that “employees of all ages are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work.” The “millennials are different” spiel, says Pfau, is nothing but a way to get a spoonful of the $150 billion HR consulting stew.
Companies have implemented expensive gamification stunts, more frequent (but pointless) promotions, “snackable” training content, and time-hungry feedback programs, all in the effort to retain the mythically fickle millennial.
What’s the cost of implementing a “millennial engagement” program based on flawed studies that lack control groups? Ask the millennials who bonus and bounce this January.
Do Less, Keep More
In the retention game, what you don’t do is as important as what you do. It’s easy to promote a trendy solution to the holiday bonus and bounce. Don’t.
Try nixing deadlines. Stop the constant hiring and firing. Discard the gimmicks. Get rid of unnecessary policies that stress, scare, and fluster employees. Maybe then they’ll take the bonus and carry on.
Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of JotForm.