Want to Retain Your Employees? First, Meet Their Impossible Demands

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RideLet’s start with some healthy alarmism: there’s a good chance that a significant portion of your employees want to leave. Sorry.

This is according to research from talent management software providers Saba and market-research firm Harris Interactive, Inc., which found that roughly one-third of employed adults in the U.S. are looking to leave their jobs in the next seven months. Other jobs data from the Retention and Leadership Survey include:

  • 44 percent of managers and supervisors are looking for new jobs;
  • 45 percent of employees between the ages of 25 and 34 are looking for new jobs;
  • and 59 percent of the people who are looking for new jobs have been at their current roles for less than five years. (This fact is especially salient when you consider that people who have been at their current roles for less than five years make up just about half of the U.S. workforce).

“Pretty much everyone is looking [for a new job],” says Emily He, CMO of Saba. “What this survey revealed was a demand for employers to grow and retain talent.”

Your People Want More: Why Employees Want to Leave You

He says that the main reason why so many employees are looking to leave their current jobs is a disconnect between what employees want and what employers are giving them. The good news in all of this is that the disconnect isn’t entirely your fault, employers.

“There’s a difference between what employers are focusing on and what employees are looking for,” He says.

According to Saba’s survey, 90 percent of employees want to drive their own career paths. At the same time, 55 percent of employees expect their companies to play an active role in shaping their career opportunities.

“So, on the one hand, [employees] want to drive their own career paths. On the other hand, they also want employers to care about their career paths,” He says. “If their employers don’t show interest in helping them carve out a career path, they’re more likely to leave.”

This puts employers in a difficult position: how can they give employees freedom to drive their own careers while at the same time investing in those same employees’ career paths? The conundrum becomes all the more difficult when you consider that many employer attempts at career-pathing are rather rigid and finely structured. Employees can only move along certain paths as determined by their current roles. Workers want a more dynamic and personalized approach to career-pathing, but how can a company provide such an individualized program when it must handle the career paths of numerous employees at once?

Employees are also looking for meaning and purpose in their work — especially millennial employees, 38 percent of whom say they care more about making an impact on their company and the world at large than they care about the size of their paycheck.

Once again, employees are looking for something highly personalized, which makes it difficult for employers to meet this particular need. As He explains, most employees who are looking for meaning and purpose are looking for “a linkage between their specific contributions and the business’s results.”

“[Employees] want to feel that, in their daily job, their is a match between their strengths and the way they are contributing to the company,” He says. “They want to feel like they are using their skill sets to really make contributions.”

How can employers offer this highly individualized sense of purpose to each and every employee — especially employers whose workforces comprise hundreds of people?

Lastly, employees want deep, meaningful relationships with their managers.

“They want to know that their managers are personally invested in helping them grow their careers,” He says.

Of all employee desires, this may be the hardest for employers to fulfill.

“As a manager, it’s overwhelming to try and do that for every employee. You’re only one person!” He says. “If you have six people on your staff, you have to do this with six people. It’s almost humanly impossible.”

It’s clear that many employee needs are not being met — that’s why they’re actively thinking about leaving. But it’s also clear that this isn’t a case of negligent employers or lazy managers. Rather, this is a case of near-impossible-to-please employees.

“It’s not because managers don’t have good intentions. I believe many managers want to do the best they can to manage their employees,” He says. “But what the employees expect from managers today is almost impossible. As a manager, you are supposed to know everyone’s specific experiences, strengths, skills, and career aspirations. You are supposed to understand their role models, and more importantly, you need to understand what other people in the company have done from a career perspective, so you can give the right coaching and development to each employee.”

Framed in this way, the situation sounds hopeless. But, He says, there is a solution — a way to meet the impossible needs of each of your employees. You just need a bit of assistance.

Leverage Technology to Make Each Employee Happy

According to He, the secret to making every employee happy — the secret to maintaining close relationships with every team member, guiding career paths while simultaneously letting employees take charge, and providing a tailored sense of purpose and meaning — is technology.

“In my mind, the solution is to leverage technology to provide feedback and career recommendations,” He says.

Technological tools, like Saba’s talent management suite, can monitor employee performance, offer feedback, gather data, and use predictive analytics to make individualized career recommendations for each employee. For example, Saba’s platform can analyze an employee’s skill sets, strengths, aspirations, and experiences to tell them who they should connect with in the organization, what courses they should take, and what reading they should do in order to reach their career goals. Saba’s software also considers data from similar employees, akin to the way that Amazon makes recommendations for shoppers based on what other people with similar interests have viewed and purchased.

Of course, technology doesn’t let managers off the hook — it simply assists them. They still need to stay involved in their employees’ careers. Luckily, the technology can do the hard work of gathering and analyzing data, leaving managers free to focus on human-to-human interaction.

“[Technology] provides a great foundation for managers to have meaningful conversations with employees,” He says. “They can leverage technology to meet employee needs and wants and better retain them.”

By Matthew Kosinski