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Ask CJ: Retaining Great Employees

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Q: “I have been struggling to keep my employees but I can’t offer the highest wages in town.  Any suggestions for retaining good people?”

A. Finding good employees is a challenge.  Keeping them can be just as big a challenge.  Loyalty between employees and employers isn’t what it used to be as it has become accepted and expected that an employee will move on as new and better opportunities arise.  Understanding the talents and needs of your staff will go a long way in keeping them happy and engaged.  In order to do that, you need to communicate often and as openly as possible.  The instability of the economy makes the communication piece that much more important.

New Hampshire Division of Economic Development Seacoast Business Services Specialist Christine J. Davis

Most employees have taken on more responsibilities as companies have had to cut staff and that stress is starting to show.  People who are unhappy at their place of work will eventually leave and that will cost you time and money.  An article I read a few months back surveyed employees about their dedication to their current position.  The results showed that a sizeable percentage of employees will be looking for something else once they feel the economy has turned around.  Surprisingly money isn’t as much of a driver as one might think.  Employees want to feel valued and appreciated in other ways too.

I spoke with several businesses that have retained some employees for 10, 15, and 20 + years and none of them saw wages as the major factor in keeping their employees.  Both Skip Healy of Northeast Lantern and Joe Torrisi of Jackson Lumber felt that having an open-door policy where employees have access to leadership makes a difference in employee morale and dedication.  Being approachable and flexible can go a long way in creating employee loyalty.  These business owners seek input from their staff and work to create a comfortable work environment.  Skip sits down with each employee during their yearly review and shows them the costs that the business incurs to provide him or her with the various benefits they receive.  The employees have a better understanding of their true compensation and might reconsider leaving for a position that paid a bit more but lacked benefits.  Over at Nantucket Beadboard in Rochester, lunch is prepared for the staff every day and the owner takes pride in preparing meals on their grill.  It is a nice perk that also creates a sense of community.  I was there at the lunch hour the day I visited and the smell was enough to make me want to send over my resume.

Employees who are taught new skills, given more responsibility and shown opportunities for advancement are more likely to stick around.  Understanding what motivates each person and putting him or her in a position that utilizes his or her strengths can help with retention.  The NH Job Training Fund grant, www.nhjobtrainingfund.org, is a great opportunity for businesses to offer skills enhancement training for their employees without bearing the full cost of the training.  Our office oversees this matching grant program which meets monthly to review and grant funds to eligible NH businesses. 

I also spoke with a couple of businesses that are experiencing high turnover.  The reasons vary but included such issues as the quality of the candidate, demands of the job, hard-charging leadership and insufficient compensation.  Maybe it just is the nature of the beast with some industries.  Maybe employee turnover will inevitably be higher for some industries more so than others.  I certainly don’t have all the answers but I do believe that efforts made to create a positive work environment won’t be wasted.

Not every business is going to be able to create the perfect environment, but if you want to avoid a constant search for new talent, take the time to find the right people and do what you can to create an environment that keeps good employees.  It may not cost you as much as you think and it could save you immensely in time and money.

Christine J. Davis works for the NH Division of Economic Development as a resource specialist serving businesses in Rockingham and Strafford counties. Her role is to provide the support needed for businesses so that they may remain viable and growing entities in the community. Ms. Davis lives in Exeter with her two daughters.  When not performing her work or parenting duties she likes spending time outdoors, volunteering in her community and discovering news places with her girls.  She can be reached at Christine.davis@dred.state.nh.us.