5 ways to assess how long an employee will stay

Categories: Advice for HR Professionals

Charles Dickens famously wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, in A Tale of Two Cities. Those very words, in the context of employees powering the 21st knowledge economy, might ring equally true for enterprises and managers tasked with hiring, nurturing and retaining a productive workforce. On the one hand, the internet has made it significantly easier to recruit candidates for open positions, through professional social networks like LinkedIn, job sites, and many other sources. Conversely, when employees start feeling that something better for them might be out there, it has become equally easy to explore next opportunities.

In such an environment, it becomes imperative for managers, and organizations as a whole, to keep their finger on the pulse of employee satisfaction, and ultimately, on their expected tenure with the organization. Sudden departures, leading to recruitment of new candidates to fill positions left vacant, can be a complicated and stressful process, especially if departing employees were mapped to critical goals. Prevention, as they say, is better than the cure, and it is far better to be aware of an employees engagement at work and take corrective action than being blindsided one day when they put in their papers.

Assessing how long an employee will stay with an organization comes down to setting clear OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), regular communication and feedback, and analysis of the same. More specifically, assessing employee engagement along the following parameters is necessary:

  • Communicating the vision of the organization, aligning employees’ OKRs with it, and making sure it is understood is critical. The most engaged employees who will stay with an organization the longest are the ones who see their personal and career goals resonate most with both the organization’s current trajectory and vision for the future. Employees who are fully engaged in such broader discussions beyond their own performance and objectives, and ask thoughtful and probing questions about the same, are the ones most likely to be considering their tenure to have a positive effect towards their long term career goals.
  • Ensuring role and goal clarity, by analyzing regular feedback will unearth insights into employee engagement and satisfaction with their current role. Employees without clarity about their objectives and their role in the bigger scheme of things are most likely to view their role with the lens of short-term rewards, leading to task-oriented thinking and a culture of just doing enough. On the other hand, regular communication and feedback sessions with the objective of defining goals clearly, and refining them as needed, help the employee and the organization build longer-term relationships that are mutually beneficial.
  • Employees who build a mutually respectful relationship with managers, based on viewing each other as responsible adults, are more likely to address issues directly and sooner, rather than suppressing them and deciding that the only recourse is to look for a new job. Conversely, if the culture of communication is one-sided, and any issues or negative feedback raised by the employee is not encouraged, and worse still, reprimanded, that is an almost guaranteed way of losing valued performers. This relationship is only built on the foundation of a regular communication process that builds trust, by encouraging open two-way feedback that goes across the organization hierarchy.
  • Managers who take a myopic view of an employee vis-a-vis current deliverables, without encouraging self-reflection and analysis, are more likely to have a revolving door of team members who leave too soon. Conversations at a regular cadence should encourage employees to analyze what went right and what did not, objectively, in a data-driven manner. The concomitant feedback should be based solely on helping the employee improve both within the short-term scope of their current objectives and key results, and in the longer-term scope of their careers and aspirations. Modern knowledge workers conflate career goals with personal goals, and managers who are cognizant of the same can ensure that long bonds are built with the organization.
    • As employees’ tenure within an organization increases, those most aligned with the companies vision expect a growth trajectory that reflects both their past performance and their aspirations going forward. For example, engineers who have shown the requisite communication skills and a desire to have a broader role within the product organization should be considered first and foremost when new roles open up in product management. This should not be a knee-jerk decision and is the result of a long-term development process by a manager, who is, in fact, grooming them for this across regular communication and feedback sessions. Without this view of an employee’s real aspirations that come through thoughtful discussions, often organizations make the mistake of ignoring in-house talent in favor of external resumes that merely tick the checkboxes. This, unfortunately, can be a very quick way to alienate an employee and lead them to consider greener pastures.

    In the final analysis, employees are most likely to stay longer with an organization when they are respected and they have a view of fulfilling their career aspirations within a culture that nurtures the same. This is cannot be built in an ad-hoc fashion by relying on interpersonal connections between managers and employees but needs the organization to put in place processes that drive open and regular communication. This ensures that organizations have the best chance of nurturing the most engaged and high performing employees on a long journey together.