Gary Cattermole: How to stop the brain drain in your company

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As companies slowly move into growth, after an extremely long period of recession, a rather worrying employment trend has set in. Businesses up and down the country are haemorrhaging their top talent as the most ambitious, motivated and able employees seek opportunities elsewhere.

During the economic downturn, staff who would have moved up the career ladder – had the economy been more buoyant – have stayed put, feeling safe that they’ve survived round upon round of redundancies. Now many are feeling frustrated that their career has stagnated and that their salaries are not keeping pace with the cost of living. Naturally many are starting to look to new positions popping up on the back pages of their trade journals, and seeking opportunity elsewhere.

In all organisations staff turnover is a good thing. A fresh influx of new faces helps to drive new ideas, ways of doing things, and a fresh energy through the workplace. However although a turnover of staff is good, a drain on your resources of the most talented players is a real step-backwards for any company.

What can be done?

The first thing that needs to be in place is an understanding and appreciation of who your top employees are – who is most at risk of moving and why? Who do you want to retain and how will you achieve it? Work with middle and senior management to identify those top players that are crucial to your business’s success. Once you know who these people are, find out what really makes them tick and develop a plan for their future.

The best way to understand your employees is by talking to them. Gain an appreciation of their goals and ambitions; find out if they feel they are lacking any training or experience in a variety of areas. Offer them support to reach their professional and personal goals. Tell your top talent that they are your top talent but manage it well. No-one wants an elite team walking around with big egos, or other members of staff feeling that they have yet again been passed over for promotion. Create a fresh opportunity for employees where they can showcase their talent and boost the business. If they have a new idea to do something more efficiently or to tweak a service in a particular way, why not offer them the opportunity to make it happen. Guide them through the process so that they don’t feel that they have been thrown in at the deep end without any wage increase, offer support and thank them appropriately for their work. Offer them a mentor to help them strive to achieve their career goals, monitor progress and offer fresh opportunity to keep up with their ambitions.

Money isn’t everything, but it does help! Know the recruitment market in your particular sector – what salaries and packages are your competitors offering? Try to ensure you are paying more competitive salaries and equalling, if not improving upon, fringe benefits – can you offer more holiday, secondments, childcare or luncheon vouchers – think creatively – some of the best options are obviously those that represent low cost to the business but remember how much recruitment and training can cost your business too and weigh them up against one another – could it be worth the additional outlay if you will retain staff?

Create a positive upbeat energy in your workplace. If your company is starting to see the green shoots of recovery, or is expanding faster than ever, thank your people. They have seen you through the bad times so thank them when times are good, and consider a range of staff benefits. If everyone in the workforce is engaged it creates a good vibe for the top talent to feed-off – no-one wants to go home complaining that the mood in the office is yet again very low. Create staff incentives, they do not have to be expensive; you could offer a boardroom lunch once a month or perhaps clocking off half an hour early on a Friday for some refreshments in the office before the weekend starts.  Could you hold an annual party to where partners are also invited? Do you offer time off in lieu? On an even more practical level make sure you offer a positive place to do business: are your offices clean and modern? Do you offer free car parking? Can you help towards travel costs? Do you have a staff canteen? Is your company a happy and supportive place to work? Perhaps you want to expand your corporate and social responsibility and arrange sessions for employees to work with a local charity? Set incentives for targets or milestones reached to keep the whole team on board.

The key thing is to think of ways to give your business the edge as an employer. Make your business a company that people want to work for, that they aspire to become a part of. Changes will have to be made to entice your top talent to stay but the cost of standing still and doing nothing will mean you are waving goodbye to your most talented performers, those that have kept the business going through the economic downturn, and those that understand your businesses strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. Those that manage to retain their top talent will be in the best place to maximise growth now the financial climate has changed.

Gary Cattermole is a Director of The Survey Initiative 

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