How to Retain Your Employees and What to Do if You Lose Your Star Player

Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, and Alison Hadden, director of brand strategy at Glassdoor, discussed during a Thursday webinar a topic crucial for every manager: “How to Retain Your Employees and What to Do if You Lose Your Star Player.”

In case you weren’t able to join us for the live event, below is a recap for your reference. (You can also watch a recording of the full event here.)

If you’ve found that it’s hard to recruit and retain great employees, that’s not too surprising, because the job market is so robust. Nearly 3 million jobs were created in 2014, making it the best year for jobs since 1999. The unemployment rate in the U.S. dropped to 5.6 percent in December — the lowest rate since 2008. As a result, employees who stuck with you during the dark days of the recession might now be looking at their options. Here’s what to look for:

Five signs an employee is considering leaving
1. Disengagement and behavioral changes
2. Sudden interest in career development
3. Asking for information about previous projects
4. Decreased interaction with managers
5. A new, more formal wardrobe

Any single sign by itself might not be cause for complete alarm, but if you see a few, it could indicate that an employee is on his or her way out the door. Numbers 2 and 3 could be a sign that employees are crafting a success story and fleshing out bullet points on their resume, Hadden said. Though it also could be someone who is just preparing for an annual review. McDonald pointed out that might also be an employee looking at new opportunities within the company.

If you see any of this behavior in one of your employees, the first step is to just check in with the employee in a relaxed manner. Such as: “I really appreciated those updates you sent me, even if I didn’t reply to them. How’s everything going?”

When a star employee quits: The disaster plan
We all have those employees who are too good to lose, and we assume their leaving would be a catastrophic event, McDonald said. When the unthinkable happens, here are seven steps to deal with it:

1. Stay calm: Don’t overreact by making a counteroffer. Unless low salary was the sole reason for seeking another job, counteroffers often just delay the inevitable. What might seem catastrophic to you today might work out fine in the end and be an opportunity for you to take your team to the next level.

2. Conduct an exit interview: This is an opportunity for you to learn how to manage better. A very important question to ask during the exit interview: “Would you consider working for the company again?” Boomerang hiring has become very common in the past five years, McDonald said. An employee who left on good terms two years ago might come back at a higher level today, so it’s important to treat employees with respect as they leave.

3. Address workplace issues: In addition to really listening to exit interviews, compare the results with other recent exit interviews with the management team to address any changes that need to be made. Hadden added: “Think about it from the sales perspective: The most valuable piece of information you can get is why someone didn’t buy your product.”

4. Use temporary help to fill the gap: Using a staffing agency or recruiter to find a temporary hire will help with morale among your remaining employees and with managing the workload. And it also could help you find your next hire.

5. Communicate with staff: Silence is very damaging. Hold a town hall or department meeting if necessary upon a key staffer’s departure; have one-on-ones with key team members. Don’t share dirty laundry, but share as much information as is relevant to your team.

6. Use your talent pipeline: It’s in your best interest to cultivate a list of potential hires all year round.

7. Develop succession plans: McDonald likes to do a “life boat drill”: In the case of an emergency, who would be in the lifeboat with me? Play out the worst-case scenarios and have replacements in mind for every key player on your team. Are there diamonds in the rough on your existing team? Now is the time to start polishing them.

Strategies for retaining employees

  • Offer competitive salaries: Insufficient pay is the No. 1 reason — but not the only reason — employees leave, Hadden said. Know what your people are worth and what your competitors are paying in your region. Do salary research with Glassdoor and Robert Half.
  • Know what matters most: A Glassdoor survey said the top 5 considerations job seekers take into account are, in order:
       - Salary and compensation
       - Career growth opportunities
       - Work-life balance
       - Location/commute
       - Company culture and values
  • Track employee sentiment: Don’t wait until annual reviews or exit interviews to ask for feedback. Everyone should look up their own company on Glassdoor to see what current and past employees are saying.
  • Engage your employees: Organizational transparency begins at the top. Encourage your employees to post on Glassdoor — they can be your best evangelists. McDonald added, “Baby boomers like me were taught that we need to stop the rumor mill. Don’t squelch the conversation — it’s going to happen with or without you. It fosters a transparent environment.”
  • Focus on career development: Providing career paths and promoting from within helps with retention. And be sure to give your employees assignments and projects that help them develop their skills. Offer training and education opportunities.
  • Recognize great work: In person or in writing or via teleconference, a “thank you” for a job well done fosters positive feeling among the team and aids in retention.


Following are some of the questions from the audience that were answered after the session:

Q. Any thoughts on doing exit interviews with people who are involuntarily terminated?

McDonald: Whatever your company policy or legal policy is, follow it. Have an HR person conduct the interview, with others in the room listening.

Q. We don’t get a lot of information from our exit interviews and think people might not be 100 percent honest and open with us because they don’t want to burn bridges. How can we get better information?

McDonald: Revisit the questions. Make it an open dialogue, not an adversarial conversation.

Hadden: If you’ve gotten to the point of an exit interview and the person isn’t open with you, it’s likely too late. You haven’t fostered an environment where people are open and comfortable discussing difficult things. It’s probably a culture of managers not getting 360 feedback in person or anonymously. Start with your review process and ensure that the managers are coached on having those difficult conversations with empathy and compassion. Allow for anonymous 360 reviews where employees can be completely honest without fear of retribution.

Q. With succession planning, is that something you share only with managers or is it shared with employees?

McDonald: It starts at the top and then trickles down through every level of management. If you share too much with your employees, you’re building expectations that might lock you into a succession plan that may not pan out for you six months from now. So be careful what you share, but every manager should share a succession plan with the management above them.

Hadden: It’s more important that the manager invite employees to keep them in the loop on where they want to go and how they want to grow.

Check out the webinar recording to hear the full discussion, and download the Salary Guide for additional insights on hiring and compensation trends.

What other tips do you have for retaining your star employees? Share them in the comments section.

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