Employee Retention in the Modern Business Environment

The days when a worker remained with a single employer for life are long past, at least in the Western world—and even in traditional societies like Japan; the salary-man paradigm is breaking down. The rise of well-paying high-tech industries and hardheaded independence have much to do with this trend, but the retention of business practices that undervalue the individual in favor of profitability may be more to blame. Employee retention has become a serious problem in many industries in this post-Great Recession world.

In nursing, for example, retention is a perennial problem. The labor pool is small and the demand high, so nurses are more willing than most workers to leave for greener pastures. In addition, pay is often inadequate, and (because of the nursing shortage) most nurses are overworked. Excessive workloads result in mistakes, forgotten tasks, and frequent shortcuts, as the nurses cannot operate at their peak efficiency. As a result, patients under their care suffer and die at increased rates, which should serve as a wake up call for hospital administrators. Nurse retention and patient health are higher when hospitals willingly invest in more nurses. Ensuring nurses are well-paid and unstressed increases the quality not only of their employment, but also of patient care as well.

Information technology (IT) professionals as hard to retain as nurses. As technology and social mores evolve, it is becoming increasingly obvious that many IT workers, Millennials in particular, will not hesitate to step away from corporate America to work as independent contractors. Studies indicate the level of organizational commitment (OC) on the part of an IT employee is the best predictor of turnover, with high-OC employees more likely to stay. This should come as no surprise to those of us who know that workers given the opportunity to own their cobs tend to engage at higher levels than those allowed less initiative. Nevertheless, some IT managers still see a high turnover rate as just a cost of doing business; so until this paradigm shifts, turnover will remain a huge problem in IT and other high-tech fields.

Another factor that affects employee retention is how well employees are trained to meet the challenges of their jobs. Everyone wants to do their job well, and good, up-to-date training is a key factor in being able to handle the stresses, both every day and extraordinary, of any job—especially during this era of accelerating technology. Businesses with the best training programs tend to enjoy higher worker satisfaction and, as a result, higher worker retention. 

Ultimately, worker satisfaction is the one true predictor of worker retention: employers can increase retention if they simply treat their employees better. Of course, the definition of "treating employees better" varies from group to group. Nurses want more respect, a reasonable workload, and better pay; IT workers prefer good pay, good bosses, and an overall positive working environment. Others, like military personnel, responded best to being allowed to do their jobs effectively within the stricture of their workplace hierarchy. Other factors, like well-rounded training and attempts by employers to accommodate individual work requirements, also positively affect worker retention.

To the casual observer, all these things may seem obvious, since it, all boils down to something we learned in preschool: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It is not so simple in practice, for reasons that may not be under an employer's complete control; it remains the benchmark we should all reach for.

Rodney Steele