shutterstock_118920793

3 Ways Employee Retention Is Like Dating (and How to Keep the Keepers)

It’s all down to perks, people and purpose as founder Beck Bamberger reveals.

By Beck Bamberger (Founder, BAM Communications)

At the start of the New Year, Venture Beat reported that larger tech companies, the Microsofts and Googles of the world, were losing “luster” to their employees. Twitter, Uber, Nest, and the like have been reportedly deluged with new job applicants, apparently “attracting” top talent to their way cooler corridors and culture.

It isn’t a coincidence that employee retention is often talked about in terms of “attraction” and “wooing.” Employee retention is quite similar to dating to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. Many people search for a long-term partner in life, and many employers want to employees long-term. Sourcing long-term employees, like a long-term mate, can be thought about in three levels of increasing importance: Perks, People and Purpose. Like Simon Sinak’s three circles of “What”, “How” and “Why” as a framework to understand why people buy products, “Perks”, “People” and “Purpose” can be used to navigate why people stay with your organization.

Perks

This is the fluff and the outer circle: the fancy meals, the grand weekend getaways, and the embarrassingly sappy winky face love notes people often experience at the start of a young courtship. You’ve been there, and it sounds like, “Oh my God!  This is an amazing person!” Alas, you typically get a little jaded, annoyed, or just lose steam in keeping up such displays of affection. Similarly, employees that once thought, “Oh my God! This is the best company ever!” no longer are as impressed by free massages, organic coffee carts, and Euro-style vacation days as the years pass.

Tactic

The best tactic can be implemented on the “first date” or the initial interviews: Don’t push or emphasize the perks to a potential employee. Perks are ephemerally appreciated, often like lavish courtship. I never take another interview with a potential employee when he or she asks intently about the perks we offer. I want an employee who will stick it out if we have to move from plush office space to a dingy warehouse with questionable wifi.

People

This is the middle circle and can be asked by any employee in a simple question: Do I actually like the people I work with?  Gallup released a report recently showing that one of the 12 factors that illuminate whether an employee is likely to stay at his or her job is having a best friend at work. Whether your employees are “work spouses” or just carpool buddies matters. When you like who you’re around, you’re likely to stick around, even when the dazzling of corporate retreats or plush expense accounts wanes. Same thing in dating. When you’re on the couch snuggled up in a pair of your college day sweats eating some bad take-out AND you’re having the time of your life, you’re with someone whom you genuinely like  Liking lingers, unlike expensive trinkets. I use the ditch-digging test: Can I have a fun time digging a ditch for several hours with someone? If the answer is yes, then that’s someone I like, truly.

Tactic

Go dig a ditch with your employees. Make it purposely no frills. The fancy term for this is “team building” without a giant budget. It’s any activity that fosters people naturally liking each other more without the distraction of shiny stuff. Some folks will never like one another as much as others, and that’s natural, too. Your tactic as an employer is to plan low-key activities that allow for liking to happen. A picnic on the beach, a hike in a state park, or a simple potluck are all solid examples.

Purpose

The bull’s eye, the central circle, of long-term romantic relationships is supporting purposes. I look at my parents for this example, who have been married for more than 30 years. My dad wanted to grow a great medical practice, raise a small family, plan an early retirement, and live a simple but splendid life. Had my mom’s purpose been to live around the globe and eventually serve as a Congresswoman, I wouldn’t be here. Their purposes complimented and fostered each other’s. In the workplace, an employee who shares a similar purpose with the company is the core driver in everlasting retention. Another recent Gallup survey uncovered that the statement, “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important” is the most correlated phrase to how employees rate their retention. Furthermore, Gallup concluded, “The best workplaces give their employees a sense of purpose.

Tactic

Assuming your employees are on the same page with your company’s mission is risky. Rather than assume, ask and ask often. Things change in all relationships. The question can sound something like this, “Hey Bill. This is the purpose of our company, which I know you know. Is that in line with YOUR purpose, though, and are we supporting it?” This might seem a bit “out there” or New Age-y for some corporate environments, but the right long-term employees are keepers of every company.

What’s your top tip for making sure your team sticks around?

About the guest blogger: Beck founded BAM Communications in 2006 and has since founded three other businesses, Bite San Diego, Nosh Las Vegas, and Pangea Pal. In 2011, she won an Emmy for on camera hosting in a talk show format for her show, Next 500. She is currently a board member of Gen-Next and CONNECT and is a 2014 Political Leadership Institute scholar.