The Place of Retention Strategies

Retention strategies

What do you see as “traditional” retention policies and how are these ideas changing?

We have traditional ideas about what retention programs are — career development, leadership path, trying to grow employees to supervisory or managerial levels. However, depending on the industry — and definitely in IT and technology — traditional just doesn't cut it anymore. Employees have different interests and ambitions, so those traditional company-wide programs are no longer as effective. I think it’s important to look at it from the employee’s perspective: what are their passions and interests? What are they trying to accomplish in the next two or three years? What can I, as a manager or company, do to keep them engaged?

When speaking with employees, the topic of time always becomes part of the discussion, so increasingly, time finds its way into our retention strategies as well. For many, having set hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is no longer the reality; companies offer a lot more flexibility and let employees have more control over their work schedules. For instance, a company may ask that everybody be available between the core hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — but then allow employees to choose their hours outside of this block. Whether it's coming into the office later to avoid traffic, taking a bit of time during the day for personal errands, or going to the gym, providing that flexibility is undoubtedly a great retention tool — at a low cost to the organization.

Increasingly, companies are becoming open to remote work arrangements. For employees, it offers them the opportunity to still be part of the team and work on interesting projects, but also able to take care of familial obligations, travel, or eliminate their commute time — which can be life-changing for some.

I think it’s important to look at it from the employee’s perspective: what are their passions and interests? What are they trying to accomplish in the next two or three years? What can I, as a manager or company, do to keep them engaged?

Another common retention tool is creating an inviting work environment. When we say this, our thoughts tend to navigate to the luxury campuses of Google and Facebook, but other companies also work hard to create this work-home type of environment on a different scale. They have ping pong tables, game rooms, a stocked pantry with snacks — all aimed at making people feel that even though they're spending their day in an office, it’s still a comfortable place.

It’s also important to emphasize an inclusive and supportive company culture. Sometimes people want to break away from their primary tasks and work on different projects. Allowing employees to move internally to join a different team, develop different skill sets and work on passion projects helps with retention by directly answering the employees’ needs and making them feel that they are contributing in ways that provide variety and are self-identified.

Lastly, recognition is vital to making employees feel appreciated as it relates to their contributions. Recognition can take on different forms, such as a simple thank you, a monetary reward or other creative perks such as tickets to a game or a weekend away for the family. There are so many ways to recognize your employees, and the end result is always one that is impactful for the employee.

If retention is shifting towards a more individualized plan for each employee, how do you as an HR professional help facilitate that?

From the start, you need to make sure that the working relationship will be positive for both parties, therefore, right at the talent acquisition stage, it’s important to evaluate fit at the same level as skill and competencies. Once both parties have signed on the dotted line, don’t wait until the first day to connect with them. Stay in touch. Communication is a powerful tool. And once they’ve joined the company, ensure your on-boarding plan is impactful and gives the new employee the desire and excitement to work with the team. An on-boarding plan should be adapted to the role. A cookie cutter program may not give the kick-off that leads to a lasting impression.

HR is pivotal in making sure that employees have a strong relationship with their managers. Having that relationship will be momentous in a retention strategy. We in HR constantly remind managers that even if they’re busy, they should check-in with their employees — do they know how their employees are feeling? Are they happy? These personal interactions can help employees feel like their voice is being heard — ultimately putting in motion a strong retention strategy from the very beginning.

What do you think about adding training programs as part of an employee retention strategy? Have you noticed that employees are increasingly looking for training opportunities to develop skills that will help them attain multiple careers?

Training programs are very much still associated with employee satisfaction and retention. People want to feel like they're making valuable contributions and growing with the company. And in return, many companies understand that by investing in training, employees will bring those newly acquired skill sets, product ideas and innovations back to the company. It’s a win-win situation.

In my experience, this is especially true for millennials. Since they're open to multiple careers, it’s important to have a philosophy of investing in them and their interests to retain them. That’s why more companies are adopting open training budgets, which are spent on training opportunities proactively identified by individuals.

Remote work

Should demographics be considered as it relates to retention?

Yes! With different generations in the workforce, we must consider that their approach to work will differ from each other. There have been many articles that examine the inter-generational debate. Regardless of what defines each group, the consensus is that there are, and will continue to be, generational differences in the workplace, which simply means that we must understand and consider each’s work preferences and ethics to be in a position to work and respond to the differences.

Recognition is vital to making employees feel appreciated.
Let’s talk specifically about remote work. In your career you have experience working in Montreal while also supporting offices in the US. How are you able to work remotely?

It definitely takes technology and the willingness of everybody involved. It means that you need to be proactive, because when you're not physically onsite, there's a lot of information that you don't have access to at the time it happens. In HR, we learn a lot from talking to people around the water cooler, the coffee machine or at happy hour, which allows us to get the pulse of the office. Not being there physically means that the only information we’ll get is the information we proactively seek. Otherwise, we might end up in a situation where we’re getting pertinent information once it’s too late to help.

To combat that, when working remotely, communication, initiating regular meetings and making sure you stay informed is truly key.

Now, from the other side of the issue. When implementing a work-from-home program, what are some challenges organizations may face?

Although work-from-home options are definitely becoming more common, it does bring some obvious challenges. You can't always keep an eye on your employees and measure their productivity. Communication may also be an obstacle. As well, the office vibe changes — since remote work can mean a rotation of people in the office, it can be hard when people like their co-workers but don’t always have them around. This is why setting parameters is important. For example, a company might allow their employees to work from home only on days when they do not have meetings. It can also help to have set days or a rotating schedule for when employees can work from home. And from the very beginning, ensure that your employees understand that there’s an expectation for them to be reachable and connected.

Given your experience with remote work, what do you think are the necessary elements of a successful remote work program?

First, there needs to be buy-in at all levels of the organization. It’s also about reinforcing the idea that being at home does not mean being disconnected; employees have to be reachable and engaged. Also, everyone needs to be comfortable with the communication challenges of not having everybody in the office. Some people have a blockage with not being able to walk up to a person’s desk or physically have them in meetings. Brainstorming is a great example. Some managers believe that the feel is very different when done with a team around a table, versus a team that is remote because no one is distracted, and they believe it fosters creativity when everyone is together. However, technology can help in this area. Video conferencing tools can bring employees together virtually and tools like Google Docs can help with fluidity and allow teams to work more collaboratively and efficiently.

So, if employees are as productive working from home as they are in the office, the program works. Otherwise, you definitely need to evaluate your parameters.

The future

What is the place of retention programs in organizational strategy? Is it a competitive advantage?

All companies are looking for top talent, so retaining the talent that you have is crucial. These people have knowledge of the company and products and they've contributed to your success. In this way, retention strategies will always be important. Now, however, you can’t take a blanket approach to your retention strategy. The program has to be customized for the individual employee. But, these tactics don't necessarily have to be extravagant or costly. We’ve talked about flexible schedules, working remotely, a comfortable work environment, timely recognition — it’s about all the little things that make a difference in the employee's life cycle.

What will these programs look like in the future?

I think retention strategies will become increasingly customized. I think we'll shift towards tactics that really tap into what makes the employee tick and ones that also align with the company’s values. Leadership training and development will always exist, but we will also see the birth of other creative approaches to retention as it relates to benefits, perks and policies.

It’s also about reinforcing the idea that being at home does not mean being disconnected.
What will motivation strategies look like in the future? What will motivate the employees of tomorrow?

The motivation of tomorrow will reflect that next mix of generations’ tendencies. However, I feel that there will not be a secret recipe. As we do today, companies will keep focusing on understanding their workforce and adapting their motivational strategies to it. In the end, it is the mix of generations that will dictate what the shape of the future’s motivational strategy will be.

Fabrice Prosper, MBA, CHRP, Senior HR – North America, Unity Technologies

Fabrice Prosper, MBA, CHRP

Senior HR – North America, Unity Technologies

Fabrice Prosper is currently Senior HR – North America at Unity Technologies, based in Montreal. Having worked in various industries in the last 15 years, Fabrice understands the importance of building trust at all levels through building strong relationships with his client groups, positioning him to truly partner with the business. Fabrice has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Relations, a Master of Business Administration, and is an active member of the Chartered Human Resources Professional organization.


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