Employee retention strategies to future-proof your organization

• 6 min read

48% of people have thought about changing careers in the past 12 months.

That’s a lot of employee turnover.

There’s no shortage of neologisms for this trend (‘the great resignation,’ ‘the war for talent’), and there’s no shortage of theories to explain why it’s happening. 

Skilled workers and grad students in organizational psychology are thrilled. Think of the job offers! The thesis projects! The research questions pose themselves:

  • What’s causing these fluctuations in employee engagement and turnover rate?
  • What’s the optimal way to onboard new hires in a virtual/hybrid environment?
  • What role does company culture play and how much is due to societal factors?

But if you’re a leader trying to attract and retain top talent, ‘thrilled’ probably isn’t the word you’re reaching for. The questions might still fascinate you, but the facts remain simple: 48% of people are thinking of leaving. And for knowledge workers, that figure climbs to 57%.

The question that matters to businesses right now is this one: What are the most effective employee retention strategies and how do I implement them?

If that question matters to you, you’re in luck. No grad students required.

Here’s the latest data about employee retention strategies, engagement, and turnover:

The factors affecting employee retention and engagement are mainly human and social 

Perks and competitive salary are important, but they aren’t the only (or even the most) important factors. Humans are social creatures. When you put us in hybrid or fully remote working contexts, human nature doesn’t change—human behavior does. 

First, there’s the work environment and company culture. Simply, a toxic culture is the single biggest predictor of employee turnover. But the bar for ‘toxic’ is high, involving disrespect, unethical behavior, or failures in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I).

More common is the impact of people’s social relationships. Gallup famously discovered the (slightly controversial) fact that one of the most powerful predictors of employee engagement and job satisfaction is the answer to this question: Do you have a best friend at work? 

Social connection is critical for retention. Through this lens, it’s no surprise that as remote work and isolation are at their peak, so are burnout and employee turnover.

But there’s more to the story than just friendship. Recent research by McKinsey backs up Gallup’s findings, showing that “interpersonal relationships” account for more than a third of employees’ job satisfaction. However, their data suggests that an employee’s relationship with their manager has an even greater impact.

Taken together, these findings raise the question: What aren’t people getting from their work relationships that’s causing them to leave? 

The answer is: A lot.

Learning and growth opportunities are absolutely critical 

Let’s dive deeper into the data because let’s face it: This is our jam. We know that co-worker and manager relationships are key factors that govern employee experience and retention rates. And we can guess that the pandemic plays a role in their decline. But what is it about these changing work relationships that makes people leave (or stay)?

Well, the main reason people change jobs is to pursue growth opportunities. 86% of professionals said they’d change jobs if the new company had more opportunities for professional development. That’s the bad news. The good news is that a whopping 94% would stay with their current employer longer if they had better learning opportunities.

If you want people to stay, you have to help them feel connected and you have to help them grow. A robust social learning program can do both by promoting the development of new skills as well as tightening social bonds through mentorship and employee recognition.

It isn’t enough to learn: We want to be seen learning and we want to learn with others. This doesn’t mean that L&D needs to be synchronous or come at the cost of flexible scheduling. Social learning can be asynchronous while still creating an environment of mentorship, professional development, and social wellbeing. It’s about creating a company culture of learning and growth, with friends who learn beside us and managers who care about our work-life balance, career path, and mental health.

Managers should model a learning culture through their own professional development—perhaps by sharing the skills they’re learning with their team. They should also support their teams in their individual L&D and participate in employee recognition programs. Building skills and confidence was one of the four key behaviors McKinsey identified as contributing to employee engagement and wellbeing. It’s a variable managers can directly control, by making learning a ritual, woven into the fabric of the day-to-day. 

Here’s an example: Managers could encourage team members to block time in their calendars specifically for learning, and then schedule larger social meetings to connect and share. By ensuring learning happens ‘on the clock,’ work-life balance is improved. Strategies like these improve engagement because they foster social connection and they improve retention because when people are growing, they stay. 

Your learning solution should make this incredibly easy and it should reduce your L&D team’s workload rather than add to it. Modern solutions use AI to simplify program development. They automatically serve people personalized learning plans, offer social learning functionality, and inject learning directly into the flow of work. And because a platform is only as effective as the content that’s on it, they come equipped with the world’s best e-learning content.

The bottom line: Employee retention is about L&D and relationships

If you want to retain top talent, first do the obvious: Make sure your company culture isn’t toxic, offer competitive salary, perks, and benefits, and embrace flexible work if possible. These things matter. But they’re the obvious variables for a reason. Most organizations know about them, are focused on them, and are losing top talent anyway. It’s time to attend to other variables. It’s time to invest in learning, growth, and fostering interpersonal relationships. 

Remember: 86% of professionals would change jobs for better professional development. But 94% would stay with their current employer longer if they had better learning opportunities. Your people want to stay. They just want to grow even more.

In addition to learning, employees need positive relationships with their manager and teams. Smart organizations will use L&D to help foster those relationships, achieving two goals at once. Here are a few easy places to start:

  • Find ways to make learning social. For example, instead of sending your sales team off to do isolated individual learning, start a sales team book club where you read a business-related book together. Have regular meetings to discuss the key ideas and encourage people to share their favorite passages in a group chat. This builds social connection and a deeper investment in the content being covered.
  • Activate feelings of autonomy and mastery by revisiting your coaching and mentorship programs. We know that 70% of employees say they don’t have the skills they need to do their jobs and that informal, unstructured learning is another casualty of the pandemic. But rather than lament that 70%, try empowering your experts by providing more opportunities for them to share their knowledge and skills with others. For example, make teaching and mentorship part of your employee recognition plan and consciously allocate time for your top performers to share their tips with peers. Again, this builds both social connection and overall competence.
  • Get the social energy pumping by empowering your employees to ask questions, comment on the courses in your learning library, and share their achievements. And to really boost engagement, add a sprinkle of gamification; some friendly competition (especially between teams) can bring everyone closer together. 

These strategies are easy to implement and will have an immediate, tangible impact on your employee satisfaction and retention. You’ve got this!

Of course, if you want to go beyond incremental changes and fundamentally level up your learning and development, we have solutions for that too. The Docebo Learning Suite has everything you need. It has social learning and gamification functionality you can use out-of-the-box (out-of-the-cloud). It has AI superpowers that automatically create personalized learning plans for your audiences. And with Docebo Content, it gives you instant access to the world’s best e-learning content, consolidated from hundreds of providers, covering thousands of the most relevant and in-demand personal and professional skills. It’s enough to keep even the most engaged teams learning and growing for a long, long time. 

We love practical. We hate boring. So look through our content library and take some courses for a free test drive. It’ll help your people build new skills. It’ll help them feel connected. And it will make them more likely to stay. 94% of them at least.