Safety Leader

Keeping What We Got: Tips for improving employee retention

Published On
Aug 4, 2022

You might wonder what the title of this article means. It’s my way of grabbing your attention to discuss a key aspect of our business—retention!

Let’s face it—we have a lot of time, money and expertise invested in every employee on the books. But in this day and age of job jumping, how do we keep them? Employees are a company’s most valuable asset. Without them, no work gets done and there are no positive outcomes on projects. A business owner’s or manager’s reputation is built around how employees represent the company when dealing with customers and the general public.

What’s the motivation?

So, how do we ensure that they stay with us after we’ve trained them and given them the opportunity to succeed? In the past, we thought that if we paid well, employees would stay. We had them, for lack of a better phrase.

Today’s employees are a bit different than us old timers. Back in the day, we looked for a steady job that would enable us to provide for our families. We looked for a job we could retire from after a long, rewarding career.

While today’s workers still value those qualities, they aren’t necessarily looking to work for the same company for 20-plus years. They prefer to move around and experience different environments. Over the past 5–10 years, we have seen the trend of what I would call the 3- to 5-year worker. These people jump from job to job every 5 years at the most. They seem to enjoy the unique challenges of new environments and different colleagues.

So, again I ask, how do we keep what we’ve got? My position has always been that, to keep your most valued assets, you need to understand what motivates them. We’ve already determined that it isn’t just money, benefits and steady work. Today’s employee wants more. I’ve previously written about employee engagement as a means to seeking employee input (see “Are You a Leader or a Manager?” in the November 2020 SAFETY LEADER), but in the retention arena you need to go beyond engagement. You need to challenge each employee to go above the norm and provide first-class service.

Leadership training

To engage your employees, you need to provide training that elevates them to the next level once they achieve a certain expertise. You need to offer opportunities for advancement in the skilled trades and leadership opportunities for those with an interest.

However, we often promote someone into leadership—because they expressed an interest or we see they have leadership traits—but we fail to train that person. People are hired or trained in their specific expertise, which doesn’t make them management material. It does help that they know the work and are able to communicate on the same level with folks on the front line. But we need to provide specific leadership training. How do you manage a work crew? What do you do when conflict arises on the job? How do you discipline your friend? These are some parts of a leadership/management role that training is needed on.

As the safety leader of the organization, you wear many hats, and using your interpersonal skills in enhancing employee retention is vital for your, the company’s and employees’ successes.

Here are some key steps for increasing successful employee retention:

  • Keep your employees engaged.
  • Provide them with opportunities
  • for advancing their skill levels.
  • Provide leadership opportunities to those interested.
  • Challenge them to be the best they can be.
  • Learn what makes them tick and use it to motivate them.
  • Pay them fairly.
  • Value them and provide positive feedback.
  • Practice equal and fair discipline when needed.
  • Share your own personal experiences with the jobs they are performing.
  • Lead by example.

If we incorporate these points into our daily activities, we have a good chance of “keeping what we got.”

About the Author

Chuck Kelly

Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or

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