The Little Things Matter in Employee Retention

The Little Things Matter in Employee Retention

By Staci Hegarty, M.Ed.

The statistics are well known. It takes 50% (or more) of an employee’s annual salary to replace them if they leave. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. Competition for talented employees is fierce. Baby Boomers will all be at
traditional retirement in 2030, contributing millions of roles to the labor shortage. Companies are struggling with work-from-home policies, the introduction of AI into our daily lives, skyrocketing health insurance costs, and the need for a global workforce.

On average, workers leave companies after only four years. The days of decades of loyalty to an employer are gone. This is not because employees are fickler, but because the grass may truly be greener somewhere else. Few jobs reward that kind of loyalty anymore. Pensions only exist in a handful of industries. 401k matching is becoming rare. Employees have been prioritizing work-life balance more than ever. Few families can afford to have a stay-at-home parent, which means working parents must walk a tightrope between their professional goals and their personal obligations. An annual cost of living raise will not be enough to retain high-potential or high-contributing employee.

Rather than compete for new employees, it is more cost-effective and productive to invest in your existing employees. Our jobs are more than a paycheck. They are where we spend about a quarter of our lives. Studies show that our boss has a greater impact on our mental health than a doctor or therapist, with influence that is comparable to that of our life partners. Leaders who are connected to their employees on a personal level create one of the most important aspects of a healthy workplace, a sense of belonging for their employees. When employees feel cared for, they are less inclined to leave.


Opportunities for growth and promotion are another significant factor in employee retention. Not every employee will be promoted to a leadership role, and not every employee wants that. Professional development, formal mentorship programs, and upskilling is a benefit to both the employee and the organization and have been proven to increase employee engagement and retention. An employee who is underperforming in their current role may benefit from a lateral move to another department. An entry level employee may become more invested in their work if they are part of a leadership succession program. Most people don’t need to have an immediate promotion or change but will be more engaged when they are actively participating in something that helps them develop their skills for the future.

Recognition is another known factor in employee retention. Annual recognition awards are common. While important, these awards are not as impactful as frequent, informal recognition. A simple moment of praise during the weekly department meeting, done sincerely and regularly, can improve an employee’s mindset and connection with work. Recognition does not have to be for extremely high performance, it can and should include praise for the little things that help make the big things happen. Leaders should always be on the lookout for the actions and behaviors that may otherwise go unnoticed, especially from people who have jobs that are not high-profile or consistently celebrated. Praise for the salesperson who lands a big account is obvious and expected, praise for the marketing specialist who caught a typo in a mass email before it went out may not be as obvious or expected. When we feel like our contribution matters, we feel more
connected to the organization.

Leaders do not have control over everything in their market or industry. They do not have control over the economic climate of the country. What they DO have control over is what they do to let their employees know that their role is important, and their work is not invisible. Recognize, reward, and promote your existing employees and they will return that energy with greater engagement, innovation, and loyalty. If you aren’t sure what your employee engagement plan is missing, connect with our experts at Envision RISE to transform your organization’s employee retention efforts at