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Creating a Workforce Culture That Retains Your Best and Brightest

Many in supervisory roles have experienced those awkward moments when approached by an employee who asks, “Can I speak with you privately?” and then announces that they intend to move on to another company for a variety of reasons. What do you do?

While these conversations are inevitable and ultimately unavoidable due to some factors that are out of our hands, there are several ways employers can help improve retention and avoid trying to find a replacement for a valued longer-term employee in the three-week period before their departure.

While gift cards, branded trinkets and holiday parties are nice gestures, they will ultimately not have an impact on an employee’s decision to stay or leave an organization. What has a real, positive impact for many employees is the feeling that they are a valued part of an inclusive team that focuses on respect and engagement. This starts on day one on the job. Think of the impression left by these two scenarios:

Scenario One: New employee Ron enters on his first day, waits at the reception desk for 20 minutes until a member of the HR team greets him and brings him to a generic conference room to fill out a stack of paperwork. After completing it, Ron is informed that they are still working on creating his e-mail address and configuring his computer, so they provide him with some reading materials such as the employee manual while he waits to meet with his supervisor, who is running late and apologizes through a message from the HR rep.

Scenario Two: New employee Meghan arrives on her first day and is immediately greeted by her supervisor who shows her to her office space that is properly set up technologically and features a company-branded coffee mug and some fresh flowers with a hand written welcome note. She is asked to drop off her belongings, gets a tour of the office space and is introduced to individuals in her department that greet her warmly. After meeting with her supervisor – who invites her out to lunch – she meets with a member of the HR team in a tastefully branded conference room with posters that describe the organization’s mission and priorities to put customers first.

It’s pretty clear that Meghan probably had a better first day. But the commitment to corporate culture and employee engagement goes well beyond those first impressions. Employees want to know more about the organization than the policies in the handbook. They want to know what the organizational goals and challenges are and how they fit into moving the organization forward. While they may be subject to hitting certain performance metrics, they want to feel valued, respected and appreciated and see opportunities to contribute and grow professionally. And yes, they like to be rewarded for a job well done.

Building and maintaining a positive corporate culture requires a commitment from the CEO that is shared through the management team. It needs to be built into all aspects of operations and not given lip service. Employees in an organization are by far the most valuable resource, and investing in corporate culture and doing good while doing well will enhance your retention and your reputation.

While Meghan’s new organization might appear to have a fantastic corporate culture as compared to Ron’s, is it ingrained or did Ron’s onboarding just go wrong?

Hiring and retaining top-notch employees starts at day one and is a journey for the employer and employee. Start with a renewed emphasis on employee retention to meet those annual goals and continually nurture a working environment that becomes the Glassdoor envy of others.


Kelley Small is an Advisor at Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that works with business owners and leaders seeking accelerated growth, change or succession.

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