The Five Love Languages of Employee Retention
Oct 20, 2015
Job openings are currently at the highest levels they’ve been in 14 years (Zumbrun, 2015). And unless you have a wicked IT team, you probably can’t cyberstalk your employees during their lunch hour to see if they are cruising or going on blind dates with competitors. Your top talent may struggle with fidelity as they are bombarded with an endless array of exciting career opportunities on the horizon. Since it’s now more common for workers to voluntarily quit rather than be laid off (Fell, 2015), the biggest mistake an organization can make is to think that top performers mate for life.

The second biggest mistake is thinking that the same “one size fits all” tactic will steal every top performer’s heart. While your best employees likely share some key characteristics (think intelligence), they’re individuals with unique values. If you don’t tailor your retention strategies to their individual goals and needs, they might just leave you at the altar. Luckily, assessments can help you determine exactly what cocktail of retention tactics will keep your dream employee drunk on love. Implement an annual assessment program to keep a close eye on your top performers, and use the tactics below to cook up the retention potion that’ll make them fall head over heels for your organization.

1. Visibility. Extroverts crave social recognition and excitement (Roccas, Sagiv, Schwartz, & Knafo, 2002). If your top performers score high on extraversion, give them the visibility they want. They will relish the opportunity to put their skills on display. Put them on the forefront of important projects that will showcase their abilities to the executive team and the rest of the organization. This type of social recognition is critical for extroverts, because it demonstrates to them that the organization values their input and talent.

2. Challenge. Highly ambitious employees seek achievement and challenge (Roccas et al., 2002). Make your top talent feel like your organization brings out the best in their professional selves. Create stretch assignments for them and push them to new heights. Learn how to create quality stretch assignments here. A large majority of top executives pinpoint stretch assignments as their preferred way to develop new skills (Wilson, Velsor, Chandrasekar, & Criswell, 2011). Remember, you’ll need to cater these assignments to the individual. You’re trying to retain a select number of employees, not develop them on a mass scale.

3. Freedom. Employees scoring high on openness desire intellectual autonomy; however, unless they also score high on conscientiousness, they will lack the self-control necessary to fully benefit from increased freedom (Roccas et al., 2002). These individuals should not be micro-managed; they can follow rules and are dutiful enough to get their work done. So give them freedom in their role—provide the end goal and make sure to support them along the way, but let them decide how to go about doing it. They’ll appreciate the autonomy, and you’ll likely learn new methods for success as they freely experiment and innovate.

4. Novelty. Curious people (openness) crave intellectual stimulation, and extroverts seek excitement (Roccas et al., 2002). If you can’t promote them just yet, find a new way to give them a fresh experience. Try restructuring their current role, expanding their scope, or providing them with a cross-functional experience. Find out what they would like to try, and brainstorm ways to incorporate those experience into their role. But beware: employees that are highly structured (high on conscientiousness) may not respond well to this approach, because they crave order and may prefer their established routine. Those with natural curiosity who love solving complex problems will likely respond best.

5. Mentorship. If your top performer scores high on agreeableness, odds are that they value friendship and tradition (Roccas et al., 2002). They won’t be motivated by challenge or visibility–what they crave is a deep and meaningful relationship with a mentor. Mentors are a great way to heighten the commitment level of your top talent, while also focusing on their personal growth and development. Research has shown that organizations with mentoring opportunities experience higher levels of employee retention than organizations without any mentorship (Beck-Howard, 2009). It’s a win/win for everyone involved.

Although it may be a match made in heaven, attracting your top performers doesn’t stop with the employment contract. Keep attracting them every day by thoughtfully tailoring your retention tactics to their unique needs. Invest in an annual assessment program, and all your managers will know how to brew the irresistible love potion that will keep your top performers happy and engaged. You cannot make the competition disappear, but you can give your top talent a real reason to stop looking.