Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Retention

Happy, engaged co-workers in the workplace

Not long ago, Human Resources Executive conducted a study showing what HR leaders are worried about.

And for the first time, retention pushed to the top of the list. 

“The number of job openings in the U.S. fell from 7.6 million in January 2019 to 6.8 million in January 2020,” wrote HRE’s Carol Patton, noodling on whether the diminished job openings means an easing of the talent wars. “But regardless of what those numbers reflect, HR professionals continue to worry about maintaining a skilled workforce.”

It’s an understandable worry, if perhaps a little misplaced. Not that hanging on to people isn’t important – especially skilled people, especially now in single-digit unemployment. But can you really impact retention directly? Maybe not. 

Lining Up the Dominoes

Take a look at the rest of the things leaders are worried about, in numerical order from most to least:

  • 43%: Developing leaders and succession planning
  • 36%: Improving the employee experience
  • 32%: Driving culture change
  • 25%: Driving innovation

On a list, those look like separate things. 

But together, they form a talent strategy. Each one of those elements fuels retention. Take developing leaders and succession planning. We know from our Working Learner Index that development is at the top of employees’ list. Three quarters said a tuition reimbursement program is something they’d stay for. More than 60% said such benefits make them happier at work.

Knowing What Makes People Want to Stay

Same for the rest of the list – everyone wants a good employee experience. Better culture? Who doesn’t want that? It’s not that you shouldn’t be concerned about people leaving; but it’s why they’re leaving that’s the bigger problem. Under the heading of “things you can control,” start with culture change, and work your way up. 

“There’s no shortage of triggers causing people to quit,” writes HRE. “Some respondents blame outdated technologies and manually intensive processes. Others mention such contributing factors as high benefit costs, weak managers or leadership, poor communication or a toxic culture where core values and responsibilities are not clearly defined or even widely accepted by the workforce.”

It all synchs up with another study we did -- our Dream Company study, showing that where people work is more important than what they do. People, according to findings, prioritize support for well-being, professional development, and work/life balance in job choices. And they’ll stay for those elements, with people in Dream Companies 300% less likely (13% vs. 52%) than those not in their Dream Company to be looking for a job. 

Here’s one last point: if you shore up the elements employees care about, you’ll not only keep skilled employees, you’ll keep engaged employees (another benefit of Dream Companies) – the kind that are creative and innovative. And that will outlast any economy. 

So yes, we all want to keep our great people. But retention on its own isn’t fixable. It’s the things that fuel retention that we can work on. 

Worry about the things that make people want to stay (or go) – the development, the employee experience, the culture, the creative atmosphere. Retention...that will take care of itself.

man taking notes

2019 Working Learner Index

Gain further insights from workers who are currently or have recently engaged in employer-sponsored education.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

March 5, 2020

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.