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Columbia Business Monthly

What’s Your Employee Retention Plan?

Nov 27, 2017 08:58AM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Fraser Marlow and Bob Helbig

How well is your company competing for talent? It’s a timely question given the hundreds of cities nationwide, including some hopefuls in South Carolina, that would love to land Amazon’s new second headquarters. So here’s the big question: what would your retention plan look like if 50,000 new positions opened up down the road, at a company with a recognizable brand and an aggressive growth trajectory?

Wherever it lands, Amazon’s new headquarters will attract jobs well beyond those of a big box retailer. They want technical talent, and lots of it. Think software developers, product marketing folks, designers, system engineers. The very same people most companies report struggling to hire in the current market. They very ones that could walk out your door.

So how do you protect yourself from losing valuable talent you have fostered and invested in over the years? Here are five ideas, learned from Top Workplaces in South Carolina and elsewhere, to make sure you maximize employee engagement.

Bolster communication

Improving engagement requires high levels of communication. It can be a challenge trying to get the attention of employees, and soliciting input also creates vast amounts of feedback. Start with an annual survey to gauge where your organization is on the trust continuum. Do employees trust the organization or are people suspicious of new initiatives?

Naturally, skilled face-to-face communication is best. Top Workplaces hold frequent, candid and transparent meetings where staff can hear directly from top executives and ask questions. With dedicated pulse survey tools that offer a platform for anonymized Q&A, organizations can initiate a dialogue, build trust over time, and get ahead of any underlying issues hindering the organization’s success.

Focus on culture, appreciation

Companies that want to fend off Amazons need to bolster their culture and sense of community.  That requires strengthening the social fabric of organizations through peer recognition and solid teamwork. That also includes showing a sense of appreciation to employees.

Workers want connection. They’re also seeking levels of appreciation beyond the table stakes of pay and benefits. People use their own definition. They know it when they feel it. They can also readily distinguish between what’s authentic and what’s simply lip service.

The simplest and sometimes the most effective form of appreciation is giving positive feedback or praise. “Thank you for your effort” or “You’re doing a really good job.” Such feedback can be delivered in person, electronically, or even through handwritten notes.

Ensure engaged leadership

Leaders at all levels need to actively engage employees both individually and collectively. This takes some sustained commitment. Leaders at Top Workplaces are far more prone to seeking input from individual rank-and-file employees on topics such as major department decisions, process improvement, or customer service.

Asking – and listening – is a must for any organization that wants to move the needle on employee engagement. It starts at the top.

Positively impact employees’ lives

Employees at Top Workplaces routinely tell us they want to find a sense of meaningfulness in their work lives, and they want to know they are working to their full potential. In fact, meaningfulness (as  in, "My job makes me feel like I am part of something meaningful") ranked behind only the direction of the company in terms of importance to South Carolina workers in our survey earlier this year.

One employee at Greenville-based Creative Builders, Inc. told us: "What we do is meaningful and everything we do, no matter how big or small, is appreciated.” That’s the kind of stuff that makes people stay put at a great workplace.

Love your managers

Support from managers is vital. They are in a position to bring the skills and focus of team members into alignment with the organization’s goals. They hold a privileged position since they work closely with people on their team, and generally, hold a higher level of trust than the more distant executives.

Many organizations invest in formal manager training. Yet these skills are rarely the issue. Committed managers are more open to acquiring the skills needed for improvement. So until they see a real need for change, formal training can fall short.

Retention requires a focus on employee engagement, and it’s a win-win. The organization benefits from a more committed and energized workforce, and, in turn, employees benefit from purposeful, enjoyable work. That’s essential when the next big employer comes to town to lure your talent away.

Integrated Media Publishing – publishers of Greenville Business Magazine, Charleston Business Magazine, and Columbia Business Monthly – is still on the lookout for terrific places to work in the state. As long as you have 35 or more employees in the Palmetto State, you are eligible. Employers can be public, private, non-profit, schools or government institutions.

Workplaces are evaluated by their employees, who take a short, 24-question survey. Companies will be surveyed through January. Best of all, there is no cost to participate, and every surveyed organization will receive an overview of survey results for free.

Companies that make the Top Workplaces list based on the employee feedback will be featured in a special edition of our magazines.

Energage, formerly WorkplaceDynamics, is the third-party research partner for the project. The Exton, Pa.-based research and consulting firm conducts Top Workplaces surveys for more than 40 major metro media partners nationwide, and it surveyed 2.8 million employees at nearly 7,000 organizations in 2016.

The deadline to nominate has been extended to Jan. 19. To nominate, just go to For more information, you also can call (864) 501-9699.

Fraser Marlow and Bob Helbig work for Energage, a research and consulting firm based in Exton, Pa., that partners with media organizations to find Top Workplaces throughout the United States. In 2016, it surveyed 2.8 million employees at nearly 7,000 organizations.