Retaining Talent: Strategies for Oregon and Washington Employers

To cultivate a thriving workforce, employers need to engage and retain their most valuable asset — their employees.

From investing in comprehensive training programs to embracing work-life balance initiatives and celebrating community, you can nurture talent, champion employee well-being, and help your team see they have a future with your organization.

Here’s a list of strategies for retaining talent. Use them to create a collaborative, creative environment that nurtures internal talent.

Engage Your Employees.

Encourage open communication.

Ask employees which new career development ideas and opportunities they are interested in. Ensure employees know it’s a company priority to see them grow professionally.

Ask employees frequently how you can help them grow and succeed. Communicate regularly with them (both formally and informally) to gauge their engagement in their jobs.

Create an open, transparent environment.

Make your employees feel like their voice matters and create an open, transparent environment where honesty is celebrated. Honesty builds trust and connection with your staff and encourages your team to reciprocate.

Create Development Opportunities. 

Invest in training programs and career development opportunities.

These can be free online courses, company-led workshops, expert-led breakout sessions, or other training methods – as long as you have a clear strategy for employees to learn new skills. Whatever your strategy, budget for training and development, and encourage your employees to participate in the opportunities offered.

Outline detailed development plans.

Formally evaluate employees’ current capabilities and growth potential. Look beyond their educational credentials and focus on their curiosity and desire to learn new things. Reward them with more opportunities and invest in their skills.

Assign stretch projects.

Assigning new responsibilities or an entirely new project is a good way of assessing talent and pushing an employee’s potential. A stretch assignment can often help to demonstrate hidden talent and an individual’s capacity to shoulder new levels of responsibility.

Set up Mentorship Programs.

Have senior staff mentor entry-level employees. 

Empower mentors to monitor their mentees’ needs and provide resources and support to help them develop. Offer formal mentoring to all employees, but intentionally give underrepresented groups access to information and key relationships that will make them successful.

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Try informational interviews.

Let employees interview another member of the organization to learn more about their role and see if they are interested in succeeding that person one day. If it’s feasible with your office setup, let them shadow the other employee for the day. Setting up succession plans in advance is key. And be prepared to follow through with the succession plan when the time comes.

Provide cross-functional experiences.

Allow employees to work on projects with other team members or outside their usual task responsibilities. This lets them see whether they want to create a different career path within your organization.

Embrace Work-Life Balance Initiatives.

Focus on flexibility and offer remote work.

Workplace flexibility was already a popular topic before COVID-19. A 2019 Glassdoor survey of over 5,000 adults in the U.S. and Europe detailed that 56 percent of respondents prioritized workplace culture over salary. On top of this, 73 percent of workers said they would not apply to a company that didn’t share their values.

Now, workers of all ages want to be able to work when and where they are most productive and engaged. This is especially true after they’ve demonstrated their ability to work remotely for an extended period.

This year, mobile workers are expected to account for 60 percent of the U.S. workforce. One of the best ways to attract and retain talent is to offer flexible working accommodations, whether that’s a hybrid model, flexible hours that accommodate caregiving responsibilities, a four-day work week, or total freedom to set their own schedules.

Encourage the use of paid time off and sick days.

A trend that was creeping into the workplace pre-pandemic was the stigma around taking time off, even for sick days. While this may have improved as a result of COVID, this can still be a challenge in an era with unrealistic expectations for 24/7 connectivity and accessibility. 

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Overworked employees can lead to burnout, low morale, and turnover. Workers need time to unplug to be their best, most productive selves, especially when they need a mental break or when they’re under the weather. 

Encourage employees to take vacations away from the office, take full advantage of sick days, and stay disconnected during their time off.

Invest in Employees’ Well-Being.

Remember that employees are human beings, not resources. Being supportive means caring about the overall employee as a person, not just their performance at work. When setbacks occur, meet them with empathy and concern.

Acknowledge achievements.

Rather than focusing heavily on motivational incentives, establish a set of clearly defined goals and then celebrate when those goals are met. Recognition for a job well done helps create a positive organizational culture and encourages employees to excel in their jobs.

Give employees autonomy.

Part of building a supportive foundation is learning to trust that your employees will use their workday to accomplish their tasks. By creating a strong sense of autonomy, employees will feel empowered rather than micromanaged.

Promote wellness.

Create wellness programs that take a holistic view of wellness, from financial wellness to physical health and well-being. Actively support participation in these programs so that employees know you genuinely care.

Celebrate community and honor losses.

Create celebration of life events at work (including getting married or having a child for example) to help strengthen workplace relationships and employee connections. When an employee experiences a loss, offer them bereavement time and express your condolences.

Create a Supportive Environment for Employee Feedback.

Remove fear from your culture.

Mistakes are the stepping stones to moving outside the comfort zone to a path of growth and discovery. Create an environment where employees are not constantly afraid of being judged on their past mistakes. 

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Instead, create a supportive environment where employees can try and fail without fear. Respond to problems and mistakes in a fair and supportive manner. Encourage employees to take risks and help them work through problems. They may surprise you with their innovative ideas and abilities.

Use different approaches to gather employee feedback.

Use methods that guarantee anonymity, such as online surveys and focus groups conducted by a third-party facilitator or consultant. Try skip-level meetings, in which a manager meets with employees two levels below them in the organizational structure. 

Ask employees to identify their top three challenges and suggest specific solutions or recommendations.

Follow through with actions.

Employees will stop giving feedback if they think it is a futile process. Thank employees for their feedback, share decisions made, and explain the reasons behind the decisions.

Building human-centered policies into your company’s procedures will help secure your company’s future and establish you as a hiring innovator.

Ask Employees What They Need.

It’s easy to assume we know what’s best for our employees, based on our own experiences and insights, but we’re all different. Employees who thrive with clear instructions need different management than those who need space and autonomy to do their best work. 

The employee with dependents needs different benefits than the employee nearing retirement. The employee who is new to your company experiences it in a very different way than a long-term employee.

Instead of assuming you know what works for your employees, ask them what they need. You can use surveys, focus groups, empathy mapping, shadowing, and interviews – whatever you need to develop a clear picture of what your employees need to be successful in your organization.