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A Guide to Employee Retention for Small Businesses

4 min read  |   16 July, 2021   By Breathe Australia


The hard truth is that staff turnover is an inevitable part of running a business. But it's not just a numbers game - even if you've been named "world’s best employer," there are still too many factors at play for employees to stay with one company forever.


While there are the obvious impacts of high turnover on your staff, such as workload, burnout, and weak employee sentiment, it’s also often more efficient to make sure you’re keeping turnover as low as possible. According to the 2019 ELMO Benchmark Survey Report, hiring new employees costs businesses $18,982 on average.


Here are six addressable areas to help your business reduce turnover:


Flexible Working

In year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working is no longer just a nice to have – it’s an expected norm, with a study from the University of Sydney showing that most employees believe that a mix of home and office working should be something that employers continue to offer.


With that expectation, businesses will need to plan for how their employees and teams remote work into the future. This will include improving on many of the practices that businesses have been set up since the start of the pandemic and changing HR fundamentals like how goals and KPIs are set to suit a mixed environment setting.


Empowerment & Engagement

With the pandemic has also brought the challenge of handling employee empowerment and engagement outside of the standard business environment. This has been made all the harder by the increased commercial pressure that many businesses have experienced because of the pandemic.


Employees still need their empowerment hygiene – including autonomy, clear and transparent communication, and feedback – but remote working also comes with some additional considerations. Low engagement from employees has traditionally been the red-flag but after all the changes of the last 18 months, employee burnout from being over engaged (read zoom fatigue) now also needs to be a focus.


Employers should look for every opportunity to empower their employees, but this also needs working arrangements and workloads to be taken into consideration.


Appreciation & Recognition

It’s a simple fact that most people want to feel appreciated, so it’s no surprise that a lack of recognition or feeling undervalued at work is a big contributor to employees leaving their roles. A study showed that 66% of employees (rising to 76% for millennials) would leave their job if not given recognition from the business or their managers.


Recognition is key to motivating your employees. Recognising and rewarding their efforts can help them stay happy at work during tough times – a simple thank you in a one-on-one meeting costs nothing and does huge amounts for an employee’s motivation.


What does all this mean? It means there needs be some changes made if your business wants long-term success. Keeping the right people happy with a rewards & recognition program can make or break your company – your high performers are especially important as recognising these individuals sets a benchmark for the whole organisation.


Learning & Development

40% of departing employees cited lack of future career development as a main reason behind their decision. With such high demand for training in the workforce, it's no wonder that learning and development is one way to retain top talent – especially among younger generations who want rapid growth with their careers.


There are two key ways that employers can get ahead: investing in learning tools and having a transparent succession planning process.


Providing your employees with access to various training programs will encourage professional development. This also shows how important ongoing learning is to the company culture and demonstrates trust in developing existing skill sets in the business as new needs arise. Role-sharing schemes where staff can opt in to short term job rotations also help in building on existing strengths while diversifying work experience.



Succession planning is also a key component in professional development. It demonstrates to high-potential employees that their efforts are acknowledged, which can enhance retention tenfold because they feel valued by the organization for future advancement opportunities


Bad Management


Bad managers are one of the biggest factors in driving employee turnover, with a Gallup study showing a huge proportion of staff leaving because of their boss. There are a number of different studies and personas that have been developed, but they boil down to some fundamental behaviours:


  • Lack of performance management
  • Poor attitude and standards
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Poor feedback and undervaluing staff
  • Lack of empathy


Identifying and resolving these behaviours from managers is critical to keeping staff – especially your high performers.


Unfair remuneration

While COVID-19 has been difficult for employers, it’s also been difficult for employees. Many businesses have faced declining revenue due to factors beyond their control and in many cases, this has been passed on to staff in the form of reduction in salaries and hours.


Despite this, remuneration is still an essential hygiene factor for your staff and many Australian staff already feel that they are not paid a fair salary. With COVID-19 putting a sharper focus on employee experience, remuneration is not something that can be neglected – especially when businesses are challenged to find good staff.


Retaining employees is one of the most important factors in a company’s success, but it can be difficult when there are so many different aspects and elements involved.

There’s no such thing as easy wins when it comes to staff retention, however, if you start to work through these six areas (in conversation and consultation with your staff) then your chances of keeping the best people will improve.


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