If perks only attract employees, what keeps them?

Written by
Robert Ordever

08 Feb 2016

08 Feb 2016 • by Robert Ordever

What is successful retention?

In my early HR days at the end of the 1990’s, reducing retention rate was all important. The business talked about the cost of replacing leavers and what we could do to deter people from leaving, particularly to competitors. We benchmarked salaries, we worked on our ‘employer brand’ marketing and we even ‘got tough’ with those who thought their notice period may be flexible.

Retention of talent is a key part of a well functioning business, thats a fact. How can you ensure you are making this happen?

"I'm not paid enough to put up with this."

What are your goals?

The challenge however is that when you focus on retention as the goal, you are simply getting people to stay. People may be staying, but that is no indication that they fully engaged or bringing ‘their best selves’ to work. How would you feel if you heard one of your team say “I would love to leave this place, but I doubt I would get this salary or benefits package elsewhere”? Would that really be a cause for celebration?

So let’s assume that what employers actually want is to retain the excitement, engagement and passion for their vision or cause. That isn’t about pay and benefits. In my experience, it is about how people feel about the place they call work. 

We have all had ‘one of those days’. Days when we go home from work, determined to update our CV and make a change. I have had one or two days like these over the years and for me, these days are never triggered by the lack of perks. They are about culture, purpose and my place in the organisation. They are about my relationship with my colleagues and my sense of belonging. Thinking about pay and benefits on days like this is a symptom, but rarely the cause.  We are often only thinking about pay and benefits because of the other missing pieces.

Culture is always a main factor

In my experience, what keeps employees engaged is a culture that brings out the best them. Let’s be clear, when I talk about culture, I mean the way things actually happen in an organisation – not the stuff that’s written on the mouse mats. 

The question about what makes a great culture is a much broader one. There are lots of definitions, but for me a great culture starts with clearly defined values, articulated and discussed to the point where team members can instinctively know the right thing to do when nobody else is around to ask. It’s about being true to those values in all decision making (particularly where it is difficult to do so) and recognising, rewarding and showing appreciation for those who bring the values to life in the work that they do. This foundation allows for greater empowerment and a more balanced measure of success than just results. Recruit, develop, manage and reward with your values as your guide. 

We know that poor salary and benefits can certainly be a demotivator if deemed to be unfair, but we also know that working for an unappreciative boss or in a poor workplace culture, isn’t ever going to be offset by a fabulous healthcare scheme or a pay rise.

When someone says “I am not paid enough to put up with this”, they are not looking for a pay rise.