Employee Retention – Is It Passé?

Rahul Agarwal

Rahul Agarwal

A passionate HR professional with eighteen years of experience in corporate and consulting role. He has worked on projects ranging from training to organizational development and talent management. In addition to this, Rahul is also a 5th Degree Black Belt in Karate and he has been learning and teaching karate for over twenty-five years to people of all age groups. It is not just in his profession but in his overall life that he strives towards making a difference to people through the spirit of contribution.

For years there has been a huge brouhaha around retention. Retaining high value employees is now a priority for all organizations. In this climate, the threat of high attrition is giving many an HR Professional and Business Heads sleepless nights.

Some amount of attrition has always been seen as healthy, for it enables fresh blood to enter the system, but with all the energy and effort that is put into retention today – one must pause and ask, is the game really worth the candle? Yes, it appears so on the surface. Unless an organization retains its talent, it cannot build a depth of expertise, knowledge and continuity for creating and delivering world class products and services. With this insight, organizations further conduct talent segmentation in order to know which talent they should retain and direct a major chunk of resources in their retention, through various intrinsic and extrinsic motivators (such as promotions, challenging roles, special rewards, recognition schemes, overseas assignments…and more). This is how retention has been viewed traditionally and it’s not without merit.

However, let’s see things from a fresh perspective.

Employees today are bound to change jobs.

Whether you approve/accept it or not, this is a reality that has come to stay. From unmet salary expectation to the desire for a different nature of work, from latest technology to a better brand, from proximity to friends and ex-colleagues to the apathy of the current manager – the reasons for change can be varied, but these reasons are important only from the point of view of retention.

What we need to be able to answer is:

  • Are we geared-up to harvest the best from these changes?
  • Is the organization equipped to create an environment that enables the individual to deliver their best during their tenure?
  • Is the focus on retention or on enhancing an individual’s performance?
  • What will add value to the organization – retention or performance?
  • One may argue that it is not a case of ‘or’ but ‘and’ since retention is a perquisite for performance. This poses two questions.
  • First, what should be the duration of the retention? Second, does tenure safeguard performance?
  • Today, work and organizations largely circle around projects. People come together around a common agenda/objective, play different roles as required for delivering the project and then disband. Would one want to ‘retain’ them in the project even after the project is over?

Similarly, an employee may see employment in an organization as a project that he/she has to be a part of and then moves onto another organization to execute another project. It is akin to what employees in consulting organizations do – execute a project with one client and then move onto another. Of course, their employment is with the principal and hence it continues even as they move from one client to the next. But, in an organizational context, one may move from one challenge to another in a similar way. And when possibilities for growing with such challenges, cease to exist or excite the person enough, they are bound to look elsewhere.

Careers are no longer defined as the doing of the same thing in the same place or the same thing at a different place. They are a bouquet of roles and assignments that enable the individual to do different things in the same organization, or an assortment of different organizations, all the while remaining in a state of bloom.

Since everyone has taken stock of the above trends, does our preoccupation with retention point to the ostrich behaviour in us?

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So, what if we shift our focus to the creation of an environment, structure and processes that harness the best from employees on the move?

For this, managers will need to focus on short term performance of such employees while HR will need to bring in processes that enable employees to plan out their long-term development (and hence be aware of different experiences and development they must go through on the basis of their career aspirations). It may perhaps be that some of those cannot be available within the organization and hence the person chooses to move to another organization for the same.

The employer value proposition in this is that while the organization has a clear handle on both short-term performance and long-term direction, the employee has clarity on short term expectations and how their career shapes up in the long term. This adds a strong measure of confidence to the employee as the organization’s interest in their short as well as long term success becomes clearer.

Mechanics may still remain the same – that of promotion to a new role, exposure to an international market etc. – but the perspective and hence the language sees a clear shift. Retention should not be carried out just for the sake of retention or for the sole benefit of the organization, but to create a win-win situation for the employee. Even if they choose to move on, since their career aspirations require such a movement at that point of time. Many such people may come back at a later point in time and the organization then stands to benefit from their varied experiences and skills added through those experiences.

In this digital and startup age, the need of the day is to innovate, cultivate entrepreneurial thinking, foster diversity and practice inclusivity. Thus, we should ask, is our organization equipped to embrace employees who will join to bring all this and more but may then move to add value to another organization?

It boils down to nothing but a mindset issue – given that many in HR and hiring managers still focus on ‘how long’ one was in a particular assignment or ‘how many’ changes a person has made over the years instead of focusing on their roles, learning and value addition.

Therefore, it would do well for organizations, managers and HR to remove the dissatisfiers that promote attrition but at the same time focus their energy on creating an ecosystem that promotes performance by ensuring that the career aspirations of the employees are taken care of as they move along from one role to the other.

So, what do you think – ‘Is retention passé’? 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ashima Gupta

    Well articulated Rahul! Coaching is being used as a remedial measure for talent management and internal mobility and I having executed such projects do see a change in organizations and employee perspectives. There is a wave of gradual change from ‘retention’ to ‘management/mobility’


    Thank you Ashima. Good to know that you have experienced a change. With the trends like GiG and genext wanting different experiences, the need is already staring us in the face.

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