The latest employee-retention threat: New Year’s resolutions

One of the biggest challenges for companies this year may be contending with staff defections, including departures of top performers.

Nearly four in five HR directors in the UK fear losing top employees in the first half of 2013, according to new research. And a US survey shows one-third of employed adults are willing to consider new jobs.

What can companies do to retain talent? What are the warning signs that someone is considering a job switch?

The 200 HR directors surveyed by Robert Half UK expect to lose 22% of employees this calendar year because those employees made New Year’s resolutions to find other work. But it is the potential departure of top performers that has the HR directors nervous.

“Top performers are instrumental in helping organisations grow,” Phil Sheridan, managing director, Robert Half UK, said in a news release. “However, it is all too common for companies to wait until they receive resignations in order to enhance their retention efforts, but by then it is often too late to keep those key staff.”

Talent retention is a concern globally. One-third of the employed (including self-employed) US adults participating in a web-based employment confidence survey conducted for the online jobs and career community Glassdoor said they would consider looking for a new job in the next 12 months. Eighteen per cent said they would consider looking for a new job in the next three months.

It’s easy to see why they would look for work elsewhere. Just 40% of employees expect to receive a pay raise or cost-of-living increase in the next 12 months. Almost three-fourths (73%) of employees said salary and compensation is an influential factor when they decide whether to accept a job offer. And 17% of employees are concerned about being laid off in the next six months.

Meanwhile, opportunities for employees who are looking for work elsewhere appear to be growing slightly. A survey of US employers conducted by staffing services firm Manpower showed that 17% expect to add to their workforce, while 8% expect a reduction in staff in the first quarter of 2013. That’s a more optimistic hiring picture than reported in the fourth quarter AICPA Business & Industry U.S. Economic Outlook Survey, in which 8% of organisations said they were planning to hire.

“It is now more important than ever for companies to engage with employees to find out what will keep them satisfied and strategise new ways to attract and retain their workforce,” Glassdoor career and workplace expert Rusty Rueff said in a news release.

Losing key employees can hinder efficiency and slow productivity, something businesses can ill afford as they recover from the economic downturn. CGMA research shows that poor talent management can hinder growth and innovation.

The Robert Half research includes tips for seeing the warning signs that employees might be considering a job change:

  • Noticeable change in attitude. A formerly enthusiastic employee becomes withdrawn and indifferent about performing a role.

  • Longer lunch breaks, frequent absences. This could be a sign that the employee is taking time for job interviews – or just a sign that the individual is less engaged about work.

  • More professional attire. Does the person come to work in business attire even though your company has a more casual dress code?

  • Drop in productivity. Perhaps an employee who took projects home or worked overtime ceases to do so. Also, failure to meet deadlines or show up for meetings could indicate the worker is disconnecting from a job.

Employers who see red flags should go so far as to ask if the employee is planning to leave, the report says, instead of taking the wait-and-see approach. Other suggestions for addressing an employee’s potential departure:

  • Emphasise the employee’s value and opportunities. Consider offering an incentive to a key employee you risk losing. Don’t promise more than you can deliver, but stress the person’s value and discuss future career opportunities.

  • Don’t pin your hopes on a counteroffer. Making a counteroffer is risky for you and the employee, the report says. Even if the employee accepts your offer, what the report calls the “trust exchange” has been compromised. The employee might wonder why he or she wasn’t offered more money to begin with, and you’ll still doubt the employee’s loyalty.

  • Leave the door open. Workers are often told never to burn a bridge. This goes the same for employers in a position to rehire someone. Express that you would be happy to have the employee rejoin your team again if the new job doesn’t work out.

“Most employees want their jobs not to be merely a source of income but also a means of attaining self-esteem, pride and professional development,” Sheridan said in the news release. “Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to retain your best and brightest. However, by making sure employees are happy through regular communication, company updates and encouragement, you can ensure that your company isn’t hit with that mass exodus.”

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Employers Worry About Top Employees Taking Their Talent Elsewhere”: As the economy improves, companies that are looking to grow or restock their ranks will compete aggressively for top-notch employees, and that could prove costly for companies that don’t have retention strategies in place.

Employers Can’t Afford to Let Worker Retention Practices Lapse”: A Deloitte report suggests employees are more likely to stay in their current jobs but that employers need to adjust retention processes, narrowing their focus on high-performing employees.

Neil Amato ( and Ken Tysiac ( are CGMA Magazine senior editors.