Work Smarter//

What So Many Workplaces Get Wrong About Employee Retention

It's not about fixing the leak, but about fixing the pipe.


Susan(the boss): Good morning Michelle. Time for our weekly 1:1. I hope you are ready for an incredibly busy two months ahead. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride but we will get through it.

Michelle: Good morning. I hope your weekend was good. Mine involved a lot of thinking and after talking to my friends and family, I have decided to move on.

Susan: Good, Good Good. Regarding the customer event, I would need you to be in Philly next month. My daughter is coming home from college and I just can’t leave home.

Michelle: Susan, I am resigning. Next to Next Friday is my last day. I haven’t taken any leave since last year so was hoping to take some unused vacation before joining my new company. Thank you!

An employee you depended on, an employee you thought was the poster child of engagement, an employee who seemed “happy”, an employee you never gave a raise because he/she never complained, an employee you overworked because they never said no to the work given to them- undesired attrition hurts and hits hard.

So where does it go wrong?

1.    My friend discovered a leak in the water pipe while watering his lawn. He instinctively tried to plug it by covering the leak with his hands, only to have the pipe curve back at him, drenching him with a seemingly satisfying grin. Retention is a whole lot like that. It is often reactive; a knee-jerk reaction after someone had resigned. It’s too late. Ensure the pipe never leaked, in the first place. Think about who your critical points of failure are. Look at how many years have elapsed since their last promotion. Is their pay competitive with the market? Has their compensation moved over the years, defined as compensation velocity

2.    The squeaky wheel gets the grease — often we pay attention to an employee who threatens or hints at leaving. We tend to ignore, similarly, someone who never asked for a raise, showed up to work on time, delivered work reliably and consistently month after month. Reward attitude, not perceived threat. Reward passion and commitment, not noise level

3.    Communicate regularly: know the pulse. Don’t wait for the performance review or pulse survey. Retention is multi dimensional. It is financial, but equally, emotional, intellectual and social.

4.    Build succession. Counter offers mostly fail. Someone who ends up accepting a counter offer from you will likely leave in the next 12-18 months if not sooner. They had checked-out, so the root causes will likely remain. Admit it- your own trust in them is also shaken and you were just buying time for yourself.

5.    Understand and respect different communication styles across cultures, in a global team. Some cultures are less vocal and may not feel comfortable discussing their work place frustrations including compensation or management behavior openly. Understanding and navigating through these differences is key to understanding retention needs across global cultures.

Don’t retain those who just resigned; retain instead the ones who are committed to the journey. Don’t retain those who threaten to quit; retain instead the ones who have kept their faith in the system. Retention is not about making counter-offers or salary increases, otherwise long forgotten over the years. Like waking up from deep slumber with a start. Like trying to hold a leaky pipe with hands, hoping the water won’t waste away. Retention is proactive, intellectual, emotional and financial, ensuring the pipe never leaked.

Originally published on

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    Author Dick Finnegan: “Make stories impactful but short”

    by Ben Ari

    Employee Engagement: The Comprehensive Guide

    by Samawat Shakil


    by Angela Keck

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.