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Making it stick: Top retention tips

We examine a variety of steps employers can take after the Christmas break to motivate and hold on to staff

January is a time of year when staff are often tempted to look for new positions, having had time over the Christmas break to take stock of their jobs and priorities, and with the prospect of returning to work far from appealing.

It’s something HR teams should be aware of, and planning for, come the end of the year before. The good news is there are a number of steps they can take to boost workforce retention. We’ve even rated them for stickiness, based on the long-term impact they could have.

Motivate staff

Stickiness rating: 3/5

Robert Ordever, executive director of O.C. Tanner Europe, says employers should use the first week back to thank staff for their hard work last year and start looking forward to the next. “Ensure individuals are appreciated publicly and in a sincere way,” he says. “This could be in the form of an awards ceremony or simply a low-key word of appreciation.”

This should be followed up by a clear vision of the company’s strategy for 2018, and how employees fit into that. “It’s surprising how many organisations lose momentum for the first month of the year as if they haven’t really ‘got going’ again, resulting in a less engaged and drifting workforce,” he says.

Give the office culture a boost

Stickiness rating: 4/5

Announcing new policies or staff benefits can have a big impact, says Narelle Morrison, COO and co-founder of Babel PR. “Finishing early on Fridays, reduced working hours over the summer period and regular daily screen breaks all help to improve employees’ wellbeing in the office,” she says.

Online marketplace Paperclip, meanwhile, attributes its high staff retention to the introduction of an unlimited holiday policy, which allows staff to take as many days off as they like, as long as the work gets done.

In the longer term, consider running charitable initiatives. Your Legal Friend has run events involving dragon boat racing, climbing Snowdon and bake-off competitions. “Our focus is on those that encourage team work and develop a comradery between staff in different teams and departments,” says Jo Mercer, HR manager.

Listen to employees

Stickiness rating: 4/5

Holding regular meetings between employees and senior management can help to make staff feel valued, says Emoke Starr, global head of HR for Prezi. “Putting some dedicated time in the diary for the whole team can be an effective way of making sure everyone who wants to can provide input,” she says.

Sandy Middleton, senior HR manager at Racepoint Global, advocates introducing ‘skip-level meetings,’ where employees can meet their manager’s manager to talk about their career goals. “Make use of that to develop individual plans that retain your high potential staff, and make them feel listened to and valued,” she says.

Develop talent

Stickiness rating: 5/5

Creating a talent development scheme can show employees that they can develop their career without having to move jobs, says Maureen Sandbach, people director at BaxterStorey. It runs its own academy where chefs undertake a 12- to 15-month development programme. “Retention currently sits at 72% for those who have attended the academy in the past five years,” she says.


Stickiness rating: 2/5

January is the perfect time to launch a wellness campaign, says Debra Corey, group reward director at Reward Gateway. “Combine this with discounts with wellbeing providers, and your employees are well on their way to achieving their wellbeing goals, whether physical, financial or mental,” she says.

She also suggests running a cooking challenge with a healthy eating theme, and allowing employees to judge each other’s efforts. “If you don’t have cooking facilities or time, you can make it a simple one-day event where teams bring in food,” she adds.

Beat the blues

Stickiness rating: 2/5

Doing something different to help improve people’s mood could also prevent staff from firing off their CVs in the first week back. Judith Schmuck, head of employee engagement at GVC Holdings, suggests holding a ‘Welcome back to real life day’ to help people through the first day back, with humorous and motivational posters. “Rent a barista to come to your office to make top-notch coffee,” she suggests.

Karen Bates, HR director at Opus Energy, suggests giving staff something to look forward to. “Morale is low in January, so why not have the Christmas party then?” she says.

Finally, take action to resolve the annoying little things that can cause disproportionate workplace angst, such as replacing a dodgy computer screen or a noisy kettle, says Louise Bennison, culture exec at bingo site tombola. “All these things contribute to a happier workforce,” she says.