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Employee retention: Your first challenge of 2020?

6 Jan 2020

Director of CIPD Ireland Mary Connaughton advises how to keep your employees happy during January, one of the hottest times for job hunting.

Considering how we long for the atmosphere and enjoyment of Christmas as it approaches, it’s amazing how quickly it’s all forgotten when offices return to the daily routine in January. For unsettled employees, however, the need for a change which crept into their minds during a festive break can linger long after the tree is packed away until December 2020.

The cold dark days of January will also do little to boost motivation in the minds of those in need of a new challenge. Employees have often spent time thinking about ‘new year, new me’, reflecting on the past year and what they want to achieve for the year ahead, progressing their personal goals and reducing frustrations.

This period of taking stock is one of several reasons January and February are key months for changing jobs. It’s also because many employers advertise vacancies as they have new budgets and targets for the year ahead, and future skills needs have now been clarified.

So, more jobs come on the market, and in Ireland this trend starts early in order to appeal especially to friends and family who made the trip home for Christmas and the New Year.

What can employers do to retain staff?

We at CIPD Ireland released research in 2019 showing 43pc of employers had experienced an increase in employee turnover. If you’re among that group, the bad news is that there’s no simple fix. The good news is that there are identifiable factors that mean your employees are less likely to walk out the door.

Workplace culture is a central issue. Staff who decide to stay are often those who feel valued and fairly treated – including when it comes to pay. They are people who feel they have good work to do and opportunities to develop and grow their skills and abilities. A workplace that succeeds in retaining people is one where employees have a say and some control over their day, have managers and leaders they feel care about them and in whom they believe, and where workers feel they can meet their own needs in the areas of career and work-life balance.

A professional woman is smiling into the camera while standing in front of a canal with trees on its banks in Dublin.

Mary Connaughton. Image: CIPD Ireland

These take time to build but, for January, here are some key things to consider.

Host briefings for managers to prepare them so they can hold one-to-one career conversations with each employee on the year ahead. The conversation is not all about the work to be done, but how the individual would like to develop and how they can work towards their own objectives. What learning would help them be at their best? Managers have to listen, not be defensive, and be open to what is feasible.

Create a conversation on flexible working and how it might work better for the business. CSO figures released in December show about only 18pc of respondents worked remotely, generally one or two days a week, and mainly in the private sector. Start a debate on how your organisation could offer more flexibility in when, where and how individuals work. Be ready to tackle managers on this, as that is where more resistance often lies.

While effective wellbeing has to be embedded in the company’s culture, it is worth introducing some wellbeing initiatives in January. Get an employee group to lead on actions to improve mental health, physical health and nutrition to help to engage and support employees. A clear action plan for activities in January will help to align the organisation with employee values. These types of initiatives have been found to have positive outcomes for employees. Overall, CIPD Ireland research has shown that more than half (55pc) of workplaces with a proper wellbeing plan see improvements in employee morale and engagement.

Plan a volunteering day, where staff give some of their time to work for a charity. While it’s best as part of a wider social responsibility strategy, participating in a charity activity is very powerful and helps to build insights and skills among employees.

Overall, communication and support are key, so make sure the managers in your company are ready.

Opening doors to opportunity

At the end of the day, no matter how considerate and clued-in your workplace is, staff turnover is a normal part of working life, and an opportunity to bring in new skills and fresh ideas. Some employees planning their departure may be open to having their minds changed – CIPD Ireland research has found that a third of organisations made a counter-offer last year to retain an employee planning to leave.

However, it’s important to recognise when someone has come to the end of their relationship with your company. Approach this situation with consideration and whenever employees are leaving, wish them well and support their team members in finding a replacement. One departure will open a door to opportunity and development that another employee may be seeking after their own period of festive reflection.


By Mary Connaughton

Mary Connaughton is director of CIPD Ireland, the professional body for HR, learning and development. 

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