Here’s the Single Most Important Thing You Need to Drive Retention

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Feb 25, 2015

From awards to perks, managers can run themselves into the ground seeking ways to keep employees happy so they won’t wander off to another company.

But what if the answer wasn’t in the perks, or the money, or even a fancy new break room complete with a Keurig?

It’s true; coffee and snacks will not inspire your employees to stay put — BambooHR’s survey confirms it. Less than 1 percent of respondents selected “free food and perks” as something that would have “helped them stay” at a job they quit after only working there for six months.

Why job shadowing can make a difference

What is the one thing that will make a big difference in driving retention? Job shadowing.

Though it’s been widely overlooked, job shadowing drives retention through interest — a vital factor in engaging employees. When employees lose interest in what they are doing, they lose sight of how their job aligns with their career goals, which can push them to quit in favor of a perceptively better career opportunity.

Job shadowing helps broaden the employee’s perspective, keeps the job fresh, and reminds them of the many opportunities that lie right within your organization.

Here are four (4) areas where your organization can use job shadowing to drive retention:

1. Onboarding

Kyle’s first day at ABC Co. could have been a lot smoother. The manager handed him a training manual, showed him to his office, and disappeared. He had no scheduled training plan and didn’t know who to ask if he had any questions. He had to figure it out on his own.

Instead, Kyle’s manager should have assigned him a buddy he could shadow for on-the-job training. Most learning takes place informally, on the job, anyway. In fact, a study conducted by Peter Casebow found 70 percent of effective learning takes place outside of the classroom, while working.

By shadowing an employee with expertise in his role, he can learn the skills, methods, and behaviors he needs to perform the role successfully more quickly.

2. Increasing in-role knowledge and competence

Jeremy has been working as a junior account executive for a few months now. He handles incoming requests and pitches to the media occasionally, but you need Jeremy to start helping out Sarah, the senior account executive, by meeting with potential clients.

Since Jeremy is not used to dealing with clients face-to-face, it’s best he gets some training before “throwing him to the wolves.” Sarah is very busy and doesn’t have the time to train, but that’s OK because Jeremy can shadow Laura, another account executive who has a few months of experience meeting with clients.

Both Laura and Jeremy can benefit from this. Of course, Jeremy will learn Laura’s tips and become more comfortable with the process as he sits in on meetings with her, but Laura will also refine her skills by exploring them as she breaks them down to teach Jeremy.

3. Help employees learn about other roles and departments

It’s not uncommon for employees to grow bored with their roles after some time, especially if they perform rote tasks.

For example, Kate has been working as a receptionist at your mental health clinic for nearly two years. She loves checking patients in and out and hearing about their day, but the filing is becoming a little monotonous.

Talk to Kate about shadowing someone in the research department so she can see what goes on behind the scenes. Shadowing a researcher will allow her to experience the more complex projects the company works on first-hand, giving her insight into the company’s mission.

This might give her a sense of playing an important role in the bigger picture. She’s not just a receptionist; she’s the gatekeeper for team that could find the cure to the most elusive mental illnesses. She might even decide to work toward becoming a researcher someday.

4. Allow employees to explore career opportunities

After a few years at your company, Jenna might decide wants to pursue a different kind of career. Before she begins looking at other companies, show her the opportunities you have internally.

Perhaps she’s tired of working behind the scenes as an associate producer and she wants to be on camera. If she’s a dedicated employee who you think could handle the role after a bit of training, allow her to shadow an anchor working at the news station. After one-on-one meetings and practice sessions with her news anchor mentor, she might realize your company has the opportunities she seeks after all.

If you’re providing enough learning and development opportunities for employees, they won’t feel the need to leave if they want to advance their career. Instead of focusing on making them happy with perks and parties, focus on recapturing their interest in the work they do — or could possibly do for your company in the future.

What are some other methods you’ve used to drive employee retention? Were they effective? Let us know in the comments below.

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