3 Ways to Retain your Employees (Hint: It’s about Learning…)

We used to think that people leave their jobs because they weren’t earning enough, that “cash was king.” Turns out that’s not the case. Not anymore.

According to Diane Stafford, a business, economics, and workplace writer with The Kansas City Star, The biggest reason people leave their jobs today is that they’re not learning enough. She cites a recent study published by The Harvard Business Review which says that:

Multiple studies find that today’s younger workers have absolutely no intention of sticking around if they don’t feel like they’re learning, growing and being valued in a job. Beth N. Carvin, a consultant who has spent 12 years researching exit interviews, finds that a loss of training opportunities and a lack of mentors in the workplace are two of the biggest reasons why young workers leave. “Companies need to recognize that these young workers are very mobile,” Carvin said. “They have to understand that they want a personal and clearly articulated career path.”

The loss of such talent will ultimately hurt any company’s bottom line, not only because of the potential “brain drain,” but also because of the high costs of recruiting, hiring, and training replacements. Maintaining and sustaining performance, therefore, should be a key goal for your business. Retaining and providing opportunity for learning for your top talent, especially those who will potentially grow to lead your business in the future, should be a top goal.

Here are 3 important ways to create a learning-centric environment that will encourage your top, fresh talent to stick around:

  1. Provide opportunity to learn new things. Often. There’s nothing more deadening to a thirty-year-old (or younger) employee than to be stuck doing the same job the same way day in and day out. Mix it up a bit, even for entry-level folks. Is there a new project or program being talked about? Is there a new planning group bouncing around interesting ideas? Bring in the new, raw talent to be part of these forming conversations. Inevitably, you’ll find a perspective you had’nt considered, a viewpoint you hadn’t realized might be important. They’ll surprise you with what they know and what they contribute every time.
  2. Encourage mistakes and reward do-overs. Really! Nobody (not even those of us who are more “seasoned”) learns anything unless we try something once, perhaps fail, and try it again in a different way. Unless you are in the business of brain surgery, I’m guessing that there’s plenty of runway for your folks to take on new challenges and go with it. Again, the outcome will probably surprise you. More than once I’ve seen someone come up with a new way of doing things—something I hadn’t thought of—that increased everyone’s productivity.
  3. Ask them, and often try what they suggest. Initiate your conversations with a “beginner’s mind”, staying completely neutral and having no hidden agenda or preconceived outcome in mind. Be curious about what they think and where they’d go with a problem. Then, try what they come up with. This sends a powerful message that you are listening and that you respect creative opinions. This is the vortex of learning, both for you as a leader and for your workers. When you come out the other end, you’ll both be surprised at the learning that has occurred.

American author and poet Christopher Morley once said that “there are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning.” It’s no accident that “learning” is first on the list, for without it the others are much less likely to happen. We, as managers and leaders, are in a unique position to encourage that learning in our younger staff members and, as a consequence, strengthen our organizations overall. These three ideas are just the beginning; I’m sure many of you have your own ideas as well. Please share them in the comments below.

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