Retention strategy 

Improving employee experience to increase employee retention

Stuart Buglass, Partner, HR and Kay Monks, Director Business Solutions

We often see companies facing challenges in finding suitable candidates for open positions and experiencing frequent employee turnover. Not only does this lead to disruption in a business but these employees can take with them valuable skills and information.

Our Business Solutions team often works with these businesses to try resembling the jigsaw puzzle. Instead of spending time and energy on resembling the jigsaw after employees have left, focus on establishing practices that secure a long term satisfied work force.

We all know how hard it is to recruit and fill vacancies and if employers prioritised their employee experience strategy, then their employee retention figures would increase. Also, focusing on reducing employee turnover, has the added benefit of improving the health of your organisation across many areas, training and development, reward, productivity, and reputation.

There are many indirect costs businesses must contend with when it comes to losing employees, such as:

  • loss of productivity
  • cost of diverting resources to cover a vacancy
  • cost of new recruits and resource diverted to supporting the new employee.

Many surveys put the cost at around 50% of the annual salary for entry level staff, and as much as 200-300% for specialist staff.

What drives high employee turnover?

The reasons will be specific to the business, the sector they operate in or the geographical region but with, there are common threads.

Research is clear that employees will make up their minds within the first three months whether they will stick around, and a third of new recruits are looking for a new job within six months.

To stand any chance of cementing the relationship during the initial stages, you need to ensure that you are selecting candidates that fit within your organisation, and that you onboard them correctly.

On the first point, your job ads and job description need to be honest. According to recruitment folklore, a standard job description was produced and over time has been copied by most businesses. As a result, every candidate needs to have ‘excellent communication skills,’ be a ‘team player,’ ‘a self-starter’ and lots of other irrelevant nonsense. Its time businesses tore up their job descriptions and rewrote them. When you write a job description, tell the reader what outcomes you want, what problems need to be solved and weave into it the behaviours you are looking for. Be careful about experience – a lot of employers will get longer tenure from candidates who have less experience but display the right behaviours (experience often equals baggage).

Employee onboarding

Many businesses can just focus on securing a new candidate and forget about the onboarding process. It is important not to forget about the onboarding experience because it can make or break a recruit and quickly accelerate their exit. You need to ensure that the experience is personal and has not been over-teched. It needs lots of manager involvement and is essential that the process goes beyond orientation. The whole, ‘new kid at school feeling’ is intensified when you feel like a spare part – you can avoid this by getting the employee engaged productively on work tasks as soon as possible, and one critical part of this, is to generate psychological safety, or put it another way give them ‘permission to fail’.


Another key theme that attracts media attention, is a failure by employers to understand and satisfy the millennials. It is easy to dismiss this as ‘HR waffle’ but the fact is, within a couple of years millennials will account for more than half the workforce, so employers need to sit up and pay attention. The key to understanding millennials is that working is more than just a salary and focussing on salary alone to keep them is likely to fail. Millennials want to go further and faster and as a result, are hungry for development opportunities and recognition. They want to understand your business to determine whether they want to make the journey with you and if they do, they want to be presented with choices.

Salary and benefit packages

Salary and benefit packages are still important, but an employer really needs to look beyond salary and hollow benefits, such as, table tennis and foosball tables. Millennials have an inner drive that demands autonomy, an understanding of skills and primarily, a sense of purpose. It just requires a different approach.

Rather than structuring a role simply around tasks, you should ensure you engender a sense of purpose. Where does the employee fit into the journey? How do they influence the journey? What does their long-term journey look like? The aim is to give them the big picture and build them a career path. Line managers need to spot opportunities so that they move along their career path, and it is important that this involves both vertical and horizontal job moves. In doing so, you help employees stay for longer, but you can also quickly fill vacancies at the next level - attrition is felt far more acutely the further up the chain you go – if your employees can all move up, then vacancy slips further down the chain and is generally easier to fill.

So, what makes employees stay?

Psychologists will tell you that individuals fear change and the unknown, and this is one of the main reasons why employees do not make the leap. The biggest ‘unknown’ when moving to a new job, are the cultural and social aspects. So, if an employer can kindle strong colleague relationships, then this will positively influence an employee’s decision to stay. Given the importance of a social context it is crucial that your agile or remote working policy either limits the amount of time an employee works from home or includes a means for them to socially engage with their colleagues.

The key to retaining employees is on three levels:

  • the organisational level (reward, salary, agile working, diversity etc)
  • the management level (coaching ability, time to develop staff etc)
  • the employee level (personal needs and motivations).

However, a business needs to appreciate that to some extent attrition is unavoidable. Millennials are less fearful of change and your retention expectations probably need to be reset – keeping an employee for two-three years should not be viewed as a failure and in some sectors like tech, where average tenure is around 15 months, it should be considered a win.

Also, you will always get employees that move for personal reasons or career strategists that have it all mapped out and no matter what you do, they will make a move when their career clock tells them to.

The employees that you truly need to spot are the ones that are in ‘flight or fight’ mode – these are the ones that are capable of being saved and very often it’s just a build-up of local niggles that have got them to this stage. The interesting thing about this group, is that staff surveys will not spot them because they are disengaged to want to input. Again, it comes down to effective line management to act as a barometer - managers should be trained to spot changes in behaviour, body language and feel that they have the tools to address the issue, or at least feel that they can seek help from HR, without feeling exposed themselves for what may be construed as management failure. In the same way that new employees need ‘permission to fail,’ so do managers.

Throughout this article we have touched upon the pivotal role a manager plays in developing career paths, spotting learning opportunities and disenchantment in their team. There’s an adage that people join companies and leave managers, and we feel this statement is truer than ever.

How can Crowe help?

Our comprehensive approach means we understand the challenges faced with recruiting and retaining talent and can assist you in getting this right for your business. For example, we can assist you in putting in place HR best practices and benefit packages suitable for your needs. Our business solutions and tax team can subsequently analyse the full tax and financial effects of these for your business.

If your business is finding it difficult to recruit or retain staff, have you considered outsourced services?

If this is the case for your finance team, in Business Solutions, we offer clients a fully outsourced finance solution. Whether you require an ad hoc extra pair of hands within your office (secondments) or a full outsourced service, we can step in to support in most situations.

For more information on our HR and Business Solution services, please contact Stuart Buglass, Kay Monks, or your usual Crowe contact.


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Do you know what to do with employer compliance when you receive HMRC check of record notice?

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Stuart Buglass
Stuart Buglass
Partner, HR Advisory, Global Business Solutions