5 Tips for Mastering Modern Employee Retention

Every organization has three implicit or explicit contracts: Brand, Transactional, and Psychological.

Most of the intangible moments and nonverbal interactions in a company fall squarely within the oft-neglected Psychological contract. But as it turns out, it may be the most crucial.

When talking with organizations about problems they’re facing, they often refer to problems within their company in the same way one would talk about problems with a significant other. “I feel betrayed by the company!” or “This place is really fun/stupid/boring/awesome.” Employees talk about a “lack of trust” in the company’s leadership or nostalgically reference the “honeymoon” period.

But this phenomenon doesn’t end there.

We name our cars, confess our love for sports teams, and manifest the same brain patterns with brand recognition as we do with religious experiences. Overall, it turns out we have a pretty hard time not anthropomorphizing inanimate objects and abstract ideas.

We are on the crest of a new age: the “Age of the Employee.”

Employees are recognizing that they have more power to shape their career path than ever before, and one of the main things they are looking for is, in the most literal sense, a better relationship with their job. If your company isn’t providing it, someone else’s will.

Because of this, smart companies will embrace this idea of reimagining the relationship with their employees as their secret retention advantage. And it becomes much easier once they realize that we already know exactly how to do this.

The same research that shows us how to create great interpersonal relationships maps perfectly to employee relations with their company.

These tips and insights will help you build better relationships with your employees and increase retention.

Tip #1: Contempt is the great relationship killer

To preserve and foster a great relationship, we must understand what can threaten it. What’s the number one predictor of divorce?

Money usually comes to mind first, but fighting over finances is actually just a symptom of a greater problem.

The number one predictor of divorce is actually the presence of contempt. Once a partner sets him or herself above the other, beginning to disregard or dismiss the other, it’s as good as over. Contempt is an extremely difficult obstacle for a relationship to surmount.

For example, in an organization I recently worked with, the senior leadership had many great ideas, grandiose projections, and noble values. But none of it was producing company connection because the employees, the boots on the ground, weren’t buying it.

For various reasons, they had concluded that their leaders were out of touch and misguided and, as such, every attempt to prove otherwise was perceived in the worst possible way. “Oh, you want to give us a raise? What a desperate attempt to curry favor.”

This kind of contempt can occur when a company violates its Psychological Contract to the point that employees lose trust and no longer give their employer the benefit of the doubt.

If you want to preserve employee relationships, avoiding the contempt that results from broken contracts need to be your number one focus. So how exactly can we avoid this death knell? The following tips each provide a piece of the puzzle.

Tip #2: Openness and vulnerability are the prices of admission

In business SEO terms, we’re talking about transparency and streamlined top-down communication. But in simple relationship terms, we just want partners who aren’t hiding anything.

We want to trust.

Business has a built-in conflict of interest. Employees work hard but often feel their efforts only benefit the CEO’s bottom line. As such, it’s important to deliberately swing the pendulum far back the other way in order to foster confidence. 

Be open with mistakes.

Acknowledge doubt.

Be quick to take painful accountability.

Take employees on the ride with you, even when you’re not sure exactly where to go. Trust me, they want to be a bigger part of the company, and when they feel they are, trust and commitment follow. Think of the last friend you had or someone you dated who always kept you in the dark about what they were doing or thinking. Someone who kept things “high-level” and only presented a positive façade.

How invested were you in that relationship? Not very? So why do we do this to our employees?

Tip #3: Recognizing bids

Another way to improve our transparency and vulnerability is to be aware of how often we make and accept bids. A bid is a small gesture designed to elicit attention or trust. Imagine a scenario where an employee approaches you, her boss, with an idea or suggestion that is objectively terrible.

You gently explain why it probably won’t work and walk away, patting yourself on the back for not openly scoffing or getting mad at her for wasting your time. Let’s be honest. You’re the hero here!

But it’s not, and never was, just about the content of the idea. She was asking to connect, to have her contributions recognized, and to feel part of the larger discussion. She made a bid for attention, and you, though inadvertently, rejected that bid right along with a bad idea.

One of the most frequently low-scoring items on our employee engagement surveys is, “This company responds well to suggestions and ideas for change.” That’s a lot of unanswered bids and a lot of missed opportunities to nurture trust.

Tip #4: Navigating between equal and equitable

Historically, the employer/employee relationship has been one of hierarchy and imbalanced power. Structurally, it makes sense.

An organization needs both leaders who set a direction and followers to help move things forward. 

Unfortunately, because of how people naturally gravitate, the hierarchy becomes perceived as a value judgment, a statement of relative worth. People farther up the ladder must be more important and, therefore, better.

When this value judgment trickles into company culture, employees end up doing things because they are told to rather than because they see the value in their contribution. There is a word for the kind of relationship where one partner is considered inferior and always does what they’re told. And it’s not “healthy” or “stable.”

The key to overcoming this negative perception is to embrace the shift toward employees desiring a place at the table.

Just getting a paycheck isn’t enough anymore. They want great pay AND meaningful work.

Employees need to be valued equally, even while their roles remain equitable. That is to say, everyone contributes in a unique way, but all roles are equally valued and respected.

A mechanic doesn’t demand to switch places with the pilot. But both are equally important in ensuring a smooth flight, and the pilot knows better than to disregard the person that keeps the plane in the air.

So we need to refrain from speaking in terms of totem poles.

For example, don’t ever say something like “even the lowest-level employee.” You may not mean it the way it sounds, but you can understand why someone could hear it that way. And if you ever find yourself dismissing, condescending, or raising your voice at an employee, consider that if that’s not how you would treat a friend, then it’s an abuse of your positional authority and a violation of trust.

Tip #5: Loyalty

Loyalty begets loyalty.

When employees feel management’s loyalty to them, they’re more motivated to get the job done and do it well. Stand up for your team, guide them toward advancement, and support their professional and personal achievements.

Build a trusting, meaningful relationship. You can’t buy it, and you can’t incentivize it; you can only earn it.

Simply showing up never worked for any relationship, and it won’t work in business, either.

So, what effort will you put in to earn a great relationship with your employees?

To learn more about Employee Retention and Recognition, contact:

Angelo Dispirito III
Phone: (401) 322-9250 ext. 101
Email: angelo@valusolutions.com