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The job of human resources is clear—to attract and retain the best possible talent their budgets can buy. But if you find employee retention more and more challenging, you aren’t alone.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 18 to 35-year-olds spend an average of 1.6 years at a job. As this trend continues and Millennials and Gen-Z soon become half the workforce, human resources—as the gatekeepers of any organization—have to work harder than ever to foster employee loyalty.

That’s okay. There are certain moments in the employee lifecycle that HR directors can zero in on to create an employee retention strategy. Today, we share small pivots your human resources department can make to build a company culture that fosters employee loyalty and happiness.

Employee onboarding and offboarding are the keys

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Employee onboarding and employee retention begin with the recruitment process. Human resources departments do so many first-round interviews that they can become rote and one-way.

HR directors should be reviewing these processes often and having a regular one-on-one with your team to understand where the process can be improved because your recruiters are the true first impressions of your company.

That means your recruiters answer as many questions as they are asking in an interview. This sets HR up for being an actual resource later that the candidate will feel more comfortable to rely on should she be hired.

Let’s face it, much of onboarding can be tedious, involving a lot of forms, online training, and trying to get used to a new space, new technology, and new organizational politics. There’s no doubt these are necessary steps, but HR can also play a role in making it fun and memorable too.

HR directors should make sure that someone is working to dot the I’s and make the employee feel genuinely welcome. Another good thing an HR department can set up is an optional mentoring program that pairs new employees with longer-term ones. These relationships help build employee loyalty for both sides.

While onboarding is the most important moment in your employee lifecycle, it’s essential not to forget its closing. Proper off-boarding is essential to maintaining a positive relationship with a former employee because they will tell others about their experience. Candidates often reach out to previous employees on LinkedIn to get the scoop, and ex-employees could be rating their experience publicly on Glassdoor.

Your exits also almost certainly still have friends within your org—if you disregard their leaving colleagues, they’ll be the next ones out the door.
Someone leaving is also a moment for learning. Someone from HR should have a confidential one-on-one with anyone leaving your company, particularly her own volition.

This chat should involve a lot of open-ended questions about the existing colleague’s experience at the company. Just don’t forget to thank you for their service to your organization!

One Gallup poll found that 89 percent of employers believe that workers leave their company for more money, while in reality, only 12 percent do.

Offboarding is an amazing opportunity to try to close that knowledge gap and figure out why you’re losing top talent. People are most likely leaving their bosses, not their jobs. HR directors then need to determine with other C-levels if it’s better to let one boss go to save a team with great potential to become future leaders at your organization.

Unhappiness at work is highly contagious—and so are people quitting. The sooner you can get a whiff of it, the sooner you can do something to counteract a negative trend.

HR needs to focus more on retention than recruitment

Forbes writer Lars Schmidt says that "an overemphasis on talent attraction without equal emphasis on development will create retention problems." In most companies, this has created an employee retention crisis.

Yes, if your organization has seen a lot of turnovers lately, your team will be putting a lot of effort into recruiting a pool of candidates. An old sales idiom says it's ten times harder to gain a new client than to retain an old one—why wouldn't it be the same for your employees? HR directors should look first at ways of stemming the tide out the door instead of drawing people in it.

Do you want to retain your all-star employees? You first need to get to know them! Most companies offer feedback in an annual employee review. Some companies also offer an annual (sometimes anonymous) employee survey. These both are too little, too late.

One of the most important roles of HR directors is to ensure that there are both formal and informal systems for employee feedback at all levels within a company.

You can leverage business software to collect ongoing feedback and pulse on employee sentiment. You should be in charge of fostering a company culture where employees have a regular one-to-one with their bosses and even feel comfortable exchanging peer-to-peer feedback. Employee feedback is the best way to find out what is triggering staff turnover and create a sense of employee loyalty to stem it.

HR directors also have to have their fingers on the pulse of changes in generational priorities. Millennials are firm believers in loving what they do, striving for work-life balance or even work-life fusion. And this largest portion of our workforce wants to know they have a path and a future within a company.

Company loyalty is not something given automatically but rather something you earn. If you want to attract and retain Millennial talent, human resources should lead by example by building a company culture that prioritizes transparency, gratitude, and recognition.

And even if you know they will only work at your company for a limited time, you want to make sure you are doing your best to retain them. Millennials want to feel a part of something bigger.

They may work on just one piece—and they want ownership of and credit for that piece—but they want to see how their roles fit into the grand scheme of things, including the strategy and direction your company is headed.

HR may not set the strategy for the entire company, but it can play an important role in setting the career paths and personal development essential to that strategy. Do you want to retain employees? Make sure they know they have a future with your company.‍

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Jennifer Riggins

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Jennifer is an editor and a copywriter from the UK. She uses storytelling, writing, marketing, podcast hosting, public speaking, and branding to bridge the gaps across tech, business, and culture.