Free article: Getting to the root cause of high staff turnover

Published: Monday, 17 February 2020
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Yvonne Hardiman, HR consultant and trainer, gives some practical tips on improving employee engagement and retention.


  • Research shows that employee engagement does not just depend on salary increases or incentives, which only have short-term effects.
  • Sustainable employee engagement makes us feel we are contributing to something worthwhile and are part of a group of people working towards a shared goal.
  • Engaged employees feel that their manager values and respects them and will look after them when the going gets tough. 

We all know how important it is that we attract the right people into the right roles in our workplaces. Without our talented people, it’s difficult to provide the excellent service that we aspire to. Naturally, it follows that we work hard to attract the right people to the right roles. In spite of this, many of us find ourselves recruiting for the same roles over and over simply because staff retention rates are poor. 

Recruitment can be expensive, both financially and in terms of the time we spend on it. Wouldn’t it make our lives so much easier if there was a way to attract excellent people into the right roles and retain them to avoid unnecessary recruitment costs as a result of high staff turnover? Well the good news is there is a lot we can do to improve staff retention and reduce the impact on the recruitment budget.
What is employee engagement?

To retain the employees that we have worked so hard to attract, we need to increase employee engagement levels. So what exactly do we mean by employee engagement?
Research shows time and time again that employee engagement is not something we can buy. It doesn’t depend on generous salaries or incentives. Those things will, of course, make us feel appreciative and appreciated when we receive them, and we feel aggrieved if we don’t have them. But a generous salary increase will only make us feel happy for a while. If we are not truly engaged with our work, those feelings will be short lived.

Long-term sustainable employee engagement gets right to the core of our values and makes us feel we are contributing to something really worthwhile. It makes us feel as though we are part of a group of people who all believe in the same thing and are working towards the same goal. Most importantly, when we are fully engaged in our work, we feel that our manager values and respects us and will look after us when the going gets tough.

How do we recognise engagement?

So that’s how being highly engaged in our work makes us feel, but how can we recognise whether our team is engaged?

Employee engagement is made up of three factors. The first is about how much discretionary effort we are willing to make by working extra time when we haven’t been asked to or taking on additional roles such as being a first aider, for example. The second is dedication. It’s reflected in taking pride in our work and finding our work challenging. The final factor is being so engrossed in our work that we see it as an integral part of our lives, so that when we are working time just flies by.

In April 2019, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall published Nine Lies about Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Their research showed that both trusting our immediate line manager and being in a supportive team have the biggest impact on employee engagement.

So people who trust and feel supported by the people they directly work with are most likely to be highly engaged. They will feel positive about their work and we will be able to recognise this because they are more likely to go the extra mile, take more care over their work and be happy in the workplace.

It’s often said that ‘people leave people, not organisations’, and I have found this time and time again. The most common reason cited for resignations is not feeling supported by the immediate line manager and co-workers.

Building an environment of trust and support is the single most effective way of retaining our talented people. It costs nothing and it is highly likely to reduce recruitment spend and free up time spent on recruitment processes. Additionally, it’s likely to reduce absenteeism and avoid time spent on grievances and disciplinaries.

How do we create engagement?

So what can we do to help build or improve upon a culture of trust and support within our teams right now? Here are a few ideas:

  • Organise team leader awareness training to show team leaders how they can increase employee engagement in their teams and why it is so important.
  • Hold refresher sessions on anti-bullying and harassment.
  • Have a zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviour, for example in team meetings if someone is being undermined.
  • Encourage short and more frequent one-to-one informal meetings between the line managers and the team members to provide support and open communication.
  • Demonstrate trust and respect by encouraging individuals to set their own weekly goals.
  • Once the individuals know what they need to do and have the means to achieve it, trust them to do their job, giving them as much control over their own work as possible.
  • Encourage individuals to come up with their own solutions to issues that may arise.
  • Involve everyone in setting team goals as well as individual goals and demonstrate how this will help the wider organisation achieve its strategic goals.
  • Encourage more cross-functional working teams. This could be to solve an organisation-wide issue or to implement a new system.
  • Give praise when someone has done good work and achieved a positive outcome.
  • Encourage team members to create informal teams to increase the sense of belonging. This is something that anyone can do. It could be a non-work-related group, such as a book club. 

Empowering others will demonstrate to them that they are trusted. Providing all the knowledge and tools to enable someone to do their job will help them feel supported. Showing someone that their good work has been noticed will help them feel appreciated. These small things help to create a sense of belonging and consequently high staff engagement, low staff turnover and a reduction in recruitment costs.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Yvonne Hardiman, Chartered MCPID, MA (Management) began her management career at BSI, heading up a publishing, printing and warehousing division. In 2005 she went on to join a law firm as their HR Director and Partner. Today Yvonne enjoys running her own HR consultancy, assisting organisations with all aspects of people management.

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