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Article: Four Cultures of Employee Retention Related Resources

Four Cultures of Employee Retention
by Marnie Green

Despite fluctuating economic times and increased globalization of American jobs, most employers are finding it hard to keep good workers. The reality of today’s job market is that workers are expecting more from their employers and are not afraid to move on if their needs are not met by your organization.

Based on compelling data from the Society for Human Resource Management and others who study workforce trends, leading organizations must take time to analyze their retention realities and ensure that the valuable employees they currently have are not seeking greener pastures.

How do great organizations maintain low levels of turnover and high levels of employee satisfaction? The answer is found in one word: culture.

Organizations with high rates of employee retention concentrate on creating four distinct cultures that keep people focused on the organization and its goals. The purpose of this article is to explore these four cultures and to recommend practical strategies for developing these cultures in your workplace.

Effective retention cultures include an intense focus on choice, balance, development and care.

The Culture of Choice

Donald N. Smith, the president of Burger King said, “The individual choice of garnishment of a burger can be an important point to the consumer in this day when individualism is an increasingly important thing to people.” Burger King recognized long ago that Americans expect to have multiple choices each day. Workers are not an exception to this rule. Today’s employees are looking for choice in the methods they use for completing a job, in the benefits they receive from work, and in when and how they report to work.

In the last two decades, we’ve seen an explosion in the types of employee benefits offered by employers. We’ve seen an increased acceptance of telecommuting and flex-time. Choices in the tools they use, the methods they employ, and the recognition they receive are all characterized as innovations in human resource management. In short, we continue to learn more and more about employee engagement and the link between empowerment and retention.

Do your employees have choices every day? If not, they might soon be exercising their choice to leave.

The Culture of Balance

Even with increased acceptance of flextime and work/life balance initiatives, employers indicate that stress levels still remain high in their workplaces. Employers with lower levels of turnover recognize the increasingly important issue of balance and are addressing this need with proactive programs to help workers find satisfaction at home and on the job. This trend is being driven by a growing population of women in the workforce. The trend is expected to continue with young women surpassing men in professional degree acquisition.

Progressive organizations will recognize these trends and look to their increasing population of women to drive their culture of balance. And, while some organizations have already responded to this call, those organizations with professions that are typically dominated by males may find this to be an increasingly important issue in terms of attracting and retaining workers. For example, in the historically male-dominated world of professional accounting, firms traditionally expected high levels of billable hours and little time off. Some firms are now recognizing the value of creating a culture of balance by offering increased levels of mandatory vacation each year. Coupled with flexible hours and family-friendly benefits, these firms are recognizing the impact a balance-focused work culture can have on the retention of top performers.

The Culture of Development

Bestselling authors Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, in their book, Love’Em or Lose’Em, say that any organization that ignores the ambitions of good people can’t expect to keep them. High rates of retention are clearly linked to the amount of attention the employee gets in terms of their professional development and growth. When employees feel that their career goals have been acknowledged and that they are continuing to be challenged on the job, they are likely to stick around. Employees who feel stagnated, ignored, or bored will likely start to look for other opportunities. So how do great organizations create cultures of development?

A culture of development can be cultivated through a variety of tools. Training, mentoring, and clear career paths all contribute to this culture. However, the strongest culture of development is created by the first line supervisor who works with the employee each day. Every supervisor and manager has an opportunity to show that they are interested in the employee’s growth and development by asking the right questions and by understanding where the employee wants to go professionally.

Kaye and Jordan suggest that managers and supervisors have a regular “stay” discussion with each employee where the following questions are explored:

What learning opportunities can we support? What work challenges would “turn you on?” What can we do to help you be more fulfilled on the job? What will keep you here?

Simply by asking, managers and supervisors can begin to create a culture of development, and hence increased levels of retention.

A Culture of Care

R. Brayton Bowen of the Howland Group said, “In a strict sense, the kind of motivation we need to be talking about in today’s environment is inspired rather than induced.” As Bowen indicates employees will be motivated to stay put and work at higher levels if they feel that they are cared for and if they care about the work they are doing. In other words, employees must feel a sense of inspiration to fully commit to their daily activities.

In organizations where retention levels are high and turnover is low, research has found that employees find some level of inspiration from their jobs. Such inspiration might be a sense of contributing to the greater good. It might be a commitment to the team and its goals. Inspiration may be derived by following a committed and ethical leader. However the inspiration is created, employees must be lead to care about their work and about the organization.

How is a culture of care created? Recently a study was done with employees of a small city government. Written employee surveys indicated that morale was low and that many of the employees, including long-term employees, were considering leaving the organization for other opportunities. In fact, turnover was at high levels in comparison with previous years. In a small organization such as this one, with less than 30 employees, the results of high turnover are devastating to the organization, its productivity, and its reputation in the community.

Upon further exploration of the survey results through one-on-one interviews, it was discovered that the reason the employees were dissatisfied was because they felt that they were not being listened to by a new manager. Some employees said they were not feeling respected. They reported that a newly promoted supervisor often trivialized their skills and did not recognize their day-to-day achievements. After further review, the following conclusions were found:

The leaders, including managers and supervisors, directly impacted the culture and the sense of care within the organization.

The leaders did not recognize the impact their behaviors were having on the morale of the workforce.

For morale, and thus retention levels, to improve, the leadership team, many of whom were new to the organization, needed to address their own beliefs and skills as it related to being leaders.

In this example, retention and overall employee satisfaction was being directly impacted by the level of empathy and attention provided by the organization’s first and second line leaders. It is clear that the relationship between these key players and employees is a major factor in employee retention today.


We have all read the ominous reports that indicate the workforce will shrink in numbers over the next ten years with the anticipated exit of the baby boomers. It is clear that organizations will continue to be challenged to attract and retain qualified and committed employees. It is now time to turn our attention internally, to the four cultures of employee retention. Use the following questions to explore the four cultures in your organization:

Does your organization provide ample choice to employees throughout the work experience? Do employees feel that they can control their day-to-day work life?

Does your organization recognize the increased need for work/life balance by employees? How can you continue to communicate this priority to employees?

How is your organization fostering a culture of development? Besides the traditional development strategies such as training and tuition reimbursement, what is your organization doing to foster a sense of continuous learning and development at all levels? What role do supervisors and managers play in creating this culture?

Do your employees feel “cared for?” Have the organization’s leaders created a sense of commitment among the staff by showing they care?

With the national average length of employment hovering around one and a half years per job, it makes sense to explore what it takes to retain and develop a committed staff. Retention, while often considered a factor of economic times, is now being considered a long-term strategic goal for organizations that recognize its value.

Marnie Green may be contacted at

Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Arizona-based Management Education Group, Inc. She is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations (NetEffect Series) (Pearson/Prentice Hall). Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop leaders today for the workforce of tomorrow. Contact Green at


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