This is a guest post by Elaine Varelas.


Many people recognize an organization’s “assets” go out the door at the end of the work day. The implication being that employees are just as – if not more – valuable than any inventory, stock, or physical asset. Even with the advent of high-tech machinery and AI-assisted processes, an organization’s employees continue to be its greatest asset. Especially  when those employees are educated and experienced in fields that require specific skills, such as research scientists, software engineers, nurses, language experts, machinists, and heavy truck drivers.


Skilled – and unskilled – labor is vital to the success of organizations, yet organizations often overlook the nurturing required to maintain an engaged workforce unless they see risk or rough waters ahead. Leaders need to understand the undercurrents within their organizations, especially to minimize risk of losing high-value skilled labor. Without proactive, intentional recruitment and re-recruitment of talent, skilled labor will withdraw and rest in place, or defect.


There are organizations that follow the “roofs over their heads and food on their tables” minimalist view of the employer/employee contract. And, there are organizations that offer great compensation, solid and affordable benefits, respect for each person demonstrated by managers and leadership, and the opportunity for growth and professional development. In a competitive environment where skilled employees can easily walk out the door and find a more welcoming environment, understanding their needs and goals is a business imperative.

retain employee

What not to do – case study

An organization with a morale and management issue had an open forum led by the CEO. Employees articulated their issues with the manager’s accusatory and belittling style and came prepared with both written examples and reasonable suggestions. The CEO committed to change. He then reported who said what to the manager and told him to fix it. The manager went looking for his “foes” and told them to apologize for what they said about him. Employees who tried to better the organization lost all confidence in the CEO, and the company. Some apologized in order to keep their jobs and those who did not were told to leave. This story and stories like it happen every day in organizations where leaders don’t invest in managers, and don’t look at why unwanted turnover happens.


What to do – listen to employees

While employee engagement surveys can provide insights, employees can and will provide it directly – if they trust the person asking. “Listening tours” can be highly effective. Talk to employees. Ask what works, what doesn’t, what’s not “fair,” what makes them want to leave, or even more committed to stay? Ask them to describe the culture, and see which areas of the organization provide answers that align with organizational goals, and which areas need attention to be brought in line with the expressed culture.


One of the best parts of the highly rated TV show “Undercover Boss,” was watching the “boss,” now an average employee, be treated poorly. Employees wanted senior leaders to understand their reality, in hopes it would change. When good managers were rewarded, bad managers shown the door, bad policies and practices changed, employees applauded the employee win.


What to do – act on employee feedback

Some managers believe fear is still the most powerful management tool they have. Fear of being fired, ridiculed, marginalized – we have all seen it happen by bad managers. When people are afraid, the fight-or-flight response is activated. Consequently, the organization loses good people who choose to work where they are better appreciated and respected.


Allowing bad managers to prevail with no understanding of why their behavior impacts the retention – or loss – of high performers perpetuates the problem. Bad management doesn’t have to be extreme or illegal to put your organization at risk. Is it possible to commit an entire organization to maintaining an infrastructure that harmoniously balances the needs of shareholders, management, customers, and employees? Yes, if it becomes a leadership imperative.


What to do – start at the top

Leadership can’t charge managers or HR with retention without committing to a culture which supports that endeavor. If you want managers to retain staff, provide training to ensure they have the necessary management and leadership skills. If they aren’t cut out for management, move them out. If they manage by fear, move them out now. If your organization is losing people, and you are lucky enough to learn why through listening tours or exit interviews, use that feedback to change bad environments, bad policies and practices, and to encourage other employees to provide ideas without fear of retribution.


Develop a culture to ensure your organization is investing in its people, managers are trained to support that culture, and employees can trust the feedback they provide won’t be used against them, but will be used to enhance the success of the employer/employee contract making for a more successful organization.


About the Guest Post Author:

Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, has over 20 years of experience in career consulting and coaching development and has worked with numerous executive management teams to improve organizational effectiveness. She has expertise in successfully resolving complex career management issues, including workforce planning, redeployment, and multisite restructurings.

Varelas’ experience spans a broad range of industries and businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, start-up ventures, and not-for-profit organizations. She serves as Treasurer of Career Partners International, LLC, a network of career management firms, which Keystone cofounded in 1987. She is also a Certified Executive Coach by the Center for Executive Coaching and MBTI certified.

A graduate of the Management Development Program at Boston University, Varelas holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Vermont and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.  She is an active member of many professional associations, including The Boston Club.