First, the good news: the U.S. economy added a solid 196,000 jobs in March and unemployment is at 3.8 percent. The bad news: it is harder than ever to find and retain talented professionals. Job candidates have many choices and the tight labor market is a very real problem for anyone who is trying to attract and retain high-quality applicants.

A recent XpertHR survey found that 49 percent of HR professionals were very or extremely challenged when it came to increasing employee engagement, morale and satisfaction. The survey also found that 48 percent viewed retaining employees as very or extremely challenging and 46 percent viewed aligning talent retention strategy with business objectives as very or extremely challenging.

Turnover that is avoidable (for example, because of poor management) and dysfunctional (losing employees that are top performers) can adversely affect any organization. Because a significant percentage of organizational or team output is often attributable to a top performer, you should focus on retaining this type of employee.

“Common reasons that drive employees to search for alternative employment include leaving because they are dissatisfied with their current employment situation; or a better job is available,” says Marta Moakley, JD, XpertHR Legal Editor. “Of particular concern is the loss of key employees – high performers and those with hard-to-replace skills.”

As employers, we need to understand what is pushing employees to leave our organizations and also know what is pulling them to stay, Moakley says. The promotion of employee engagement pulls employees to stay and thrive in their jobs. Employee engagement yields more than just employee satisfaction, she notes. An engaged employee is elevated to one who is committed to the organization and motivated to perform at sustainably high levels. 

While pay is an important factor in keeping high potential employees in place, engagement is a crucial step that you can take to retain your top performers, Moakley adds.

What else can you do to keep high performers and those with hard-to-replace skills on your team?


What are "hard to replace" skills?

Moakley: In any industry, there tend to be certain positions that are difficult to fill, often resulting in protracted recruitment timelines in which positions remain open for several months (or years). Often, these positions require a substantial amount of experience, education and skill (such as an experienced medical professional). Often, a significant shift in preferences or trends in consumption may trigger a talent or skills gap. For example, the shift to cloud-based solutions in recent years have made those possessing cloud skills highly attractive candidates. Cybersecurity professionals are also in high demand. Talent acquisition and retention for these highly skilled positions should be approached in a thoughtful manner.
How can an engagement campaign be done on an individual employee basis?

Moakley: On an individual employee basis, the following practices may be strengthened as a result of an employee engagement campaign. First, is feedback. You should request and provide feedback to individual employees on a regular basis. An employer should make sure that each employee's performance and data related to the metrics is regularly reviewed and explained. In addition, supervisors should note employee input and ideas and follow up as appropriate. Second is training, meaning providing training and development opportunities to employees to help them better accomplish their roles and to stretch their skills and abilities. Employee feedback and preferences should factor into the choice of training opportunities. In addition, it’s critical to provide the appropriate recognition to employees. It’s important for an employer to recognize each employee's achievements and to celebrate their successes.

What can be done to keep employees when they are being underpaid and the resources are not there for pay increases?

Moakley: There are a number of ways to reward employees without raising pay. Some alternatives to raises or promotions include additional paid time off, paid educational opportunities for professional advancement, company stock and other non-cash awards. Incentive payments or spot awards (such as gift certificates or cash awards) for discrete professional accomplishments will ensure employees are recognized for a job well done without raising base compensation. Employers may reward hardworking and loyal employees by assigning them to their ideal shifts, work assignments or projects.