What exactly constitutes a high-performing employee? Although answers will vary, high performers are typically identified as among the top 3-5% of a company—the people that excel within the organization, and virtually always outperform expectations. In a way, high-performing employees are in a league of their own, and as a result, they tend to be in high demand.
If high-performing employees are so valuable, and companies invest so much time and effort in recruiting them, why do so many drop the ball when it comes to retention? We’re living in a time when talent is not always easy to come by (hello, Great Resignation), so having a strategy in place is crucial.
The Great Resignation
Let’s face it: we’re hardly dealing with the professional landscape past generations were dealt. The pandemic has only further highlighted the stark differences. In the context of a The Great Resignation, 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021 alone. Research by Microsoft shows that over 40% of people are considering leaving their current employers.
But this is about far more than higher salaries. Employees have been realizing how much time they spend commuting, and they want more flexible working arrangements for a variety of different reasons such as easier childcare, more work/life balance and a more relaxed work environment, to name a few. Others are coming to terms with the harsh realities of digital burnout and are willing to do whatever it takes to experience more meaningful human connection. And others still have finally decided they’re no longer willing to put up with less than respectful treatment at work.
The takeaway here is that, overall, change has been triggered in the collective consciousness of employees everywhere. So—if you want to both attract and retain high performers, paying attention is really the only viable option.
Ways to proactively improve employee retention and keep high-performing employees happy
Employee retention is a key component in the growth of any business. While you can’t necessarily change an employee’s mind once they’ve decided to move on, you can make it more desirable for them to stay. And you can also make your company more attractive to would-be employees.
Consider the following strategies for finding and retaining high performers.
Offer a higher salary
If you can, do. Of course, we can’t all afford to offer more, or match the salary offers of others. The good news is that money is far from the only consideration for would-be employees. It may not even be the most important. Professional development opportunities, PTO and good benefits are other factors that can make a difference.
Include employees in transition discussions
Whether it’s a merger, an overhaul or a transition to new ownership, make an effort to include your most valuable employees in transition discussions that involve them—and especially those that will change their roles in any way. Employees who feel heard and are treated as though their opinion matters tend to feel a lot more supported, and that can make a world of difference in the retention game.
Create opportunities for growth
Whether it’s pairing them with mentors, giving them high visibility within the company, or investing in their learning, opportunities for growth will certainly help retain your highest performers. Offer your employees some goal-setting guidance and help them create plans for their professional development.
You might also consider using a certification management tool to create talent profiles for them. If you’re looking for a specific skill or certification, you’d simply conduct a search to identify the best-qualified employees. This could result in a satisfying growth opportunity for an employee based on a skill that might otherwise have been overlooked.
Cultivate a positive company culture, both onsite and remote
Company culture 100% influences how all your employees—high performers among them—see your company. Salary and benefits aside, there may be something else at play that’s causing employees to leave. Can an employee talk to you if they have a problem? Is mental health taken seriously? Do you offer childcare options? Are there opportunities for growth? Are your employees comfortable taking their vacations?
Using an employee survey tool to solicit anonymous feedback can be very eye-opening. And, for obvious reasons, fostering a positive remote company culture is more necessary than ever. Most of the same principles apply, except you need to adapt your communication skills to a remote environment.
Take a preventative approach to burnout
An approach that avoids a high turnover rate is one that takes meaningful action to prevent burnout. There’s no doubt that flexible work arrangements geared at better work-life balance are playing more and more of a role in retaining high performance individuals. It could be full-time remote work, hybrid remote, or maybe even split shifts.
Having a PTO policy that offers strong supports and benefits can also reduce burnout. You might also consider having time slots dedicated to uninterrupted work and to socializing alike. This can do wonders for productivity and morale respectively (not that you can separate them!).
Have regular one-on-one meetings with your highest performing employees to check in, see how they’re doing, and listen to their ideas or concerns. It never hurts to share a glimpse of your own struggles as well. Fostering a genuine rapport is in the company’s best interest. Additionally, instead of waiting until the end of the year for a performance review, you might implement a proactive quarterly review that provides more immediate feedback to your top players. This feedback can be used to improve their performance even in the short term.
You may also want to consider straight-up telling them you view them as high-potential and therefore highly valuable. While some may hesitate to be transparent about this for fear that it will cause the employee in question to become overly entitled, what’s far more likely is that it will make them want to work even harder to develop and fulfill their rockstar potential.
Fostering meaningful work-life balance
Part of your job as an HR leader, manager or small business owner is to help your team achieve a healthier sense of balance, at work and in their lives overall. Here are a couple of things you can do:
Set a good example
The behavior of managers plays a huge role in whether employees feel comfortable taking advantage of the policies and resources available to them (i.e., flex time, time off, mental health days, benefits, etc.). Burnt out managers who neglect to take any time off are likely to discover their employees emulating this. This in turn, leads to lower retention.
The other thing to consider here is that leaders who don’t pay attention to their own needs have a harder time registering the needs of others—even their favorite high-performing employees.
Reevaluate your approach
Just because there are tried-and-true ways of doing things does not mean there aren’t better ways of doing things. Never forget this truth, as it may even lessen your own workload. For example, rather than count the hours an employee works, focus on whether or not their work is getting done well, and on time. If it is, be flexible. In fact, whenever possible, be flexible. There’s really no reason not to be.
Encourage employees to take breaks and go on walks. Encourage creativity. Don’t fall into the trap of “routine or bust.” Could you afford to offer your staff more PTO? How can you encourage them to use their time off? When was the last time you took a vacation? That’s a good place to start.
Don’t give up, you’ll find the right people
Bottom line: regardless of your company’s current situation, thoughtful talent-management strategies are integral to retaining your high performing employees and growing your business. The good news is that by heeding the tips above, you’re sure to attract and retain more high performers. With some extra care and attention, you’re bound to come out with a talent advantage.
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