A Menu of Retention Practices

This final post from SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series: Retaining Talent is the final piece of the puzzle that can make the biggest impact.

The last few weeks we have reviewed what a Needs Assessment Plan is and why you need it, retaining your current employees, the reasons they stay and strategies to retain your very best.

For this last post we deep dive into what makes the biggest difference in your plan as you decide what’s best for your organization.

Research shows that certain HR practices can be especially powerful in enabling an organization to achieve its retention goals.

These practices include:

Recruitment and Realistic Job Preview

Selection of appropriate Candidate

Employee Socialization (connectivity and community)

Training and Development

Compensation and rewards

Positive Supervision

Employee engagement

The sections below summarize findings from that literature regarding these practices. They also explore the findings’ implications for how you might approach retention management in your organization.


Evidence suggests that recruitment practices strongly influence turnover. Considerable research shows that presenting applicants with a realistic job preview (RJP) during the recruitment process has a positive effect on the retention of those new hires.

An RJP presents accurate information about the positive characteristics and potential challenges associated with any job, as well as clear details about performance expectations and the company’s performance management processes.

It helps employees adjust easily to their new work environment.

However, they can also reduce applicant pools, as some applicants decide that the job or organization is not for them.

Thus, RJPs are most appropriate for positions in which retention is an issue but for which the organization does not have great difficulty finding enough qualified applicants.

How to create a Realistic Job Preview (RJP)

Interview incumbents about their job duties and work experiences:

  • Identify common themes and descriptors from previous hires.

  • Validate that the resulting statements portray a relatively common work experience with current employee interviews.

  • Develop the RJP in booklet, brochure, or electronic form and ask for feedback from existing employees that hold the position.

  • Use the RJP with a group of applicants while maintaining a control group of applicants who are not exposed to the RJP to test to see if it has the desired affect on retention.

  • Revise and update the RJP as needed based on findings from the previous step.

In addition to using RJPs, consider encouraging employee referrals during recruitment.

Research consistently shows that individuals hired through employee referrals tend to stay with the organization longer than those hired through any other recruitment source.

Selection of appropriate Candidate

How managers at your organization handle the selection process can also influence turnover.

One straightforward way to leverage this tool is through a weighted application blank (WAB): A WAB uses the answers of current and former employees to application questions to empirically determine whether some items differentiate those who stay from those who leave.

Items that differentiate can then be weighted according to how strongly they differentiate people who stay from people who leave. You can then use these items during selection from among future applicants.

WABs are among the best predictors of turnover.

To better manage retention, many organizations are beginning to assess fit (with the job and organization) during the selection process.

Fit is the compatibility of an individual with the work environment.

Research shows that both person-job and person-organization fit are related to turnover. Although potentially useful, assessing fit during selection presents some challenges since many of the criteria seem subjective in nature.

For instance, one could argue that to fit well with an organization, an individual should have similar values and a compatible work style to other employees—and these can be difficult to measure in an interview. To surmount these challenges, consider using structured interviews, structured questionnaires such as the Organizational Culture Profile or the Job Compatibility Questionnaire, or values and personality profile matching.


For many organizations, turnover rates are often high among new employees. This situation is particularly troubling because the organization may have made significant investments in recruitment, selection, and training—and high turnover prevents the company from seeing a return on these investments.

Research has shown that socialization practices can help new hires become embedded in the company and thus more likely to stay.

These practices include shared and individualized learning experiences, formal and informal activities that help people get to know one another, and the assignment of more seasoned employees as role models for newcomers.

Using Socialization to Improve New Hire Retention:

• Involve experienced organization insiders as mentors, or trainers.

• Provide new hires with positive feedback as they adapt.

• Structure orientation activities so that groups of new hires experience them together.

• Provide clear information about the stages of the socialization process.

CMC provides this socialization for our trainees as part of the Community Building Platform.

Training & Development

Some observers worry that training and development opportunities may be a double-edged sword. These opportunities may discourage turnover by keeping current employees satisfied and well-positioned for future growth opportunities.

People in certain jobs that require constant updating of skills (such as information technology) might leave if they have no options for strengthening those skills. However, training may make employees more marketable and thus increase the ease with which they can be recruited by rival organizations.

Still, research suggests a modest negative relationship between training and turnover: Those who receive more training are somewhat less likely to quit than those who receive little or no training.

Growing evidence also indicates that employees are increasingly factoring future growth opportunities into their turnover decisions, and training and development play an important role here.

Offering Training and Development as a Retention Tool:

• Providing training and development opportunities generally decreases the desire to leave. This may be particularly critical in certain jobs that require constant skills updating.

• Organizations concerned about losing employees by making them more marketable should consider job specific training and linking developmental opportunities to tenure.

Compensation & Rewards

Compensation and rewards offered by your organization obviously play a critical role in the inducements contributions balance described earlier, which we can also think of as the employee value proposition (EVP).

Fail to offer competitive rewards, and you may put your company at a disadvantage for attracting and retaining talent. At the same time, pay levels and pay satisfaction are only modest predictors of people’s turnover decisions, as you saw earlier.

Thus, you need to carefully consider how you use rewards to retain employees. Research suggests several approaches. One is to lead the market with respect to rewards. This has the dual benefit of promoting satisfaction (thereby decreasing workers’ desire to leave) and minimizing the relative attractiveness of alternatives.

Also, keep in mind that you can lead the market with types of rewards other than base pay. For example, market-leading variable or incentive pay, benefits, or intrinsic rewards such as increased decision-making autonomy can powerfully motivate people to stay.

You can also tailor rewards to individual needs. Employees may differ in their preferences for certain types of rewards—variable pay, benefits, work arrangements, and so forth. Although organizations continuously try to balance market forces, internal compensation structures, and individual fairness, many are increasingly weighting market forces and individual needs more heavily.

Leveraging Rewards to Retain Valued Employees:

• Lead the market on rewards that fit with business and HR strategy

• Tailor rewards to individual needs and preferences

• Promote justice and fairness in pay and reward decisions

• Explicitly link rewards to retention


Research supports this claim: the quality of employees’ relationships with their supervisors is an important driver of turnover.

Evidence also suggests that a worker’s satisfaction with his or her boss, the quality of the exchanges between them, and fair treatment by supervisors are related to retention.

One study found that fair treatment by supervisors was more important than the distribution of outcomes in predicting turnover.

This body of research points to several recommendations for managing retention.

Prepare the supervisors and managers in your organization to lead and to develop effective relationships with their subordinates.

In many companies, individual contributors are promoted to managerial positions based solely on their performance on technical aspects of the job—not on their supervisory abilities. However, there is no guarantee that good technical performance will translate into effective supervision.

To prepare people in your organization to take on leadership roles, you may want to provide training and coaching that covers not only how to be a good boss but also how to retain talent.

Also, remember that a manager’s behavior stems in part from how he or she is evaluated and rewarded. One way to encourage supervisors to focus on retention is to measure retention among their teams. You can then incorporate this metric into your company’s evaluation and reward system.

Finally, pay particular attention to abusive supervision—defined as sustained hostile verbal and/ or nonverbal behaviors such as criticizing direct reports in public, ridiculing subordinates, lying, breaking promises, making threats, and misdirecting anger at employees.

Training may discourage some of these behaviors. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to remove abusive supervisors if their actions are driving valued employees away.

Developing Better Managers:

• Train supervisors and managers how to lead and how to develop effective relationships with subordinates

• Hold supervisors and managers accountable for retention

• Identify and remove abusive supervisors

Employee Engagement

Strengthening employee engagement in your organization can also help you retain talent. Engaged employees are satisfied with their jobs, enjoy their work and the organization, believe that their job is important, take pride in the company, and believe that their employer values their contributions.

One report on measuring engagement at Intuit found that highly engaged employees were five times less likely to quit than employees who were not engaged. To learn more about the implications of such findings for HR practitioners and about ways to improve engagement in your organization.

Effectively managing retention in your organization isn’t easy. It takes extensive analysis, a thorough understanding of the many strategies and practices available, and the ability to put retention plans into action and learn from their outcomes. But given the increasing difficulty of keeping valued employees on board in the face of major shifts in the talent landscape, it is well worth the effort.

To get the most from your retention management plans, you’ll need to:

  • Analyze the nature of turnover in your organization and the extent to which it is a problem (or likely to become one).

  • Understand research findings on the drivers of employee turnover and the ways in which workers make turnover decisions.

  • Diagnose the most important and manageable drivers of turnover in your company.

  • Design, implement and evaluate strategies to improve retention in ways that meet your organization’s unique needs. The research, guidelines, and examples provided in this report will help you to tackle this challenging but crucial responsibility.

The text above was taken from SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series Retaining Talent.

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