Employee Retention – It’s Not About The Money

A number of years ago I headed the HR department in a 900+ technical support centre.  As everyone knows contact and technical support centres typically have high employee turnover; anywhere from on average  75% annually to as high as 200% annually, and sometimes beyond!  Our turnover averaged 11% annually.  How did we do it?

Fact is that the jobs were the jobs were the jobs; highly monitored, non-stop busy and personally restrictive.  We knew early on that we couldn’t change the job but we could leverage our value proposition and meet our employees’ expectations.

Value proposition, what exactly is that?  In this case it was learning why our employees came to us, learning what motivated them and learning why they stayed.  Now, before you managers go off and start trying to brain storm let me add that the fallacy of this exercise would be for a bunch of manager to sit around some boardroom table and try to answer these questions themselves.  If you want to know what employees are thinking, go to the source, ask your employees.

We invested in facilitated sessions with employees; not just our superstars or our stars but all employees, the good, the bad and the ugly.  What we learned was that….

Why the joined us?  Most of our employees were recent graduates of post-secondary education.  Our job title, MS Support Engineer, appealed to them.  After all who doesn’t want that job title straight out school!  Recruitment learned to promote the heck out it!

What motivated them?  Originally we had a one tier set-up.  Everyone was on the phone providing front-line technical support.  What we learned was that Gen Y need to be rewarded for their expertise.  To meet this expectation we went to a three tier system: Support Engineer 1 providing front line support, Support Engineer 2 providing more technical call back support and Support Engineer 3 providing technical support to Support Engineers 1 and 2.

Why they stayed?  It wasn’t the money, we paid $10.50 an hour to start; not a lot for a post-secondary graduate.  Again about Gen Y, they require their employer to invest in their development as they plan to leverage their knowledge in their restless quest for upwards mobility.  Hence we never stopped training!  Most training was in-house.  Primarily we used employees to train each other; formal training sessions, informal lunch and learn type events as well as one-on-one coaching.   We also brought in trainers from time-to-time but usually to address specific skillset deficiencies rather than for development reasons. Finally, we didn’t limit our training to IT.  We also provided training in soft skills (eg. leadership, time management, etc) as well as in functional areas (eg. basic finance, human resources management, training delivery, etc).

Finally, the monthly nachos, pizza, ice cream and cake days, and the periodic fun days (eg. beach day, health and wellness, diversity) rounded out our offerings. After all, the family that eats and plays together stays together!

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