HR leaders’ top tips for improving employee retention

Offering flexible working, listening to feedback and providing opportunities for progression are some of the most important ways to ensure talent feels valued, according to HR executives from Mars, Adidas and HiBob

Employee Retention

For many HR leaders, talent retention is their number one priority in 2024. With recruitment increasingly challenging and costly as businesses navigate a competitive labour market, holding onto the talent already within a company is of growing importance.

“Employee turnover can be costly due to recruitment, onboarding and training expenses,” says Kelly Tucker, managing director of consultancy HR Star. “Retaining employees with up-to-date skills is essential for remaining competitive.”

But while it is important, improving staff retention is not simple. A number of factors play into people’s decision to leave a business, including issues with leadership, a lack of flexibility, poor progression or a better offer elsewhere. 

Thankfully, there are a number of strategies that companies can use when looking to reduce turnover and improve employee loyalty. Here, three HR leaders share their advice for improving employee retention. 

Focus on talent reviews and routes for progression

Amanda Rajkumar 
Former executive board member for HR, Adidas 

We are coming out of a year of recruitment struggles while, at the same time, employee expectations are rising. The latest wave of employees entering the workforce have even higher expectations when it comes to job satisfaction, work/life balance and workplace culture. This means employers are under pressure to meet these expectations to attract and retain talent. 

This makes talent review and identification essential. Traditional routes of talent review and succession planning are important but where HR leaders should step up is by actively challenging other leaders in their views and opinions. 

At Adidas, I put in place a clear gender target in 2021: to have more than 40% of leadership roles held by women by 2025. However, it was clear we would never make progress unless the board knew who the female talent was. So, I ran a female talent review where we exclusively looked at our women leaders. This type of targeted review is always a useful exercise. 

A lack of action post review can also kill talent pipelines. It is vital there is a conversation with employees about how they are being perceived and whether or not they are viewed as talent or successor. This has to be handled delicately and is where HR can make a huge difference, coaching and advising line managers on how to handle this conversation. 

The top banks excel at this form of talent management – they know who the top stars are and support them in their progression, which makes it very difficult for them to leave. This creates a sticky environment, where the best people feel valued and are frequently exposed to new challenges to enrich their knowledge. 

When employees feel disengaged it is vital to understand what is happening; this can only be done by listening. When I joined Adidas, it ran employee surveys but only among its corporate staff, not with those working in our distribution centres or retail. This meant around 30,000 of our 63,000 people were not being listened to. 

We changed this immediately and had dedicated ways to allow them to complete the survey while in either a distribution centre or store. The insights were fabulous and helped us hone in on new ways to improve engagement. In addition, we started to map consumer experience and employee experience – and proved this was linked to financial performance. 

Most firms have an ability to listen to employees and find out why they may be unhappy. It is vital these results are fed back to the organisation and that actions are taken to improve the environment. These visible improvements pay dividends to employees and demonstrate that their voices matter, boosting engagement and retention.

Staff still value flexibility

Tamsin Jones 
HR director, Mars Wrigley UK 

We pride ourselves on ensuring Mars is a great place to work for all our people and are committed to fostering a happy and supportive workplace from the factory floor and the board room, to veterinary clinics. 

Our employees’ affinity with Mars is reflected in the fact they stay a long time: our average tenure is 12 years. It’s not uncommon to come across two or even three generations of family members within the business. We recognise that this retention and length of service is quite unique and, while people are initially attracted to us because of our iconic brands, they stay for the growth opportunities and the stories that pass around our business. 

That being said, there’s no denying that over the past few years we’ve seen a real shift in what people want from the business they work for, notably in the areas of flexible working and career opportunities.

Part of the reason people stay with Mars for so long is our flexibility. We offer options, such as remote working and flexible hours, as well as policies that help our employees balance work and life, such as our wellbeing programmes, equal parental leave policies and health leave. 

We’re also investing in unique approaches to flexibility, such as ‘paw-ternity’ leave, where our employees can take 10 hours paid leave to help pets acclimatise to a new home, and a new holiday policy that allows staff to take bank holidays at a time that suits them

When we speak about flexibility, its important businesses aren’t just looking at working hours, but rather how they can embed flexibility into career development and how it works across a diverse workforce. This requires placing more value on development. 

At Mars, we run a line management programme, which sees people given opportunities to upskill and work across the business. It’s common to meet someone at Mars who, like me, has worked in multiple functions and businesses. We also offer opportunities for geographical mobility. 

Improving retention requires businesses to explore new ways to keep employees engaged and supported. At Mars, we’ll continue to listen to our people and collaborate with them on ways we can foster a workplace that works for them.

Listen to employees and take action

Toby Hough 
Director of people and culture, HiBob 

People are at the heart of every organisation and keeping employees happy, motivated and committed is crucial to the success of a business. My top tip for talent retention is to build a workplace culture where employees feel they belong. Everyone wants to go to work and feel connected, valued and like they are making a real difference. 

Creating such a culture requires a multi-threaded approach. A great place to start is to establish behaviour-based values. These values need to fundamentally underpin the entire business, regardless of offices, cities or even countries. They need to be representative and consider the existing culture, which can be identified through engaging employees at all levels to understand what they care about most in their day-to-day interactions with colleagues. Giving employees a voice is essential to retention – this is the difference between values that are genuinely felt within the company culture and words on the wall. 

Making the workplace somewhere that employees want to stay also requires regular listening posts, such as surveys, meetings and one-to-ones. These need to occur regularly throughout the employee lifecycle and should apply to both new and long-term employees. Companies will often find surveys elicit the most honest responses, providing the most valuable retention insight – it’s the only way to learn what is and isn’t working. 

Once the issues have been identified it’s critical to act on them. Such changes must address the most critical components, including effective onboarding, a transparent approach to compensation, learning and development, recognition and rewards, and flexible work schedules. Today’s employees have high expectations, which companies need to meet. 

As a business pivots and grows, one fact will always remain the same: people are its most valuable asset. The key to success isn’t just finding the best talent, it’s keeping people invested in their futures at your company, nurturing them and creating an environment where they can see themselves succeed.