Talent Retention: If You Love Something, Set It Free

Kathy Peacock - Proposal Writer/Coordinator ·

The best thing you can do to keep your top talent happy is to engage in a bit of reverse psychology. The topic of talent retention is mired in language about having, keeping, holding, and preserving. To retain something means to hold onto it. But after you’ve “captured” a person, so to speak, the goal is to set people free to do what they do best and watch your business thrive. According to a study by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace, 87% of HR leaders consider talent retention a critical issue. These people know who the mission-critical high performers are in their organizations and how devastating it would be if they jumped ship. Talent retention is a huge, crucial management component in any organization. To address it properly, it helps to break it down into the following elements:

  • Past: How did you recruit and hire your talent?
  • Present: How are you currently treating your talent?
  • Future: What are you doing to prepare your talent for future challenges?


Talent retention starts by knowing the type of individual who will work best in a given job. Do you need a big-picture thinker, or someone who obsesses over details? Hire intentionally and have an established and thorough onboarding program. More thought up front prevents headaches down the road. This entails being really, truly honest about what the job entails. Don’t tell someone that the position requires “some overtime” if it really requires 60-hour weeks. Don’t pretend that 50% travel is just 10% travel. Such misrepresentation amounts to a bait-and-switch for a well-meaning jobseeker. Aligning job descriptions with the realities of the position may require retooling those job descriptions periodically. This is a fantastic investment of time and effort.

Next, a thorough onboarding process is more than signing paperwork and issuing a login and password. Onboarding is how you share your business’s vision and mission with new hires. Don’t shortchange the process. Once again, this is the realm of investing in people for a long-term payoff. A cut-throat law firm will have a different vibe than a social service agency (one would hope). Give new talent plenty of opportunities to meet and mingle with people in various departments, both socially and professionally, so they can get their bearings. Make sure they know how the business got started, how it evolved, and where it’s headed. Give them a stake in the company’s success. According to one study, 37% of HR managers believe that new hires would stay at an organization longer if the hiring process was more candid. According to Chad Halvorson, founder and CEO of software developer When I Work, “a poor onboarding experience for a new hire builds a foundation of negativity in the new job.”


There’s no way around offering a decent salary and benefits to retain talent. Make sure salaries meet or exceed local standards for the industry. If your business can’t offer great pay, make a huge concerted effort to offer what benefits you can. For many, money isn’t everything, but benefits are; a 2018 survey conducted for trade organization America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) found that 56% of employees are likely to stay in their current positions because of health insurance.

Feel free to expand the definition of benefits, given that gold-plated health insurance policies are as hard to offer as good salaries. More manageable are perks that make for a comfortable work environment and add to the company’s culture. Tickets to sporting events, concerts, free lunches, extra days off for outstanding performance are fun surprises that help break up the monotony of work week. Be careful not to dangle carrots like a promotion or raise that may or may not come to fruition. It’s also essential to honor big achievements as they are attained and not wait until a person’s next review or salary increase. Don’t be afraid to make rewards personal. For example, one CEO of a medium-sized company was on vacation at Universal Studios and bought an official Hogwarts Gryffindor robe for a high performer who is a well-known Harry Potter fan. This unexpected souvenir brought the recipient much happiness and joy, and she mentions it often. The brilliance of this tactic is that the CEO does things like this on a regular basis, so it is not interpreted as favoritism.

The present also encompasses providing a sustainable work-life balance for everyone at the organization. This is more than being flexible regarding hours and time off. It also means watching for signs of burnout and encouraging people to take their vacation days. A workplace culture that values and rewards those who arrive early and stay late may be sacrificing long-term growth for short-term gain. A 2014 study by John Pencavel at Stanford University found that after 50 hours per week, productivity declines sharply. This includes time spent connected to phones and email while out of the office.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a comfortable work environment. A dingy office or shop environment can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect. Sink some money into creating nice surroundings: a fresh coat of paint, snazzy new carpet, a kick-ass coffee machine, onsite yoga classes, and maybe an outdoor work space for use in good weather. Small investments can have big payoffs and prove that you’re listening to them. At one Midwestern office, some team members were perpetually cold, while others were quite comfortable. The solution to the never-ending battle over the thermostat was a wall-mounted fireplace and seating area that gave the cold people somewhere cozy to work. Additionally, the sofas and chairs created an alternate work space that was great for conversation and teamwork.


Smart employers offer various mentoring, training, and development opportunities. Top talent, by virtue of who they are, always want to grow their skills. Offer them a career path, promote from within, establish a corporate university, provide tuition assistance, conduct quarterly reviews that aren’t tied to raises, and recognize their accomplishments regularly. Ask people their goals and find a way to facilitate them. Sure, some employees may leave the fold eventually, but many will stay because they value the appreciation and the chance to work on projects that take advantage of their skills. This is the “set it free” ethos. Individuals have agency, and respecting that agency is crucial. High-performers will happily stay with an organization as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial.

If you address talent retention in terms past, present, and future, the issue will always be on your radar. You’ll be fostering an environment that welcomes and promotes achievement—that’s good for individuals and it’s good for the organization.

If you are interested in learning more about what your company can do to retain employees and improve your talent management strategy take our free Talent Survey at www.EDSITalentSurvey.com