How People Managers Influence Retention

Laura Saracho
December 6, 2022
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No matter what time of year it is, it’s always a good idea to check in with how things are going on your team and to reassess goals where applicable. Are people burned out? Is morale high? What's your turnover rate like? 

Unfortunately for many people managers, turnover is typically top of mind. As we’ve shared before, employee turnover historically spikes in January—but it doesn't necessarily end then. And considering we’re still in the midst of a little thing called The Great Resignation (maybe you’ve heard of it? 😜), this year’s numbers are unlikely to relent.

Of course, there’s an element of cyclicity at play here. Many people quit their jobs in January after waiting for their year-end bonus to arrive, because they’ve been recruited by another company that’s ramped up hiring for the year, or just because it’s time for a change.

But here’s a hard truth to face, too: for many, the decision to leave their job is more personal than a simple matter of timing. In fact, a recent study revealed that about 50% of over 7,000 employees surveyed left their job “to get away from their manager.”

Yikes—we’ll give you a minute to recover from that one. 😅

Here’s the good news: if there’s room for improvement in your management style, you, too, can harness the power of the new year and resolve to make some changes that could positively impact employee retention.

Ready, set, retention!


You have more influence than you think

The same study that cited not-great managers as the number one reason why people left their job provided a number of other reasons as well: too much workload, a lack of recognition, a lack of career advancement opportunities, and broken commitments.

A closer look shows that while these reasons don’t specifically call out people managers, they’re all greatly influenced by management style. Managers can make a huge difference in controlling workload, properly recognizing employees, setting up development opportunities, and, of course, following through on those opportunities.

According to Gallup, most employees’ day-to-day experiences fall under three categories: engagement, performance, and development. Once again, these areas fall within the realm of responsibility for managers. Making strides in engaging your team, coaching for high performance, and shaping personalized, long-term growth will all contribute to a better experience for employees, and will likely impact retention in a positive way. ✨

Understand—and improve—engagement

If employee engagement is flagging, there are a few steps you can take to improve it. But first, you’ll need to get a read on just how engaged your employees actually are. You can use something like employee net promoter score (eNPS), which asks how likely your employees would be to recommend working at your company to friends and family.

Once you’ve identified that there’s room for improvement, you can start collecting more specific employee feedback to find out why employees are feeling less-than-inspired. You can also introduce an employee recognition program to make it more intentional and truly reap the benefits (start with The Complete Manager's Guide to Employee Recognition)

One thing about employee engagement is undeniable: it cannot coexist with burnout. Additionally, in our recent survey, 49% of managers reported dealing with employee burnout. If your employees are already feeling burnt out, you have bigger problems to solve than upping engagement. You can prevent burnout, however, by focusing on cultural initiatives that are people-first. Prioritize your employees as your most important asset. You can also build a burnout prevention plan that’s proactive about taking concrete measures to encourage work-life balance.



Remove bias from performance management

Performance reviews are often a fraught time for both managers and employees. The stakes can feel very high, and if an employee feels blindsided by their review, engagement can really suffer. Too often, employer bias also gets in the way of providing fair and relevant performance evaluation and coaching.

Make sure you have a system in place that allows you to avoid this! Getting your employees involved in goal-setting and determining the purpose behind their goals can go a long way here. If your employees clearly understand what they’re trying to achieve, and why, performance management is more likely to feel collaborative rather than prescriptive.

Another key piece of managing performance is providing regular, relevant feedback. That means not waiting until the company-mandated review periods to tell someone how they’re doing. Setting aside time during 1:1s to check in on performance can help ensure you’re both on the same page and prevent anyone from feeling surprised—and potentially blindsided—when it’s time for a formal review.


Foster a growth environment

New beginnings for your employees don’t have to mean finding a new job. You can use the new year as an opportunity to start building development plans with your employees.

As Margaret Rogers outlines in Harvard Business Review, you can start this process by asking questions. Before you build a plan to help your employees grow, you need to know how they want to grow. Set up one-on-ones and use the opportunity to get as much information as you can. What parts of the job do your employees find interesting? What parts are challenging? Does your employee have any career goals that their current role isn’t helping them work towards?

Once you understand the ways your employees want to grow, you can create more opportunities for them to learn and build the skills they’ve expressed interest in developing. Rogers recommends providing employees with “learning moments”—that is, situations that specifically address that employee’s goals.

Finally, understand that guiding your employees in their career development is an iterative process that requires regular feedback. Be specific about what your employee is doing well and where you’d like to see them improve, and allow them to give you feedback on how they feel about the learning moments they’ve been given. Seeing career growth as an ongoing conversation can help both you and your employee stay on track.

The takeaway

There are incremental yet meaningful changes you can make as a people manager to prioritize your employees’ job satisfaction. Focusing on engagement, performance, and development can help bring your team—and your management style—out of a rut and reset your employer-employee relationship for the better.

Want to keep those creative wheels spinning? Here is a handy checklist to plan and accomplish a successful 2023 with retention in mind! ⬇️

2023 HR checklist mock
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