Employee retention. It’s something every company wants, but few achieve. But what if we knew the reason that employees leave?
When it comes to employee satisfaction, I find inspiration in the words of one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes. He was born 100 years ago today, on February 1st, 1902. Here’s the full text of his poem “Harlem”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
In my experience, the reason that we struggle with employee retention is that we fail to recognize that people have dreams. For many, work is just a way to pay the bills. Their true passion is something else. Time spent on things like preparing for performance reviews seems like a waste of workplace productivity. They would rather be thinking big.
If you listen carefully in an office, you can almost hear employee retention crumbling away. It is the sound of dreams fading. I was talking to someone recently in a non-profit about sharing some of their programs with the general public. They said: “I was thinking about seeing if there is a community access television station we could use to promote our services at no cost.”
When I asked them to tell me more, the response came back right away. “I don’t know. I’ll have to send the idea to management.”
I pressed the issue. “You don’t need to submit the idea of finding out if there’s is such a TV station! Management might need to approve the idea to actually create programming, or set up meetings, but not to spend five minutes finding out if it even exists.”
So much of employee retention is about encouraging people to dream big at work. Not every great idea is feasible or even possible. But when workers instantly discount a suggestion before a second thought, you can tell that they are counting the minutes before the clock strikes 5PM. If you want employee retention, you need employee engagement. A dream deferred is eventually forgotten. Make a difference by encouraging imagination at work.