HUFFINGTON POST
02/01/2012 08:56 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2012

Retaining Employees: 5 Things You Need To Know

Even when the economy is tough -- and maybe especially then -- it's never a bad idea to show your employees appreciation. You may have a few knuckleheads you wouldn't be sorry to see go, were they to walk out, but the last thing you need is your best employees to leave you high and dry.

And they will, if you take them for granted. After all, especially in a world in which retiring with a gold watch is increasingly a fantasy, why should talented employees stick around if they aren't being treated like a best employee should be? It can obviously cost thousands of dollars to train a new employee, depending on the position, especially taking into account all the money a company can lose when its talent isn't around to land new accounts, maintain quality control and provide superior customer service. (There are a lot of employee turnover calculators online to prove this point, like this one. So if you want to keep your employees happy, in both good and bad times, here are five things you need to know.

1. Challenge your employees.

You don't want to overwhelm them, but you shouldn't bore them either. Adam Neary, CEO of Profitably.com, a website that helps businesses better plan, manage and execute their finances, says, "I believe people do their best when the work they are doing is right in the arc between where they're coming from and where they want to go." Neary clarifies: "Look at Jason Putorti, the lead designer from Mint. He was a hurricane of awesome and had no interest in leaving while they were in the throes of it all. It had to do with stretching him from where he was coming from as an agency guy and an independent designer into actually owning a brand and a visual aesthetic. It was a growth role for him, but not unreachable. And it led to him being able to take a role like 'Designer in Residence' at Bessemer and then a co-founder of Votizen. If, however, you wanted to get Jason to be your designer and play the role he played at Mint after Mint, it wouldn't make sense. And even if you convinced him short term, you'd lose him."

2. Pay your employees.

If at all possible, "pay them more than they think they are worth," suggests Gerry Patnode, assistant professor of management and marketing at York College of Pennsylvania and a former business owner for 23 years.

But if you can't pay a high salary, keep in mind, says Chip Manning, director of the Babson Center for Global Commerce, that "benefits, such as family time and flexible work schedules, can have more value to the employee rather than additional cash." Pay your employees compliments. True, if all you are is complimentary, that won't go too far forever, but it is important. The key here is respect, says Manning. Respect can be shown via money, valuing an employee's time and simply making it clear that you value your staff by, yes, complimenting them for their hard work. Or show them that you realize there's more to them than their job. The SuperGroup, based in Atlanta, is a small, digital interactive shop, that boasts high employee retention, probably due to a program which allows significant personal use on company time to be spent doing anything creative, like penning a novel or screenplay, learning to paint or taking music lessons.

3. Don't hover.

This should be obvious, but if it was, we wouldn't have books out there like "My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide" by Harry Chambers or "Creating Passion-Driven Teams: How to Stop Micromanaging and Motivate People to Top Performance" by Dan Bobinski. Remember, if you hired employees because they're talented, creative and have a unique set of skills and intelligence, if you constrain them too much and make them do their work exactly like you would do it if you were in their position, you risk losing the very qualities that you hired them for in the first place.

4. Make the work environment as work-friendly as possible.

It's not all about the employees, exactly. Look in the mirror and at your environment. Money is an important motivator, but so is going into a workspace that lacks office politics and general tension. Is the office everyone works in kind of a dump? How is the heating and cooling system in your office, store or building? Would you work here if you were an employee of yours? All important questions to ask.

5. Employees need to get something out of their job.

If you aren't giving or can't give your employees some sort of ownership in the company -- whether stock, or bonuses when the company is doing better -- you need to, at the bare minimum, offer your employees as much career growth as possible. Employees know that, any day, theoretically, no matter how good of a job they're doing, they could be kicked to the curb. Understanding that tends to make employees very acutely tuned in to improving their hireability. Employees tend to want to know that if that day comes and their services aren't needed any longer, they're still going to be in demand because they've been working with the most cutting-edge equipment in the industry or taking yearly seminars. It may seem counterproductive to help prepare an employee for a better job, but the more you help an employee grow and evolve so they can get a better job, the better the odds that they're going to realize that the better job is the one they have.

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