New book offers managers tips on keeping the best employees

"Retaining Your Best People" describes complex set of managerial skills necessary to retain best workers

Workforce experts warn that several demographic trends will soon converge to create a labor shortage that could threaten the viability of governments and businesses.

In 2008, for example, retiring baby boomers and declining numbers of workers who are 25 to 34 years old could result in a workforce that is 15 percent smaller than it is today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2010 the United States will have 10 million more jobs than it has people to fill them.

Against that backdrop, the authors of “Retaining Your Best People” analyze the role of managers in keeping good employees and offer a checklist of good retention practices.

“Holding onto your best people requires a complex set of managerial skills,” the authors state in the book, which is part of Harvard Business School’s Results-Driven Manager series. The problem of retaining good employees has grown so acute that some businesses have created positions for retention managers, whose job is to do anything possible to reduce employee turnover.

A coaching style of management that avoids manipulation and coercion helps retain good employees, wrote Martha Craumer, one of the book’s dozen contributors. “Never mind that you’re the boss,” she advises. “Show consideration and respect for your people by asking their permission to give them feedback. This can be as simple as saying, ‘May I offer a couple of suggestions? Or ‘Would you be open to taking a different approach to solving that problem?’”

Business writer Loren Gary, another contributor, offers a checklist geared to managers who want to create a work environment that encourages the best employees to stay. That checklist has three items:

  • Create a great environment. That means no jerks allowed, according to the chapter, “Do People Want to Work for You?” A jerk is someone who never says thank you, who slams doors or displays a bad mood. “What is the opposite of jerkdom? Ordinary human virtues such as courtesy and respect,” Gary wrote.

  • Create great jobs. The best managers structure jobs in ways that give employees a degree of autonomy and provide opportunities for them to have new experiences and cultivate their skills.

  • Ask early and ask often. Managers shouldn’t wait until an employee has an exit interview to seek feedback about the work environment and about themselves as managers. Some management advice violates the Golden Rule, and this book offers a case in point. Managers must tailor their relationships with employees in unique ways that meet the expectations of each employee, the experts advise. “Instead of treating employees the way you want to be treated, treat them the way they want to be treated,” Gary wrote.

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