Keeping Good Workers in a Tight Labor Market

Are you doing all you can to retain your best workers?

By Alexandra Walsh

A recent headline from The Wall Street Journal noted the tight job market is returning the upper hand to American workers as the economy continues to open. Warehouses have hiked wages and now pay $26 an hour on average. Ballooning job openings in fields requiring minimal education, combined with a shrinking labor force, are leading employers to compete for low-wage workers by offering signing bonuses and other perks.

Are you doing all you can to retain your best workers?

Because small businesses typically have limited resources, holding on to quality talent and experience is crucial to business success. Effective employee retention strategies not only can improve worker morale, but they also ensure your best workers will continue to work for you and not your competition.

Objectives and Strategies

Employee retention strategies vary from business to business, but typically involve an investment in every aspect of the employee experience. A company that values employee retention carefully screens job applicants and establishes an effective hiring process. Recruits are provided with a comprehensive onboarding process and receive regular feedback and support from management.

Your onboarding process should teach new employees not just about the job but also about the company culture and how they can contribute to and thrive in it.

Steady employees often represent significant value to a company. After someone has been working with your company for a few years, they have acquired knowledge and relationships that may be critical to the continued success of your business. Strategies for retaining these workers might include opportunities for advancement, educational support, and regular salary increases.

All workers benefit from a company culture that recognizes achievement, displays gratitude to workers, and fosters healthy communication between employees at all levels of the company. When people feel appreciated, they are far more likely to continue working for you.

Why Employees Leave

Exit interviews can provide invaluable insight into how employees perceive your company and help determine whether your employee retention strategies need improvement. More than likely, you’ll hear the departing employee cite one or more of the following reasons for leaving their job:

  • Inadequate salary and benefits
  • Feeling overworked or unsupported
  • Limited opportunities for career advancement
  • Need for better work-life balance
  • Lack of recognition
  • Boredom with the job
  • Unhappiness with management
  • Concerns about the company’s direction or financial health
  • Dissatisfaction with the company culture
  • Desire to make a change.

If you sense your business is at risk of losing top talent, you need to move fast to shore up your employee retention strategies. Here are areas where taking deliberate action can help boost employees’ job satisfaction and increase your ability to hold on to valued workers.

Hire Right

Sometimes a large volume of turnover can be a result of hiring people who aren’t a good fit in the first place. It’s worth putting a bit more thought into your hiring process to make sure you’re choosing the right match.

When advertising for the position, be clear and honest about what working for your company is like. Be specific in your job postings and explain exactly what type of person each role would suit. Go beyond asking the typical interview questions and have a real conversation with candidates about your business.

When combing through resumes, look for candidates who have worked successfully at other roles for at least a couple of years. It shows they can stick around and work for one company long term. Also, if they have interests or commitments outside of work, this can also be a sign that they invest themselves into things they care about.

Onboarding and Orientation

Every new hire should be set up for success from the get-go. Your onboarding process should teach new employees not just about the job but also about the company culture and how they can contribute to and thrive in it. Don’t skimp on this critical first step. The training and support you provide from day one can set the tone for the employee’s entire tenure at your company.


Another great way to help an employee integrate into the workplace is to pair them with an experienced mentor.

The veteran employee can answer questions and provide guidance for the new employee. Plus, the new hire will give the experienced employee a new perspective on how to do things. This give and take will give both the old and new employee a sense of camaraderie and connection.

Mentoring is one of the best long-term employee retention strategies. It serves not only to improve retention, but also to make both mentor and employee better and happier at their jobs.

Employee Compensation

It’s essential for companies to pay their employees competitive wages, which means employers need to evaluate and adjust salaries regularly. Maybe your business can’t increase pay right now, but consider whether you could provide other forms of compensation, such as bonuses and perks. Don’t forget about improving health care benefits and retirement plans, which can help raise employees’ job satisfaction, too.


Perks can make your workplace stand out to potential new hires and re-engage current staff, all while boosting employee morale. Paid bonuses, and when possible, options like flexible schedules and working remotely (especially of late) are the perks many workers value most. In addition, about a third of the employees surveyed pointed out that paid parental leave is a big plus.


The coronavirus pandemic helped underscore the importance of good workplace communication. Employees should feel they can come to their supervisor with ideas, questions, and concerns at any time. And as a company employer, you need to make sure you’re doing your part to help promote timely, constructive, and positive communication across the entire business, including employees working on-site and remotely. Make sure you proactively connect with each person on a regular basis, to get a sense of their workload and job satisfaction.

Continuous Feedback

Many employers are abandoning the annual performance review in favor of more frequent meetings with their workers. In these one-on-one meetings, talk with your employees about their short- and long-term professional goals and help them visualize what their future can look like with the company. While you should never make promises you can’t keep, talk through potential career advancement scenarios together and lay out a realistic plan for reaching those goals.

Training and Development

As part of providing continuous feedback on performance, you can help employees identify areas for professional growth, such as the need to learn new skills. Upskilling, where employees acquire more advanced skills through additional education and training, is especially important today as technology continues to change how people work. When people improve their skills, they’re gaining new abilities, competencies, and confidence as business requirements continue to evolve.


An important tip for promoting employee retention is to call attention to noteworthy achievements. When your crew finishes an important job ahead of the deadline, or a worker reaches a 25-year work anniversary, take advantage of the opportunity to mark a milestone together. Whether you celebrate with everyone together in-person or virtually, it can be a meaningful and memorable moment for everyone.


It’s inevitable that some people who work for the company will leave sooner than you’d like. But you can at least make their decision a little tougher. And if those employees leave your business knowing they were valued and supported, they’ll likely say good things about your company and, who knows, even come back to work for you someday.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.