Retention: matching employee passions with business needs

Estimates put the cost of recruiting new employees at anywhere from 75-150 per cent of the new employee’s first-year salary, depending on what you include in your calculations. Given the current economic climate, therefore, perhaps the best HR practice is to spend less time on recruitment and more on retaining those employees who are already proving their value.

APEX Public Relations Inc. is a company that has done just that. In a field that tends to see year-over-year turnover rates around 35 per cent, APEX management has consistently kept theirs to between 10-15 per cent. And they have accomplished this, says president and founder Pat McNamara, by creating an organizational culture that focuses on people. Leanne James, vice president of human resources and operations, echoes this philosophy, noting McNamara leads the way by promoting internal communication, by focusing on matching employee interests and client needs, and by supporting learning opportunities and recognition programs.

“When we put our people first,” says James, “they become ambassadors for our company.”

“Clients stay because of our people,” says McNamara. “So, we treat our employees as individuals and not just slot them anywhere. We look for their passions and balance those with our business needs.”

Proof is in the action, though; and proof came when APEX employee Samantha Kemp-Jackson learned Workplace was looking for concrete examples of talent management and employee retention. She wrote saying the company, “has found the formula for employee satisfaction.”

Kemp-Jackson says, “Through company perks, including a ‘Five for Five’ program that rewards loyal employees $5,000 and five extra days of vacation after five years of service, the company has solidified its loyalty amongst 30+ staff members. As well, individuals are provided lieu days for extra time worked, as well as a number of other perks that have kept employees engaged and motivated.”

The “Five for Five” service recognition program is not the only retention tool the firm employs. Along with attempting to match employee passions with clients, McNamara and her managers also avoid creating silos by mixing account types among their staff. They also promote “guest appearance” opportunities by  encouraging staff to bring in other staff members to help with special projects, or by exploiting another staff member’s particular talents to the best advantage.

What seems to be key to employee satisfaction for McNamara and James is both an open door policy – staff is encouraged to resolve their own problems, but know that doors and options are always open when help is needed – and a commitment to ongoing communication and feedback.

“You can never over-communicate,” James insists. Collaboration and informal communication is encouraged; and, more formally, management and staff participate in:

  • Quarterly information sessions called “APEX Out Loud,” which are lead by McNamara;
  • Annual company-wide, off-site retreats, which in past years have been held in cottage country and this
  • year, for the company’s 10th anniversary, was held as a cruise.
  • Employee surveys, which are conducted each year and the feedback is closely scrutinized. The firm alsoparticipates as one of Canada’s Top 100 applicants each year.

This doesn’t mean that the firm is free from staffing issues. While some years, James says, they have almost no turnover, other years can be more active. For instance, 95 per cent of their 30+ member team are women, meaning that dealing with maternity and parental leaves are a constant feature of her job. However, the firm offers a daycare benefit, as well reintroduction-back-into-the-workplace sessions and a buddy system for those returning from leaves, as well as for new hires.

While, at first glance, many of APEX’s successes may be seen as a result of their smaller size, McNamara says size has nothing to do with it. “Large companies can be broken down into divisions and into small  teams capable of implementing many of the types of programs we have,” she says.

“I’ve worked at other agencies and spent much more time recruiting than I do now,” says James. And, James
points out the fact that such a relatively small firm even has a person dedicated to HR tasks says volumes about the emphasis on people first.

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5 Retention Tools
“Our focus is on celebrating service and accomplishments,” says Pat McNamara, president of APEX. Here are some of the tools the firm uses to reward employee loyalty:

1. High Five – is a peer nomination program requested by staff during one of the company retreats. Individual employees nominate others. Those nominations are forwarded to the employee named as soon as received and they become eligible to be included in a draw for a $100 gift card three times a year.

2. Individual birthday recognition and gift cards.

3. Dinner out with friend/partner after two years of employment.

4. Five-For-Five service program offers the perks discussed above after five years of service.

5. One-month paid sabbatical after eight years of service.