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12 creative ways to retain employees

By Faye Wai

6 min read

12 creative ways to retain employees
Image by Jimmy Foulds

Employee retention is a major challenge for every organization, large or small. Replacing any position can be time-consuming and also costs a ton of money. Companies must now adopt creative ways to retain employees, especially since the shift to working remotely.

We hear about the many struggles of hiring stellar employees. But finding such talent is only half the battle; retaining them is the other. Employee turnover has been a long-term problem but even more so in 2021 with retention rates dropping lower than ever. 

It’s time to look at employee retention in a holistic manner. Discover what employees value the most, so you can implement innovative retention solutions to keep them rather than lose them!


Top creative retention ideas for thoughtful leaders 

1. Mentorship programs across the organization 

One of the best employee retention ideas is to implement mentorship and peer-matching programs. It’s way less intimidating for a peer to guide you rather than being micromanaged and hand-held by your manager to learn a new tool. Learning becomes more effective, and there’s typically more trust in the peer-to-peer relationship. 

Whether it’s cross-departmental buddy systems or regular coaching by senior management, employees are often grateful for different touchpoints and perspectives to support them in their careers. 


2. Keep employees fit, mentally and physically 

Nobody wants to be overworked and overwhelmed! More and more employees are seeking work environments that support long-term stress management and personal and family health. 

That’s why the modern workplace has to prevent burnout proactively and reinforce mental health. And a great way to do this is to promote wellness and a healthy work life balance. 

Try a no-meeting day for team members that are working from home so they’re not bogged down by video call fatigue. When leaders motivate employees to focus on what inspires them both in their personal and professional lives, they’ll notice a refreshed and improved attitude and focus. 


3. Challenge your team creatively

More and more organizations are arranging for regular hackathons and “ship-it” days for improved employee creativity. Events like these allow employees to meet and engage in collaborative problem-solving. This creates opportunities for people to invest time on projects that interest them, yet benefit the company with innovation. 

Hackathon allows teams to work together and tackle problems from a different angle. This tool can also be adapted to tackle non-technical problems within an organization. An innovative retention strategy like this provides experimental projects and leadership opportunities for employees to show outside of the day-to-day. 


4. Provide a sabbatical for your loyal contributors 

Jessie, your employee of over five years, is feeling a little bored and stagnant. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she took an extended break and came back feeling refreshed? Companies that reward top performers with sabbaticals allow them to reflect on their careers and come up with new ideas. It also shows them how much you treasure their continued contributions, and care about their personal aspirations too. 


5. Reward efforts, not just results 

As we know, recognition is one of the best employee retention strategies. But too often, we’re quick to recognize results, not effort. Next time, try to acknowledge the hard work your teammates put into a project and give a sincere “thank you” for their ideas and contributions. It makes employees feel valued—when you reward hard work, more will come (unlike an achievement that can’t be guaranteed). 


6. Enable your people managers 

The saying goes, people leave their managers. To equip managers with the right soft and hard skills, set expectations around their role. Give them the tools and coach the skills they need to support their direct reports, starting from the onboarding process. It’s increasingly crucial to help managers as they’re culture bearers for your organization. People look to model behavior from managers—and that’s why respected leaders are a main factor of retention. 


7. Empower employees to grow and make decisions 

If you want to show employees your trust, give them the responsibility to take things on. Giving employees autonomy and decision-making power on projects allows them to develop leadership skills. They’ll learn how to consider multiple ideas and seek input from others, furthering their professional development. 

Remember to communicate the wider vision, set clear expectations, and provide them the necessary resources to see the initiative through successfully. 


8. Co-create the employee experience 

When in doubt, ask away! So why wouldn’t you ask your employees as you’re brainstorming for employee engagement and retention initiatives? Anonymous surveys are a great way to spot neglected gaps between the actual and desired employee experience. These tools help leaders better understand what organizational issues are prompting your talent to leave. 

An effective way to retain employees is to establish employee focus groups. They’re task forces that tackle specific problem areas in the organization and keep leaders accountable with their efforts. 


9. Double down on DE&I 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts aren’t just for companies to say “look, we’re diverse and everyone’s welcome”! In an inclusive workplace, all team members' needs and perspectives are respected. In turn, they enjoy a higher level of trust and commitment from their employees. 

To truly allow people to show up to work with their whole selves, tackle issues like unconscious bias. Conduct workshops and regular discussions about how to be a truly welcoming workplace. It’s not just HR—the responsibility of creating an inclusive workplace rests with every employee


10. Team building to create long-lasting relationships

Workplace friendships can make employees stay. You feel heard and included, and even when you come across challenges, you feel that your teammates have got your back. They play an even more important part during volatile times—work friendships can contribute to a strong sense of psychological safety, and it’s known that workplace friendships are a key factor in career happiness. The sense of camaraderie and belonging when you get along with your coworkers is something that’s hard to replace in a new environment. 


11. Allow lateral opportunities and job rotations

Let’s face it—you can’t possibly promote everyone every year. With Gen Z and millennial employees increasingly valuing career progress and personal development, it’s hard to satisfy everyone. 

When lateral movement is encouraged within a company, not only can employees develop their careers, but retention rates increase too! This tackles the problem of career stagnation or burnout in a current role, which causes employees to find new opportunities elsewhere. Whether it’s relocation to another office or a change of team, lateral shifts can help employees gain new experiences and increase their job satisfaction. 


12. It’s a learning opportunity when your employees leave 

No matter how much you try retaining talent, there are always going to be goodbyes. Exit interviews are a great opportunity to understand what the company can do better as well as the departing employee's general experience at your company. Conducting stay interviews also helps shine a light on motivators and frustrations that can lead to departures. They’re an effective way to crowd-source initiatives to improve company culture. 



Help them grow—or else they’ll go! We put so much effort into the hiring process, yet sometimes we think the effort stops there. 

Your people make up your business. Remember to show your employees appreciation and care; that’s the only way they’ll do the same. 

I hope these creative ways to retain your employees are helpful for your company. Your quest to achieve a better working environment and loyal employees will be greatly improved as you adopt these tips!


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Faye Wai

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