Employee retention statistics

10 Surprising Employee Retention Statistics You Need to Know

By George Dickson on May 25, 2016

Employee retention is a challenge for nearly every organization. Even the best leaders have a hard time keeping top talent. Although it may seem impossible to perfect a retention strategy in the face of these odds, you can often make a dramatic improvement with a few simple steps.

The first step toward achieving better retention is understanding the scope, and the core issues that drive turnover. Here are 11 surprising and illuminating employee retention statistics you may not have heard, and some simple strategies to help you keep your team together for the long term:

1. More than one-quarter of employees are in a high-retention-risk category.

According to research from Willis Towers Watson, over one quarter of employees are at a high risk for turnover. Many of those people possess mission-critical skills and are top performers, or have potential to become top performers.

The cost of recruiting and onboarding a new hire aside, this is a cohort of employees whose presence won't be easy (and in some cases impossible) to replace. The best strategy is to avoid losing them in the first place.

How do you do that?

It all starts with recognizing which people on your team are a match for the high-retention-risk category. It may seem logical that these are often entry-level employees, but the opposite is true.

Keeping an open dialogue with your team can provide priceless insights into their collective engagement, and the engagement levels of individual members. 

2. More than half of all organizations globally have difficulty retaining some of their most marketable employee groups.

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Data from the same Willis Towers Watson study shows that attrition isn't an isolated issue. Although hiring has increased in recent years, attrition rates have also increased right alongside for a remarkably large number of organizations. This in itself is problematic; however, it's not just the number of employees who leave, it's the types of employees who leave, and reasons they're leaving that deserve some focus.

Recognize and reward great work.

If you have a top-tier employee like a 10x engineer in your organization, it's crucial to recognize the massive value they're bringing to the table, and recognizing them appropriately

If they're producing a prodigious amount of work, but they're not being rewarded for it, they're likely going to be in the high-retention-risk group.

If they get a sense their amazing skills and/or productivity are being taken for granted in your organization, you can bet that inevitable job offer plus a pay bump from your competitor is going to look increasingly attractive to them each time it comes up — and in the case of a 10x engineer, it will. Often.

3. More than 70 percent of high-retention-risk employees say they have to leave their organization to advance their careers.

According to the same study, nearly three quarters of employees who fall into the "high-retention-risk" category are itching to leave because they've bumped up against their career ceiling prematurely in their current organization.

Nobody wants to work a dead-end job.

If an employee feels as though their advancement is being stifled by their environment, they're going to leave. It's not due to a lack of loyalty, and it's not their fault.

Leaving is a smart move on their part.

Just like most successful businesses won't remain in a stifling environment out of a sense of duty, or misguided loyalty, neither will a smart employee — especially if their skills are marketable.

This career advancement limitation can come in many forms, but there are just as many ways to avoid it.

Offer and encourage professional training and development.

It's unfortunately common to hear leaders say they're hesitant to support training and professional development initiatives for their employees because they're concerned the result of that investment is simply grooming them for their next job in a different company.

Personal growth and development are a crucial element of what your organization can offer to any employee, and the benefits extend in every direction. Supporting their development ensures they'll be more engaged, more productive, and better at what they do.

If the time does come for them to leave, they'll be able to honestly tell others how much they grew while working for your organization, rather than how stifled they felt.

Offer leadership opportunities (if they're interested).

Not everyone's interested in a career path that ends in managing others, but for those who are, providing even small opportunities to experience this type of work and build these skills can go a long way.

4. Thirty-five percent of employees said they'd look for a new job if they do not receive a pay raise in the next year.

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Research by Glassdoor states that 35 percent of employees are unsatisfied with their salary — enough that they'd be willing to go through a job hunt over it. Anyone who's ever gone on a job hunt is probably aware that it's no small undertaking.

In a case where salary offers are equal (or close), the company with the strongest culture will nearly always win. Culture is an incredible retention tool, but in this case, it's a matter of basic table stakes.

If your organization is not willing or able to maintain salary parity, it can't expect to stay in the game forever. This is especially true in regards to employees with highly valuable skills.

5. More than half of American employees believe that if they lost their current job, they would be able to replace it in the next six months.

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Another recent study from Glassdoor shows that over half of American employees have a high level of confidence that they'd be able to find a job at the same level within six months or less if they quit, were fired, or were laid off.

Why is this so important?

Several years ago, when the global economy was in considerably worse shape, employees weren't nearly as confident that they'd be able to find a new position at the same level (or at all) if they had to start searching for one.

That apprehension was enough to keep many employees from leaving their current position, even if they weren't happy or fulfilled in it. It's important to understand that apprehension and fear of joblessness gradually faded throughout the past years.

The roles have been reversed, and the ball is in the organization's court now. It's up to the organization to convince the employee that they're worthy partners.

6. Sixty-five percent of employees are confident in finding a better position, while salary satisfaction declines.

Recent research by Dice backs up Glassdoor's findings, and takes it a step further. Their research suggests an even higher number of employees are not just confident in finding a position — they're confident they'll find an even better position than their current one.

Their research also suggests that salary satisfaction among tech professionals declined in recent years.

What does that mean for your organization?

It's just further evidence that employment has become a seller's market. Increased confidence in new job prospects, plus a decline in overall salary satisfaction is a one-two punch that can leave many organizations wondering what happened to all their top talent.

The best defense against this type of turnover is deceptively simple: be that better position.

The hard work is in determining how to be that better position, and then making that determination a reality. A big part of making that determination is divorcing yourself from a top-down mentality. What a group of managers or executives believe to be the answer to making a position better could be (and often is) dramatically different from the employee's answer. 

It could be something as simple as My chair is terrible, and I have no windows near me. It makes me feel like my company doesn't care about my comfort.

Maybe a window is a physical impossibility in your case, but that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. Get creative. Show that you genuinely care about them, and about improving their situation. Give them a few extra opportunities to go outside each day — that "unproductive" time will likely have a dramatic effect on overall productivity and satisfaction.

This is just an example though. The best way to find out how you can improve a person's work life is to ask. Solicit feedback regularly, and show visible signs of progress towards improvement.

7. Ninety-three percent of millennials say they left their employer the last time they changed roles.

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A recent Gallup poll showed that a vast majority of millennials took new jobs at new companies, rather than advancing in their current organization. This could be in part due to the rise of the "gig economy," but it truly reveals a systemic change in the way people view employment and career advancement.

To understand why these employees changed companies along with their role, you need to understand what they were looking for.

The seven percent that stayed had good reasons.

In a recent interview with us, Making Good's Julian Caspari explained many of the key elements this generation of employees expect, and how organizations can work to deliver on those expectations.

8. Forty-four percent of employees say they would consider taking a job with a different company for a raise of 20 percent or less.

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Another Gallup poll found that a pay bump of 20 percent (or less in many cases) is all it would take for almost half of the respondents to job hop.

For actively disengaged employees, the number was as high as 54 percent.

For engaged employees, the number was dramatically reduced to 37 percent.

It doesn't take a much higher bid to lose an employee. The reality of the situation is that within most organizations, the annual salary increase an employee can expect will be in the low single digits. A competitor is likely to best that easily as part of a recruitment effort.

A competitor is not as likely to set a precedent of paying far above market value for an employee though. If you're already paying your team at market rate (or better) it's going to be much harder for a competitor to hop in and offer a 20 percent pay bump.

The challenge here is twofold:

  1. Understanding what it takes to keep employees engaged to limit your overall exposure to job hopping.
  2. Keeping your finger on the pulse of what market rate actually is for each position on your staff.

If you're able to keep employees engaged, and pay them market rate, there's much less chance of seeing them hop away.

9. Employees who are "engaged and thriving" are 59 percent less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months.

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Further Gallup research found that although engaged employees are surely less likely to leave your organization, employees who are engaged and thriving are even less likely to leave.

Aren't being engaged and thriving the same thing? No.

Consider them more like two parts of a whole. Engagement is best described as an employee's emotional attachment to the organization, its constituents, its values, and its purpose. Wellbeing consists of factors like physical and mental health, stress levels, and so on.

If you look at this from the perspective of Fredrick Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory, most elements of wellbeing fit into the spectrum of hygiene factors, and the elements of engagement often fit into the spectrum of motivational factors.

As the theory states, you can have one without the other, but the two work in concert.

To briefly summarize, you can have a great mission to work on, but terrible equipment. You can walk into an environment of boring drudgery, but with the best equipment. The best outcomes, however, are achieved when a multitude of both hygiene and motivational factors are accounted for (working on great equipment to complete an exciting and important mission).

10. Employee happiness is 23.3 percent more correlated to connections with coworkers than direct supervisors.

Coworker relationships matter, and they matter on a level that is bigger than you might expect. As part of a recent employee engagement survey they conducted, the team at TINYpulse found that employee happiness is much more closely correlated to the connections they share with their coworkers, rather than those they share with their direct supervisors.

This doesn't mean that the connection an employee has with their supervisor is unimportant — far from it. An employee's relationship with their supervisor matters a great deal, but it's often their coworkers that truly inspire them to go the extra mile at work.

There are many ways to inspire stronger coworker relationships, like team outings and activities, but to get the best results, it's best to bake it into your organizational culture right down to the way your spaces are organized.

Building spaces that encourage organic interactions between employees, and encouraging those interactions can make a dramatic impact on the way relationships form at work.

We promised you ten tips, but since you made it through all ten, here's one more!

11. Forty-six percent of high-retention-risk employees used apps to find new jobs in the past month vs. 13 percent in low-risk groups.

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New technology is making it easier and easier to look for a new job, and recent research from research from Willis Towers-Watson shows that nearly half of employees considered to be a high retention risk used a mobile app or website to search for and find new jobs within the past month.

This can be a challenge, an opportunity, or both. 

If the employees in your organization are highly engaged, they'll often become some of your best brand ambassadors. For talented individuals looking for great places to work, it's an extraordinarily positive sign to see employees voluntarily making positive comments about their workplace, and the people they work with.

In conclusion

Although some of these employee retention statistics may seem alarming, it's not all bad news. Understanding what drives employee behavior, and cultivating a great work environment and employee value proposition, will go a long way in helping your organization beat the odds. 

Are you ready to take the next step toward retaining your best employees? Check out our latest guide:

The Leadership Survival Kit

Written by George Dickson

George Dickson

George manages content and community at Bonusly. He's dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures through thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition.