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Staff retention

publication date: Apr 21, 2008
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Well, if it makes you feel any better, you are not alone according to Anthony Hesse, managing director of the market leading specialist recruitment consultancy Property Personnel. We turned the tables on Anthony, and interviewed him about the issue of staff retention.

SM: Has staff retention always been an issue in estate agency?
AH: Having established Property Personnel 20 years ago, I can safely say that staff turnover is as high today as it has ever been, if not higher. As a sales industry, staff turnover is admittedly going to be higher than in say the public sector, but at times it borders on unacceptable in estate agency. Indeed, we know of clients with a turnover of more than 75%, and rather worryingly, 30-40% is not uncommon. Compare this with the UK’s overall employee turnover rate of about 18%, and perhaps the industry has a problem!

SM: So why do you think the industry has a problem with staff retention?
AH: There are various reasons that I will come on to, but part of the issue is that retention is very often the poor relation of recruitment. Companies tend to direct most of their resources and budget into recruitment, and it is easy to measure its success. Retention is much more nebulous. Having spent a great deal of time and money finding the right people, it is a shame more employers don’t work harder at keeping them. Many of our clients now have Recruitment Managers, but we have yet to come across a Retention Manager!

SM: Surely staff turnover is not all bad, especially for you?
AH: Some of our clients will argue that a certain amount of staff turnover can actually be beneficial, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. For example, replacing a poor performer with a more effective one has got to be good for business, as has bringing in ‘fresh blood’. New staff can bring in new ideas and skills, and retention can actually cause lack of promotion opportunities, which can ironically lead to staff turnover. Putting things into perspective, staff retention should be all about keeping the staff you want to keep, without being concerned about losing the ones you no longer want.

SM: So how long can employers expect an employee to stay with them?
AH: In an industry like estate agency, it is common knowledge that a large number of staff resign or are dismissed within the first few months of employment. As a benchmark, UK figures from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) show that 1 in 8 starters leave a job within the first six months, so you can expect that to be worse in estate agency due to the pressurised environment they work in! On top of that, employees with less than two years’ service are twice as likely to leave their organisations as those with more than two years. On a more positive note however, the CIPD also quote that almost a quarter of employees in the UK have been in their current jobs for at least 5 years. So it seems if you can retain an employee for at least 2 years, the chances of them staying improve dramatically.

SM: We speak with many people who are understandably very concerned about staff retention, so what advice could you offer to employers out there to improve it?
AH: People have written books on this subject, but these would be our top 10 tips:

1. Be 100% realistic with prospective employees at the recruitment stage. Try not to raise their expectations only to dash them later. Where possible, especially with trainees, offer prospective employees a trial day to enable both parties to have a better look at each other without obligation or commitment.
2. Make sure your salaries and benefits are competitive. Research the market and react accordingly. If you are not competitive and you do nothing about it, don’t be surprised when staff leave. Pay your staff what they are worth, not what you can get away with!
3. Whenever possible, create career paths and opportunities within your company, and map them out at the recruitment stage. Be realistic though, don’t make false promises and avoid over-promoting. Where promotion is not feasible, look for sideways moves that vary experience and make the work more interesting.
4. Encourage an ‘open door’ culture. Wherever possible ensure that employees have a ‘voice’, especially through regular appraisals and encourage them to air any grievances. This helps to ensure that dissatisfied employees have every opportunity to sort out problems before resigning. Where there is no such opportunity to voice dissatisfaction, resigning is often the only option.
5. Conduct exit interviews in an attempt to establish why people are leaving, as soon as possible after someone has resigned. Be prepared to listen with an open mind, accept criticism, and where relevant, act on the feedback.
6. We appreciate that estate agency is a service industry, and that it is not a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job, but wherever possible be as flexible as you can on working hours and days. Where employees are forced to work hours and days that do not suit their domestic responsibilities they will invariably end up looking for another job.
7. Avoid the development of a culture where people feel obliged to work longer hours than are necessary simply to impress management. Evaluation of individual commitment should be based on results achieved and not just on hours put in.
8. Make your line managers accountable for staff turnover in their teams. Reward those with a good record at keeping people, as long as they are keeping the performers!
9. Provide as much job security as possible. Employees who are made to feel that their jobs are precarious may put a great deal of effort in to impress, but they are also likely to be looking out for more secure employment at the same time. Security and stability are greatly valued by most employees.
10.Do whatever you can to defend your organisation against penetration by headhunters and others seeking to poach your staff. In an ever-tightening candidate market, this recruitment method has inevitably become more and more common place. Refuse to do business with agents who have poached your staff and rest assured that we at Property Personnel do not utilise such methods.