Belonging, involvement …and sharing the bread

shutterstock_172860929It’s been said that people join a company, but leave a boss – ‘bad bosses’ are frequently cited amongst the most significant reasons that people leave a job.

The phrase is usually used to preface a discussion of the individual behaviour, skills and personality of a person in charge. If the boss was more flexible, more generous with acknowledgement, less controlling, etc. all would be well. The potential solutions are numerous: training and systems of accountability for line management generally feature highly.

However, in focussing on the individual dynamics of relationship with a person of immediate authority, perhaps we think less about the other component of this adage – why do people join a company?

There are many reasons, of course. Corporate reputation, terms and conditions, geography, working environment, job description, culture, prospects, etc. etc. As employers, we ‘sell’ our companies as much as possible from job ad through to interview, anxious to attract talent. But very few jobs can consistently live up to the hype that arises from optimism (on the candidate’s side) and the tendency to oversell the benefits and opportunities of a role (on the employer’s side). In view of this, the relief I’ve felt as a recruiting line manager was sometimes quickly followed by the nagging question “Now we’ve got them, how do we keep them?!”

Staff turnover is a very real cost for most organisations. The specifics clearly depend on sector and job, but a recent study concluded that an average of £30k to replace an employee was not all that outrageous an estimate. This figure largely comprised the opportunity cost of a new member of staff getting up to speed, in addition to the actual processes of recruitment.

With such a massive potential hole in the finances, you would assume it is being carefully monitored and managed. In fact, although around 88% of UK organisations reported investing in some form of employee retention programme last year, only 15% make any attempt to calculate their costs relating to staff turnover. The vast majority of this turnover is due to people walking away.

So, what to do? Interestingly, increasing pay is amongst the most commonly used approaches to reduce turnover, but when asked to consider the most and the least effective approaches, HR professionals put pay at the top of both lists! Increasing learning and development opportunities seemed to be a less contentious way to retain staff, but only a third put it in their top 3.

But a company’s terms of employment are not the whole story. More often than not, people are also hoping to join company: a group of colleagues, a set of relationships.

The etymology of ‘company’ is interesting. At its most traceable, the word arises from the old French word compagnie meaning ‘society, friendship, intimacy; body of soldiers’. A less certain root is the compound Latin term ‘com’, meaning together, and ‘panis’, meaning ‘bread’. Company is sharing the bread together. People bound together, perhaps in a common endeavor, sharing the daily things of life.

Most of us like to belong. The thought of finding our place in a new environment and finding company there is attractive. Community is a powerful draw. We are wired to build relationship. So if all we get is a pay check and a manager, the shine of a new job is going to tarnish pretty quickly. It’s one of the reasons organisations focus on teams.

What can you do to ensure new recruits find company as well as employment? Opportunities to build effective relationships in a team are obviously vital, and team time out is a valuable investment. This doesn’t always have to be facilitated or activity based – sometimes a simple rhythm of regular breakfast or lunch out together can have as much impact. Creating contexts in which a manager relates as a person and not as a post-holder can really help.

Another crucial component of company is the ability to influence and be influenced. People joining a company aren’t just looking for a friendly social environment. We generally also want to make a difference. We want to use our skills and experience as widely as possible and to be involved in doing good work. If as employers we are not clearing the way for new recruits to make the necessary connections beyond their immediate teams, we risk frustrating and losing people.

Two experiences to finish: my best ever job induction (thank you Helen Lowey) included the receipt of a weighty file of papers. This wasn’t just organisational policies, but snippets of meetings minutes and recent strategy papers that really brought me up to speed with where things were at in the department I was joining. But best of all was a neatly produced 2-month calendar peppered with key strategic meet-and-greet appointments with a wide range of people across the whole organisation. Those early connections proved invaluable in shaping my role and opening up doors into other agendas it might have taken me months to stumble across otherwise. The chance to introduce myself and be introduced beyond my immediate sphere of influence really accelerated a sense of belonging in the organisation.

The second experience was the immense frustration of seeing a talented team in another context slowly fall apart as individuals looked elsewhere during a period of change. The reason? They had no relationships beyond their immediate project tasks. They had a gate-keeper manager determined to hold all the cards. The team was slowly suffocating for lack of ability to influence or be influenced through any other route. They had become isolated as the world shifted around them.

So let’s open up the relational channels in the workplace and make sure people feel involved, belong and share the bread together.