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Honoring mistakes, hosting yoga classes and other tricks for keeping top talent from defecting

The booming US labor market is a boon for workers but a constant headache for employers, who find they’re working harder to hang onto their talent. The share of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs is at its highest level in more than a decade, according to the US Labor Department.

How to make sure your best people stick with you even when they’re being wooed by other employers? Employee retention is a tricky blend of art and science. Workplace experts Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work, and Shawn Murphy, author of The Optimistic Workplace, offer these tips:

Reward failure.

Want better ideas from your people? Loosen up their thinking by honoring risky moves that don’t pan out, Friedman writes. Drug giant Merck doles out stock options to scientists who acknowledge that their research isn’t yielding the results they anticipated. Eli Lilly holds “failure parties.” SurePayroll introduced a “Best New Mistake” category to its annual employee awards program. These companies don’t reward foolish missteps or careless errors, but they do recognize failure that results from responsible risk taking. By creating an atmosphere that rewards rather than punishes failures, you’ll have more energetic employees. If your people are fearful of making mistakes, they’ll become overly cautious and regimented. And the most ambitious among them will leave.

“The most successful leaders in your company [are] not the ones receiving compliments; they’re the ones giving them.” – Ron Friedman

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Promote workplace friendships.

All humans have a deep need for connection. The single best predictor of employee engagement is whether workers have close friends in the workplace, Friedman writes. On-the-job friendships make employees happier and more productive. Friedman notes the effects of positive peer pressure: Employees with close friendships at work know that if they don’t do the job, they’re not just disappointing a client or annoying the boss; they’re also letting down their friends. The top workplaces on Fortunemagazine’s list of best employers routinely offer social activities such as yoga classes and wine tastings, events that allow workers to develop friendships.

Design physical spaces for happier workers.

Workers with a view of the outdoors generally work more effectively, perhaps because exposure to sunlight promotes a better sleep-wake cycle, Friedman writes. Natural settings can enhance mental energy, boost memory and spur creativity. Even reminders of nature, such as aquariums, seem to help. A caveat: Don’t position desks so that employees face a wall with their backs exposed. That causes chronic anxiety, an evolutionary throwback to prehistoric times when danger might approach from behind.

Build and nurture close relationships with your team members.

Leaders who engender loyalty are those who get to know everyone professionally and personally, Murphy writes. Take time to notice who your employees are and what motivates them. As workers grow to feel a greater sense of belonging, they will become more satisfied with their work; that, in turn, drives better performance.

“Practice showing joy as an emotion. It’s a powerful way to strengthen the connection between you and your team.” – Shawn Murphy

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Forget managing; try being a “steward” instead.

Murphy writes that the old approach of managing people should be replaced by a more inspirational and helpful relationship. Effectiveleaders spread optimism by showing humility and sharing credit; by demonstrating honesty through earnestness and consistency; by taking time to think things through and to listen to and understand others. Good leaders show resilience in the face of challenges, they’re willing to demonstrate vulnerability, and they acknowledge their own doubts and uncertainties.

For more employee-retention strategies, visit getAbstract’s library.

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