How to find and keep valued employees

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Dear Working Wise:

I own a drywall company and I am struggling to keep my guys. They keep leaving for other companies – sometimes for the smallest of raises. Do you have any tips for keeping workers?

Signed No Workers

Dear No Workers:

Many supervisors and small-business owners will identify with your frustration. Alberta’s labour market is fairly tight with the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country.

The Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website ( offers a number of helpful staff-retention tip sheets and publications for employers. You can find them by searching the ALIS site using the following search terms:

  • How to find and keep valued employees
  • Finders & Keepers: Recruitment and Retention Strategies
  • Retaining Your Staff

You might also want to talk to the workers and ask them why they are leaving? It might not be just about money.

Exit interviews are one of the most important, but least used, staff-retention tools you have. How can you encourage your employees to stay if you don’t know why they leave?

Departing employees tend to be more frank about their job and current workplace, which makes exit interviews a unique opportunity to learn more about your business.

You may learn what attracts workers to your organization as well as what turns them away. You may also learn about current problems in the workplace, who your strongest leaders are, and what staff morale is really like.

Exit interviews can be as formal or informal as you like or your workplace culture dictates.

The important thing to remember is that it should be non-confrontational. Your goal is not to convince them to stay, nor scold them for leaving. Use this meeting to collect valuable information.

Larger employers tend to try and provide employee privacy—hoping to get more honest feedback. They will have their human resources department conduct the interview, in person, over the phone, or by mail, and then only pass along to the department some general feedback – nothing that would identify the employee.

You probably don’t have that luxury. What you can do, though, is reassure the employee that you want their feedback so you can improve your company and workplace.

Ask them questions like:

  • What attracted you to this job?
  • What things did you like most?
  • What things did you like least?
  • Why are you leaving? Is there more than one reason?
  • Did you like your co-workers and supervisor: Why or why not?
  • Would you recommend this company to your friends: Why or why not?
  • What would you change if this was your company?

You might also want to touch base with your longer-term staff and ask them why they stay and their thoughts on their work environment. You might learn a few things and prevent some future staff losses.

Good luck!

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Human Services. This column is provided for general information.