Facebook Knows the Secret to Increasing Retention—and It Starts With Managers

October 25, 2018

65% of employees say they’d rather have a new boss than a pay raise. That stat suggests that the old adage that we quit our bosses, not our jobs, may actually have some weight to it. But according to Facebook’s Head of People, Lori Goler, Head of HR Business Partners, Janelle Gale, and People Growth Lead, Brynn Harrington, the real reasons are more complicated.

While studying retention, this team discovered that while bosses certainly matter, most of Facebook’s employees are happy with their managers. Instead, those who left the company did so because of problems with their jobs—for example, that their strengths weren’t being used, or that their careers weren’t moving forward.

By working with Facebook’s People Analytics team, Lori and team designed surveys to figure out why those who stayed with the company long-term were sticking around. In the process, they discovered a few key ways that managers can improve retention, engagement, and employee happiness.

Here’s what they found:

1. Enable employees to do the work that energizes them, even if it’s a demotion or a lateral move

Promotions are a great way to reward top performers, but as Facebook’s team realized, crafting “motivating, meaningful jobs” for your employees is what really matters. And sometimes, that can mean a lateral move or even a “demotion” actually makes the most sense.

For example, one of Facebook’s directors was leading a team and excelling in her role—but she found she wasn’t doing the work that actually energized her because she was spending all her time and energy on managing.

Her own managers chose to support her as she hired her own replacement, effectively demoting herself—and moving into a lower-level role where she’s now thriving.

Interestingly, data-backed evidence shows that lateral moves can actually be almost as effective as promotions when it comes to improving retention. At Nielsen, for example, leaders found that employees who made lateral career moves actually stayed with the company much longer.

2. Help employees play to their (underutilized) strengths

According to Facebook’s team, while roles and job descriptions tend to be very narrow and specific, the most meaningful jobs—and the ones that lead to the greatest engagement and retention—are the ones that play to an employee’s underutilized strengths.

For example, another Facebook employee with a technical background wanted to move into a more design-based role that would use some of his strengths—but he didn’t have a traditional background in that kind of work. Fortunately, his manager convinced their design team to give him a chance—and the experiment was a success, with the employee ending up in a new role that made much better use of his strengths.

And as Lori, Janelle, and Brynn make clear, managers have a big role to play in designing meaningful jobs.

“Many of us have unanswered callings at work — passions that we didn’t get to pursue in our careers…. So we look for ways to bring our passions into our jobs,” they wrote on HBR. “But inside organizations, people often need support to craft their jobs.”

3. Provide career development opportunities that accommodate employees’ personal priorities

When Facebook’s team looked at their survey data, they found that employees who stayed with the company “expressed 37% more confidence that they were gaining the skills and experiences they need to develop their careers.”

There’s no surprise there—we already know that offering opportunities for career development is one of the best ways to ensure a role is engaging over the long term. In fact, LinkedIn’s data shows that 94% of employees would stay with a company longer if it invested in their career.

Once again, though, managers need to help create these opportunities for their employees. According to Facebook’s team, one of the top ways managers can improve experiences is to carve a career development path that takes into account their employees’ priorities. Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s data shows that people are more likely to engage with learning when their managers get involved.

4. Work with employees to figure out flexible arrangements that make their lives easier

Whether it’s about making room for an outside passion or accommodating parents with hectic schedules, flexible work arrangements make a huge difference in employee satisfaction and retention. That’s not too surprising, since 43% of the workforce now spends at least some of their time working remotely.

At Facebook, one agency lead was having trouble after maternity leave because the timing of her global role conflicted with her parenting. As a solution, her manager helped her develop a plan that included coverage for non-essential meetings and a mentor to guide her through the transition.

“This deep level of support gave me the confidence to return to work fully present and also be there for my daughter,” said the agency lead.

While every situation is unique, Facebook’s workaround provides an example of how managers can apply an empathetic, hands-on approach to figure out work arrangements that keep employees on board for the long run.

Final thoughts

While it turns out that we may not quit our “bosses,” the approach taken by the Facebook team reveals that we might actually be looking at the wrong questions.

When studying retention, the team says it’s not really about why people leave—the real question is why they stay, and that has a lot to do with management. From helping employees pursue their passions at work to developing flexible arrangements that allow them to be both productive team members and great parents, managers truly can be the difference for retaining and engaging top talent.

*Image from Facebook

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