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The 4 C’s of Employee Retention

Ever heard “it’s cheaper to keep a current customer than to acquire a new one”?  Well, the same is true for employees. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, “direct replacement costs can reach as high as 50% to 60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs associated with turnover ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary.”  Search, selection, lost productivity and onboarding all add up to hurt the bottom line.

The social impact sector is no different. The best talent strategy is to hire the right employees in the first place and keep them as long as possible.

Hiring the Right Fit

As I shared in my earlier blog, 5 Things Every Social Impact Employer Needs to Know, social impact organizations must begin the hiring process by assessing how well a candidate aligns with mission and team culture. If there is a lack of alignment, it’s far easier to eliminate them in the interview process than fire them after they’re hired. Only after assessing fit should you evaluate their ability to do the work. That is why I made assessing organizational and team fit such a critical component of our service when I founded WorkMonger, an online job matching service – think Match.com meets the hiring process – for the social impact sector.

Invest in Your Employees

We live in a talent-centric economy. The power dynamic has shifted – organizations struggle to find good people, thereby strengthening the hand of talented jobseekers.  If you want to keep them, you have to invest in them with the 4 C’s of Employee Retention: Compensate, Commend, Challenge and Career.


In the social sector, we often think employees aren’t doing this work for the money, so we may downplay its importance. But while great social impact employees are motivated strongly by the mission, they also want and need a good paycheck as much as anyone else. They deserve to be rewarded financially for the quality of their work and for taking on increased responsibility. Not all forms of compensation have to affect your budget though – there are many non-monetary ways to reward employees as well, such as offering flexible work hours or the ability to work from home more often. So, don’t fall for the trap that you either shouldn’t or don’t need to invest in your staff – you do. Wouldn’t you prefer to spend the time and money up front to keep a good employee, rather than spend it on the back end searching for a new employee with an unknown track record.


Every person wants to feel good about their work and know that their contributions are valued. Too often in resource-constrained nonprofits and social enterprises, we are so focused on getting the work done as quickly and effectively as possible that we forget staff appreciation. In The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, New York Times bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman shares how every employee is motivated by appreciation in the workplace, but that not every employee receives appreciation the same way. Take the time to learn the individualized way to communicate appreciation to each of your staff members after a job well done, and you’ll notice your employee retention start to tick up. It’s not easy to find a good boss who appreciates you. When deciding whether or not to leave an organization, the boss is always a critical factor.


Good employees want challenging work. Period. People start looking for new jobs when they feel like their current job has become routine and boring. When I was the Executive Director of the Southern Region at Education Pioneers, we learned that one of the best ways to increase our employee engagement AND develop their skills was with stretch work assignments. In these assignments, employees tackled new responsibilities that were just beyond their current capabilities. By stretching and trying to tackle these new challenges, employees became more engaged at work while simultaneously building new skills that allowed them to advance their career. Their need to look elsewhere for professional growth went down and our employee retention went up.


Generally, we want to hire ambitious employees, the “go-getters” that will do the hard work our missions require. But ambitious people want to advance their careers. Don’t fault them for that. They want to climb the ladder to increased responsibility, influence and compensation. If you as an employer don’t show them how to do that within your organization, they will look elsewhere. How do you do this? Simple – ask your employees what type of work they would like to be doing in two years. Then, work with them to develop a game plan of how they can build the skills and responsibility necessary to reach that goal. Revisit the plan frequently and support your employee to ensure they remain on track. Best case, you just groomed an employee for an internal promotion and avoided a costly job search. But, even if the employee tells you that in a couple years they aim to be at another organization, work with them to be ready for that shift when the time comes. You’ll receive a better work product while you have them, and you won’t be caught off guard when they do give notice down the road. Your top employees will appreciate this, and on the whole it will result in greater retention when other employees realize how much you care.

While these are specific tips you can try to result in greater retention, it all boils down to investing in and valuing your employees. The more you do that, the more they’ll want to stick around.

Have a successful employee retention technique?  Share it in the comments section below!

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