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5 things ‘Office Space’ can teach you about employee retention

June 15, 2015, 6:30 PM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you keep your best employees?” is by Steve Sims, chief digital officer at Badgeville.

When it comes to employee retention, many managers make the same common mistake: reactively retaining employees. In other words, management is terrified of losing talent, but does nearly nothing to proactively prevent it.

The crux of employee retention is meaning and fulfillment; people want to feel like their career matters on a personal, company and societal level. Even with today’s hands off ‘startup-style’ management principals, employees can still feel like caricatures from Office Space. Perks like working from home, paid meals, and swanky offices won’t matter if you fail to create an environment that provides meaning. When it comes to retaining your best employees, these five strategies can make all the difference:

Give them real responsibilities
Most people want to do work that matters. Trust your employees with real responsibilities – even if your head will be on the chopping block once in a while. Employees respect trust and responsibility more than anything else in a workplace.

Provide opportunities for growth
Employees need to feel like their career is going somewhere. Yes, new challenges, promotions and big victories can spark this feeling, but these things don’t happen on a daily basis. So when possible, find small accomplishments to acknowledge. It could be a crisp presentation, the solution to an IT problem or a hot sales lead. Recognizing these little successes will lead to a more thriving career in the long run.

Listen to their advice
Good business leaders don’t have to be better than their employees at everything. The best entrepreneurs try to hire people they consider smarter than themselves. Often, the most successful managers are just good at managing. Listen to your best employees. Let them be the experts in their fields even if you might actually be better than them at a specific task. When employees think their advice is ignored, they feel voiceless and work appears worthless because there’s no room to create change.

Talk about things other than work
The workplace should be a social environment. The line between professional and personal relationships usually blur, and that’s good if your goal is to keep employees. Talk about things other than work and develop additional depth to the relationships with your employees. If employees can relate to you on a personal level, they’re going to think of you as a peer instead of a manager who only cares about business. In tough times, employees will be much less likely to jump ship if they feel connected on a personal level.

The 15-year litmus test
You don’t have to be Bill Lumbergh from Office Space to scare away employees – you just have to be indifferent. When the responsibilities, progress, and personal lives of your employees matter to you (and you show it) you create an environment where people can flourish professionally. Many years ago, when I worked at Electronic Arts, a video game distributor, I found a mentor who explained to me the importance of these management principles and taught me how to love work. Fifteen years later, we are still friends with the ability to discuss any topic under the sun. That is the litmus test I put forward for you: in 15 years, will your best employees see you as a mentor and look forward to spending time with you, regardless of whether or not they still work for you? To keep your best employees, make that your ultimate goal.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you keep your best employees?

Free food is a poor excuse for company culture by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.

What Steve Jobs taught executives about hiring by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of BroadbandTV.

How this ex-Apple executive keeps his employees happy by Bob Borchers, senior vice president and CMO at Dolby Laboratories.

9 ways to recruit extraordinary employees by Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow Group.

Why this CEO encourages failure in the workplace by Amy Errett, CEO and co-founder of Madison Reed.

Sarah Kauss: Why a pay bump isn’t the answer to employee happiness by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.

The one perk that will guarantee employee happiness by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

The secret to holding on to your best employees by Amit Srivastav, president of Infinite.

3 ways to prevent your employees from quitting by Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair.