A Lesson from Facebook in Employee Retention
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A Lesson from Facebook in Employee Retention

Employee retention is an ongoing battle in many workplaces. A high employee turnover is bad news. Constant re-hiring is expensive, time-consuming, and bad for workplace morale. However, pinpointing exactly why staff leave can be tricky.

Workplace culture, an unfit salary, and unbearable colleagues are all sources of blame. However, the most responsibility generally falls on the boss. “People don’t quit the job, they quit the boss,” is frequently quoted. But this doesn’t always ring true. Facebook staff members Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, and Brynn Harrington, along with Professor Adam Grant, write for the Harvard Business Review that inflexible positions and managers – not bosses – are the most common reason for staff exiting Facebook.

When Goler, Gale, Harrington, and Grant began investigating the reasons behind each employee departure from Facebook, they were surprised to find out that, generally speaking, bosses were not to blame.

Managers, Careers and Employee Retention

It goes without saying that employees are more likely to call it quits if their boss is horrible. However, the feedback from employees exiting Facebook was not that they disliked their boss. In fact, most people involved in their research said they actually liked their boss. The key factor for most of the interviewees was actually the job itself – they claimed their position was no longer fun, their specifics fortes weren’t being implemented, and they felt as if their career-path had hit a dead-end.

Contrary to the popular quote, Facebook employees weren’t quitting their bosses at all, they were actually quitting their job. The researchers found that the blame should not be on those in the very top position, but on those running things at ground level – the managers.

The researchers concluded that if businesses want to keep their staff, they must give far more thought to how positions within the company are designed. They note that most businesses create positions, and then try to fill those positions with people. Good managers should do the reverse – they should seek out intelligent, skilled employees, and create jobs around them.

Using people analytics, the researchers found out the following of employees who stick around:

  • They find their position enjoyable 31% more often
  • They used their specific talents 33% more often
  • They expressed 37% more certainty that they were gaining valuable experience and skills to power their career

Goler et al therefore concluded that these three experiences present three opportunities for employers to keep staff around longer:

  1. Let employees perform work they enjoy
  2. Allow employees to play to their talents and strengths
  3. Demonstrate that there is a path for employees to develop and grow their careers that doesn’t limit personal priorities

Let Employees Enjoy Work

Managers can have an impact on the way in which an employee feels in their occupation. The very best managers go to all ends to ensure their staff really love their work.

Goler et al recount a story of a Facebook employee who was promoted to the head of a large HR team. Despite excelling in the role, she wasn’t performing the job she really loved, which was working out problems with her clients. So, her manager worked with her to hire someone else to manage the HR team.

If you’ve got a fantastic employee, keeping them in your business is more important than keeping them in a specific role. Goler at al explain that allowing employees to pursue tasks within the workplace that they find more enjoyable has benefits. Too often, managers wait until a great employee is sitting in an exit interview to ask them detailed questions about their experiences within the workplace. Goler at al suggest that managers start to perform entry interviews. This way, they will know from the very beginning what work employees value, and can craft roles to suit the employee – resulting in far less employee turnover.

Let Employees Play Their Strengths

The average millennial will have 4 jobs in the first decade after graduation. The chances are, most new hires will have a wide-range of skills and talents acquired throughout their unique career path. Limiting their ability to use such skills in their current role simply doesn’t make sense. Restraining someone’s position to stringent guidelines will do nothing for employee retention. Goler et al explain that the best managers craft opportunities for employees to play to their specific talents. Sometimes, that involves being malleable when it comes to the duties employees must perform. But it doesn’t just mean creating new roles. It also means that managers should go out of their way to see where a certain employee’s strengths could be of use elsewhere in the company. For all you know, you might be outsourcing or contracting a skill or task that an existing employee is an expert at.

Awareness and application of each employee’s strengths, can go a long way to assist employee retention and business success.

Demonstrate Career Progression and Flexibility

Work or a personal life?

It has become a common dilemma. All too frequently, inflexible careers detract from our ability to maintain a healthy work-home balance. Goler et al found that it is far more effective for managers to work with employees to create career progression paths that won’t hinder their ability to have a personal life. Managers that allow such freedom find that their team delivers better results, stay longer in their positions, and are proud of their job.


It is up to managers to create employment that employees truly find value in. Design positions that excite and inspire your team, allow employees to play to their strengths, and never underestimate the importance of a work-life balance. Get to know your staff. When employees can tell that their managers really care, and that their work is of value, it makes it that much harder to walk away.


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