TOM #10: How to increase employee retention

Posted on: July 17, 2022

It’s useful to understand what drives employee retention–even if you’re a solopreneur. Reducing the risk that your people will leave is quite helpful (obviously). But knowing what keeps humans feeling fulfilled at work is invaluable to y-o-u. It’s kinda hard to quit when you’re the owner!

During the Great Resignation, millions of people acted on the job dissatisfaction they were already experiencing before the pandemic hit. Before and after the pandemic, the #1 reason people quit their jobs is to seek personal fulfillment.

When work is unfulfilling, people wanna leave. Not surprising. 

But it might surprise you that the leading driver of fulfillment at work is having meaningful relationships.

Part 1 is about how to build meaningful relationships at work and includes self-coaching questions to help you get started.

Part 2 provides a tool that you (and your team members) can use to know if you’ve got the relationships you need to feel fulfilled and in which relationships you need to invest.

Part 1: The secret to finding fulfillment at work is to build meaningful relationships

In his research with universities and companies, Aaron Hurst (author of The Purpose Economy) discovered that relationships are the leading driver of meaning and fulfillment at work. He defines fulfillment as the “feeling you have when you find your work meaningful.”

To determine if your work is meaningful, consider these questions:

  • Are you growing?
  • Are you making an impact that matters to you?
  • Do you have meaningful relationships? 

If you answer all three of these questions with “yes”, then according to Hurst’s research you’re experiencing fulfillment at work AND your brain is releasing dopamine and oxytocin, the neurochemicals of happiness. Way to go!

Hurst discovered that relationships are the foundational factor for personal fulfillment and for personal and organizational achievement.

Hurst’s research highlights something we explored in TOM Issue #3 - belonging. Workplace fulfillment is more closely related to belonging than any other factor. And meaningful relationships are key to experiencing belonging.

When we don’t feel like we belong, we feel alone. The kind of alone that’s unsafe and painful. 

Is it any wonder then, that people who don’t have meaningful relationships at work are compelled to quit?

Belonging is foundational to everything you care about as an owner. When you and your people build meaningful relationships with each other, everything that matters gets better. They’re more engaged, more productive, and more creative. Sales and customer satisfaction/success improve. Your company becomes an even better place to work. And you and your team feel more fulfilled.

How to build meaningful relationships at work

According to a study conducted by Cigna, 61% of people felt lonely at work before the pandemic. And most people have experienced greater levels of social isolation and loneliness since the pandemic started over two years ago.

Fortunately, there are many ways you can boost the number and quality of meaningful relationships within your company. Here are a few Hurst suggests:

1. Introduce people who should be connected with each other. 

This is especially important for new hires and for distributed team members. 

And while making these intros seems obvious (or irrelevant to most of you since 79% of U.S. companies have fewer than 10 employees), it might not be obvious how much it helps for teams of all sizes.

In larger or more layered companies, this intro also “gives permission” to both parties to communicate directly with each other.

In all companies, when the owner/leader makes the intro, it lets both people know that you want them to work together and to invest in activities that help them do that well. Things like having meaningful conversations that go deeper than bantering about the weather and rising interest rates!

Self-Coaching Questions

  • Who should be working together in your company? Are they? How well?
  • What relationships are important to your success as the owner? As your company’s leader? How would you describe the current quality/status of these relationships?

2. Structure interactions.

When your team members consistently deliver high quality work, it does not necessarily mean that they’ve formed meaningful relationships within the company. According to organizational psychologist Constance Noonan Hadley, it's possible that people who are performing well–especially as individual contributors–might be quite lonely. It’s important to intentionally create opportunities for team members to share and develop work together so that stronger relationships form. 

This isn’t rocket science. But just because it’s kinda obvious when you think about it, doesn’t mean you’re doing it.

Create structures that enable your team members to form personal connections with each other. The highest level of psychological safety is available in dyads, so be sure people are engaging in one to one connections (research suggests biweekly is a good cadence) as well as whole group meetups that prompt people to connect more deeply.

Self-Coaching Questions

  • In what way are you creating the scaffolding for meaningful relationships to build between and among your team members?
  • What action step, if any, would you like to take to foster stronger connections at work?

3. Model and teach how to have meaningful conversations.

Meaningful relationships are built on meaningful conversations. You know, the conversations where you talk about what’s happening on the inside of you, not just the outside. Where you’re able to be transparent about your emotional state and inner experience.

Many people are deluded into believing that when you’re the boss, you have to have all the answers and feel confident in all situations. But none of us felt like we could trust the bosses we’ve worked for who behaved like that.

Show up as a real human in your relationships at work. Humans make mistakes and feel unsure sometimes. Great leaders admit mistakes, acknowledge their feelings, and encourage the people around them to do the same.

They also practice Active Constructive Responding. For a refresher, check out TOM Issue #1.

Self-Coaching Questions

  • Who are you being in your interactions with team members? With colleagues? What adjustments would enable you to be more human, more whole, more transparent in your work relationships?
  • How skilled are you in building relationships with people? What is one thing you could learn or improve that would significantly improve the quality of your relationships at work?

Part 2: Relationship Inventory

Hurst has developed a quick inventory you can use to guide your relationship-related efforts. Choose a frequency that works for you (perhaps biweekly to start and then shift to quarterly?). Like any initiative, process, or’s important to measure the results you’re getting and adjust accordingly.

On a scale of 1 to 10, to what degree do I have these relationships at work?

  • Relationships with people who help me solve problems
  • Relationships that bring different perspectives
  • Relationships that provide me personal support
  • Relationships with people I can collaborate with
  • Relationships that bring purpose to my work and make it feel meaningful / have me excited about the work I’m doing

Here’s how to interpret the numbers:

  • A 9 or 10 means you’re doing well, but don’t take it for granted. Continue to invest. 
  • A 7 or 8 probably means you need to be more active and intentional about making things better.
  • A 6 or below is worrisome. Evaluate how you are investing in relationships and consider how you would benefit from learning more about how to build meaningful relationships.

This inventory is a tremendous tool for your employees to use, too! Share it with them to bring their awareness to the relationships they have and need to keep feeding, as well as those they need to build or strengthen. Encourage them to identify what support they need from you to be successful in their relationship-building efforts. It may be that cultivating a more meaningful relationship with you boosts personal fulfillment levels for you both!

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