How to keep top employees—longer

It’s the reality of our time—there’s a talent gap in the technology industry, and good, qualified candidates can be hard to come by. If you’ve been lucky enough to attract Millennials and other highly qualified employees, the talent shortage makes it more important than ever to do the work to keep them.

Holding on to existing employees is critical, and not just because their skills are hard to replace. These tenured employees have a deep understanding of your company, long-term relationships with your customers, familiarity with your market—and put simply—experience.

But when qualified technology professionals have a wide range of choices and opportunities, how do you keep top employees happy?

Offerings to help you keep top employees around longer

Not many employees will turn down a raise, but surprisingly, employees can be even more motivated by benefits like increased opportunities. If you really want to hold on to your existing workers, adding just a few (or all!) of the following offerings might help make that happen:

Career development opportunities

There’s a reason great employees do such great work: they’re lifelong learners who embrace change and are eager to grow. For example, a recent LinkedIn survey on “Why and How People Change Jobs” showed the #1 reason people decided to change jobs was because of a lack of opportunities within their current company. Make sure your employees can see a clear path to advancement by offering:


This is a win-win for any company. You get well-informed, highly trained employees, and they get increased job satisfaction—which makes them much more likely to stay. And it’s not just your younger, less-experienced employees who may want or need training. As job security concerns grow among older employees, giving them additional training to close skills gaps can make them feel more secure about their future with you.


Give your employees access to resources that help them develop toward the career they want, not just the job they have. This can include pairing them up with mentors, sending them to conferences, providing tuition support, and rewarding high performers with time off for professional development.

Opportunities for growth

“Growth” doesn’t always mean moving into a management role. The LinkedIn study mentioned above showed that the #3 reason they joined their new company was, “The work sounded more challenging.” Give workers space to grow laterally, by taking on new responsibilities in their current role, as well as vertically, by moving up the organizational ladder. I know personally I have taken several lateral moves throughout my career for the opportunity to tackle some core business challenges. Not every employee wants to be a manager, so make room for all kinds of growth.

Greater autonomy

Experienced, loyal employees deserve your respect and trust. Show them that they are valued by giving them the greater autonomy they’ve earned.


Some employees love a challenge—and usually they’re the high-performers you most want to keep. Since most businesses have a challenge or two that need attention, let your willing employees push their boundaries a little with different assignments. Just make sure you support their efforts along the way.

Inclusive company culture

How you treat employees is obviously critical to keeping them around, but it goes beyond the benefits offered any single individual. The culture of your company is also critical for employee retention.

Transparency and access to executives

Demonstrate your open company culture by being accessible to employees and by asking for help from them. Hold lunch and learns and Q&A sessions. Tap into the industry and organizational knowledge your employees have built up over their time with you, and you’ll all benefit.

Alignment with company mission and culture

Employees, particularly Millennials, want to feel they’re working for a company whose mission and values they can support. Show off your social responsibility work and give your team the opportunity to participate in and grow those efforts.

Sense of community with company and team

That feeling of belonging to a team can begin with something as small as “hello!” A friendly greeting can help your employees feel welcome, safe, and free to do their best work. Remembering little things like birthdays and anniversaries. At Microsoft we encourage our employees to send “praise” to each other when one person goes out of their way to help another.

Great leadership

Honestly evaluate your leadership skills and habits. Would you want to work for you? We all work hard to be the best leaders we can be (myself included), but we may not always understand what others in our company are looking for from us.

Developing world-class leadership is a major focus at this year’s Worldwide Partner Conference, so leadership best practices have been on my mind a lot lately. Here are some of the key themes I’ve found in research, conversation, and in my own experience:

Mutual respect and trust

No one likes feeling they’re being left in the dark, especially when it comes to their livelihood. Be honest with your team about business challenges and successes so employees know they won’t be blindsided with bad news. Equally, let your employees know they can give honest feedback without fear of repercussions and provide a safe avenue for them to give that feedback.

Be sure to show that you respect both your employees’ opinions and their time. Be on time for meetings, and be present (not on your cell phone) when talking with an employee. Understand that the need for work/life balance is very real, so respect their time out of the office and insist others do the same.

Acknowledgement of success

Employees look up to good leaders, and sincere praise from you can mean a lot. However, not everyone wants praise in the same way. Some love to be called out publicly for their achievements, others prefer a personal email or handwritten note. Others thrive on challenge, so reward those folks with more responsibility, and watch them shine.

And when success deserves greater attention, a bonus or time off is pretty much universally welcome.

More perks

Money and benefits are still important to attracting and retaining great employees. And of course, a few fun perks don’t hurt.

According to a survey from Glassdoor, 57 percent of participants said that the benefits and perks being offered impacted their decision to accept a job. Find ways to get creative with the perks you offer. For example, the World Wildlife Fund offers Panda Fridays (every other Friday off). At Microsoft, we have soccer teams, billiards or ping pong tournaments, and other physical activities like yoga classes scattered across campus to give employees a well-deserved mental and physical break. The idea is to show your employees that you genuinely appreciate them and the skills they bring to your organization.

Finding, hiring, and training new staff can be complicated—but keeping the awesome employees you have now matters more than ever. Remember, you don’t have to break the bank to keep top employees. There are lots of ways to let your employees know how much you value them, starting with a friendly “good morning” first thing tomorrow.