July 15, 2017
By Terry Murphy CLM

Terry MurphyWhen I worked at Landscape Ontario in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, I was often engaged in discussions, (sometimes even arguments), on the subject of employee retention. I attended an Ontario Parks Association (OPA) convention in Timmins one year and my keynote address was based on this subject. Employee retention is just as important now as it was 25 years ago. Perhaps it is even more important in this era of social media because of the information readily available on available jobs, the wide reach of personnel firms who recruit for companies looking for staff and the general mobility of today’s workforce.

Employee training

One thing that has not changed over the years that helps significantly with retaining employees is participation in the Apprenticeship Program. An employer is a part of the process, responsible for 90 per cent of the on-the-job learning and training, working closely with the employee to ensure they have mastered certain skills and are then required to sign off on the skills verification document. This close relationship encourages employees to stay with the company who has registered and supported them in the Apprenticeship Program as it’s a win-win for both parties.

What works for helping to retain good employees? How is it that one company has many long-serving employees, while other companies seem to have a revolving door? A study was conducted by some MBA students at Waterloo University in the late ‘90s where 300 trades people, aged 20 to 30 years-old were surveyed in the Hamilton area as to why they didn’t stay with their employer. While there were 10 major reasons why they changed jobs, the top few stand out in my mind.

Engage employees

One major reason the surveyed employees did not stay with their employer was because company communications were poor and the employees did not know what was going on. The boss /owner used the ‘mushroom management’ method and kept employees in the dark. There were few meetings and the boss kept everything to himself. Employees want to know what is going on and most employees want to make a contribution to the well-being of the firm they belong to. If you want to retain employees, let them know what’s going on and you will be surprised at how well they can help you achieve your objectives.

Keep workers safe

Secondly, many of those surveyed left their company because the boss and foremen didn’t care about safety. Employees want to work in a safe environment. They want to make sure vehicles, equipment and tools are in good working order. Many of the former employees said the company rushed through work, putting pressure on all employees to get the job done quickly and that safety was rarely discussed. Employees want a safety policy in place, with safety meetings and the checks and balances that go with good safety management.

Thirdly, employees wanted to be trained to do their jobs correctly, safely and efficiently. They wanted to know management cared about how they worked and managed their day-to-day duties. Employees want to do a good job and respect training and management’s comment in this regard.

Fourthly, employees wanted to be part of the decision making process. It gives them a sense of ownership if they have input into what is going on in the company. Participating in the decision making process increases their self-worth and makes them part of the solution and part of the company.

Make work enjoyable

Another important point was the financial consideration. This subject was very low in the list of reasons that made an employee leave or stay with a firm. Yes, you have to be competitive in regards to wages in order to keep employees around, but that doesn’t necessarily mean paying at the high end. Profit participation and some form of bonus payment are always welcomed, but were not a key factor in the decision to leave or stay by those surveyed. Liking fellow employees and having good employee dynamics was more important. People wanted to enjoy working with others and appreciated company get-togethers and social events. Creating an enjoyable work environment is also very key to retaining employees.


While there is nothing magic about retaining employees, there are some basic things that will cause them to leave if certain conditions do not exist. I always remembered this study and made it part of any seminar or human resources program I taught while working at Landscape Ontario. Interview correctly, have a competitive compensation package, and pay attention to the items mentioned above if you want to improve your employee retention. Nothing is for sure, but you will go a long way to improving employee retention by following some of these fundamental concepts.
Terry Murphy can be reached at tvmurphy@ca.inter.net.