Acquisition, life cycle planning, retention. If you’re a direct marketer you think about these aspects of a customer journey on a daily basis. But have you ever thought about your employees in the same way? At The SG Group we are encouraging our clients to think more strategically about how to go about attracting the right candidates and then retaining them. It’s the reason behind our continual support of the annual Marketing Employer of the Year survey. The survey has been running for five years and in 2006 more than 370 individuals from 45 companies participated – from both agency and in-house marketing teams.

A great way to start understanding how to retain people is to look at reasons why they would want to leave. In the 2006 Marketing Employer of the Year survey we found the top five reasons to be (in order): better salary, better career prospects, to work for someone who inspires them, to have a more flexible working style and changing career.

What we can clearly see from these results is that it’s vital to provide employees with a clear career path, and this is as equally important for acquisition as it is for retention. Lesley Brydon, executive director of the Advertising Federation of Australia, says, “The key thing graduates are looking for from an employer is a defined career path and the opportunity for personal and professional growth. This was a clear priority – more important than travel opportunities and financial incentives.” Regular performance appraisals can help you understand the career aspirations of your current workforce and gives individuals a game plan in order to work toward those goals. In the words of Bono, “I’m tired of dreaming. I’m into doing at the moment. It’s like, let’s only have goals that we can go after.”

A lack of inspirational leadership is another factor that can push the people you need most out the door. Every year in the Marketing Employer of the Year survey we have found that the most successful companies have a leader who is full of positive energy. Being positive and inspiring is not limited to being an upbeat, energetic type; it’s more about your attitude toward your people. Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager has this insight: “Too many leaders act as if the sheep – their people – are there for the benefit of the shepherd, not that the shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.”

The push for flexibility comes from individuals who are crying out to be noticed as being human beings not human resource.

The McCrindle Research Study 2006 reveals that the average retention rate per job per employee is just four years. And people aren’t just jumping from company to company, but changing career entirely. Generation Y is our most formally educated generation and has myriad options when it comes to career choice. They don’t believe they should be limited to just one or two careers during their working life. This desire to change career may sound like a factor outside of the employer’s control. And it probably is if the individual is looking to completely opt out of marketing altogether. But the idea of changing career may be masking a greater need for challenge and stimulation that may be provided elsewhere in the company.

An overwhelming 95 percent of respondents in the 2006 Marketing Employer of the Year survey claimed that they were unlikely to leave their current job within the next 12 months. All respondents were asked to give insight as to what makes them stay, the top five reasons being: they enjoy their job, they have a good working environment, their colleagues are easy to get on with, they are proud of their brand or company and they feel valued.

“Because those needs are being met, they are less inclined to move on for reasons like financial satisfaction, location and holiday entitlement. Managers of marketers and agency staff would be well-advised to investigate just how many of their staff would actually say ‘I enjoy my job’,” says Jacqui Pollock, The SG Group’s managing director. Job satisfaction being at the top of the list really just sums up the other four reasons listed.

The onus of a good working environment comes down to the people at the top. Naomi Simson, CEO of RedBalloon Days, which was ranked overall second in the 2006 Marketing Employer of the Year survey, says, “My role as CEO is actually ‘chief experience officer’ and I am responsible for the experience that everyone has with RedBalloon, including my team. RedBalloon Days’ philosophy is all about giving great pleasure, both to its customers and to its staff. We give great days out through our experiences and we provide great days ‘in’ for our team.”

Third in the top five reasons to stay with an employer is that colleagues are easy to get along with. The latest McCrindle Research Study also found this, particularly in relation to Generation Y: “Forty-two percent of all Gen Y survey respondents placed ‘relationship with peers’ as one of the three top reasons for getting or keeping their job. An environment where they could interact socially and work collaboratively was highly regarded. Interestingly they didnt necessarily want a workplace full of people their own age: Gen Ys have known nothing but cultural diversity, gender diversity and respond well to generational diversity.”

Pride in brand or company ranks high on the list for retention. While Nokia, which was named overall leader for the 2006 Marketing Employer of the Year survey, is arguably one of the world’s best-known brands, smaller companies can take heart. Pride in one’s workplace can come from other areas such as making a difference in the world or having an excellent internal rewards program. And it’s the smaller companies that are more often able to provide a working environment where people are treated and trusted as grown-ups.

While ranked five in the reasons to stay with an employer, the feeling of being valued as an employee really is the bottom line of retention. A big part of being valued means the company is demonstrating that they care about well-being among staff.

In this year’s UK Financial Times Best Workplaces awards, health and well-being initiatives featured prominently, and it’s because they are seen as a value-add to employees. Jacqui Pollock says, “A lot of marketers are doing things like doona days (where you can take the day off if you just don’t feel like going into work), flexible working hours, the option to work from home, time shift days for doctor and dentist appointments. Also gym membership, workplace massages and free fruit, wine and beer at the end of the day – they’re all clever, memorable ways of enhancing the overall benefits package.”

Montgomery Burns, the richest man in Springfield and owner of the nuclear power plant, is famously quoted as saying, “Family, religion, friends… these are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.” If you think the way of The Simpsons’ antagonist, you can be guaranteed not to attract or retain a high calibre of employee.