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How to retain employees: Develop their careers within the company


Jobs in tech have a short shelf life.

Josh Tetrick, cofounder and chief executive officer of Just, a San Francisco startup whose mission is to transform the way we eat by swapping animal products for equally tasty plant-based foods, said he has learned that the way to keep employees for more than two years is to show how they can advance their careers within the organization.

“It’s kind of become more of the norm in San Francisco, particularly among young people, to be with a company, call it one to two-and-a-half years, and then do the next thing,” Tetrick said at the company’s high-ceilinged office in an industrial block of San Francisco. The startup has about 100 employees there and two dozen others working remote.

“It’s better for us if folks are more committed to a longer tenure. A big learning for me is that part of what’s really important is when a young person gets here to really give them clarity on what the future paths could be,” he said.

A new hire in sales might be focused on food service sales today, Tetrick said, but “it’s important to be able to say, ‘OK, assume this goes well, in eight months, this is what it could look like; in two years, this is what it could look like; in four years, we’re going to be expanding to the following geographies and this is what it could look like.'”

One of the biggest reasons people leave their jobs is a lack of opportunity for career advancement, said Jim Barnett, cofounder and chief executive officer of Glint, an employee engagement solution bought by LinkedIn in 2018. He recommends managers meet with their reports at least once a quarter to have a conversation around their career.

He clarified that a path might lead to a different team or a new position, and not necessarily a flashly title. Or, the employee might want to level up their skills with an online class or the help of a mentor, Barnett said on the phone.

“Not everyone is looking for that promotion, but most people want to continue to learn and develop,” he said.

Joshua Hyman, chief of staff of research and development at Just, formerly known as Hampton Creek, started out pushing samples of its eggless mayo on Whole Foods customers six years ago. He got hired full-time to manage partnerships with sellers and later moved to product development, where he reports to the chief technology officer.

He shares his story with job candidates to show what’s possible. Although, he takes care not to overpromise.

“Someone came in on their third day and was like, ‘I want to be director of operations.’ It’s like, you’re not there yet.”

In San Francisco, tech workers tend to move from one firm to the next because their skills are in such high demand. The area’s low unemployment rate of 2% has companies jostling to keep their employees and hire new ones.

Just employees have an average tenure of 2.3 years, according to employee reporting on LinkedIn. That’s pretty standard. Software engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area have a median tenure of 1.4 years, while product designers typically stay 1.2 years and product managers have a median tenure of 2.1 years, according to LinkedIn. The professional network calculates these figures based on how long users have worked at their current employer.

Just has other challenges to recruiting. Over the years, former employees have charged the company with misleading investors and ordering workers to buy back its vegan mayo to make it seem more popular. The startup told Bloomberg, which originally reported the story, that the buyback campaign was part of quality control.

Tetrick said he’s still figuring out how to keep employees longer. It’s hard to do, and it’s essential to get right.

“People have an enormous array of opportunities, and you can’t take that for granted,” Tetrick said.


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