In early December 2014, Anthony Watson left his position as CIO for Nike. While he cited “personal reasons” to explain his departure, it quickly become clear he left because he didn’t like living in Portland, OR, Nike’s headquarters.
Last week Chris Ostoich, a tech entrepreneur and founder of BlackbookHR, weighed in on the deeper reason Watson may have left: embeddedness.
According to Ostoich, embeddedness is a measure of employee engagement which goes beyond what happens in the office from 9 to 5, but it nevertheless has a huge impact on employee satisfaction, particularly for new employees. If an employee doesn’t feel connected to the community he or she lives and works in, the likelihood they will leave increases exponentially.
Ostoich repeats Lauren Keller Johnson’s definition of embeddedness, broken down into 3 important components:
The employee feels like they belong at the company and in their community. They feel like they share the same values and goals, and they believe they can contribute meaningfully.
They’re connected…they have strong relationships at work as well as friends outside of work. They feel invested in their local network.
If they were to leave the company, they would feel as though they were giving something up: projects at work, meaningful friendships, or a promising career path. The consequences of leaving are greater than the promise of new opportunities elsewhere.
Ostoich recommends employers start paying attention to embeddedness in employees. If embeddedness is an issue, he suggests companies improve their onboarding process.
Ostoich’s suggestion is a great start, but there are many solutions as well as factors within his suggestion that companies need to understand in order to prevent a situation like Nike’s.
Assessing embeddedness shouldn’t only occur once when an employee joins the company…it should be an integral part of a company’s ongoing efforts to engage employees. It’s possible for companies to take steps to address each component above.
Before solving issues of employee fit, companies need to make sure they’re hiring for fit. Hire carefully, and interview thoroughly. Be explicit about the company’s values, and ask what the candidate is looking for in a company’s values and culture. Hiring the right people will solve a majority of fit problems many companies struggle with.
When a candidate becomes a new hire, emphasize company culture during their first weeks of training. Host a training session solely to discuss company culture, and map out how new hires’ first few months typically look so they understand they may not be alone if they struggle at first.
If the new hire is also new to the area, ask about their interests and hobbies, and connect them with employees who may already be involved in similar communities locally. Offer ideas for places to eat or visit in the city, and ease their settling process. These new hires will be far more likely to feel like they belong, even if it’s their first week.
Even when employees aren’t new, check in with them regularly to discuss career goals, any potential issues at work, or any struggles they’re facing outside of work. Talking regularly with employees guarantees companies will be prepared if they do.
Employees with strong personal ties in a company are more likely to be engaged at work, and less likely to leave. Help new hires and existing employees build a local network outside of work by helping them build one at work.
Ostoich suggests pairing each new hire with a buddy to help them make friends during the first few weeks.
Again, companies can and should go further: these buddies can organize lunches, happy hours, or other social events with colleagues to help new employees get to know the office. To set up lasting relationships, companies should also give each new hire a mentor after they start who they can get to know, learn from, and rely on. These mentors will not only be able to help their mentees make friends, but they’ll be able to tell early if the new employee is struggling.
How one employee perceives potential sacrifice can be tricky to gauge, but this component is often the tipping point when an employee is deciding whether or not to leave. What would they be giving up?
This sense of sacrifice also encompasses the two factors above: the relationships the employee builds, and the role they feel they fill at the company. So the third and best way companies can fully tackle this concept is to keep their employees meaningfully engaged.
Give employees interesting projects to own, and encourage them to pursue new ideas they’re passionate about. Acknowledge them when they succeed, and push them to accomplish more. If they’re an experienced, top-level employee like Watson was, ask what they want to achieve with the role, and make sure they have the means to do so.
Companies can conduct occasional “stay interviews” during which they check in with employees. Ask about any factors at work which could push them to leave, and ask what would help them stay. These periodic check-ins give companies the chance to head off engagement or satisfaction issues they wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. By offering exciting challenges as well as regular support, companies can give employees one more benefit to sacrifice if they were to leave.