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The Story Employees Tell About Their Jobs Can Determine Retention

The Story Employees Tell About Their Jobs Can Determine Retention

Oct. 17, 2022
If a story about the company that demonstrates company culture is told through the eyes of an employee, it creates a realistic view of company culture increasing retention.

This statistic says it all.

“The average tenure at a company used to be four years and now that number is just under two,” says Bryan Adams, CEO of Ph.Creative, an employer brand agency, that works with companies such as Apple, AstraZeneca, Cisco, ExxonMobil, Ford and Nike. “If you look at Nike, at one level of the company, the average tenure is 15 years.”

And why is this? Adams says it’s the power of storytelling. While that might seem hard to understand at first,  here's an example. During an interview with a chip manufacturer, the head of HR told me he received a call from an employee based overseas,  explaining that he was having trouble getting a ventilator at his current hospital while battling COVID. The HR executive immediately arranged for him to transfer to another hospital and the employee recovered.

This story, which will be retold many times, demonstrates the power of this type of communication to explain a company’s culture. “When we talk about an employee brand, it is steeped in storytelling,” explains Adams. “If the brand is the hardware, the software is the storytelling. The most important aspect of this is authenticity. When people can see themselves in the story and it rings true such moving from negative to positive, not just always a positive story, that evokes authenticity.”

And when a story is told through the eyes of an employee this is where the concept of retention fits in. If the story includes elements of sacrifice, overcoming adversity and commitment it creates empathy. “This is especially true when employees talk about their experience with the company, for example, a “day in the life” type of narrative which not only includes the daily job duties but how an employee can develop personal growth, how they can capitalize on the challenges around them and what it means in the context of their longer-term perspective at the company,” says Adams.

Changing Perspective

What’s happening is truly a shift of perspective. Traditionally employers viewed employees through the lens of what the employee could bring to the company. Now, companies are having to explain to employees what the company can offer them, not only in terms of benefits but in terms of personal development and career growth.

And a key element to this is setting expectations correctly. “When creating an employee brand we create an employee value proposition,” says Adams. “We use the give-and-get methodology. Instead of saying what the employer has to offer, which is the get, we talk about what the employee has to give to get those things. It’s a two-way conversation and a better way to set expectations. Realistic expectations can often mitigate a situation where employees are leaving after just a month.”

Other areas Ph.Creative reviews to gauge the current state of the employer brand include:

  • Engagement and sentiment metrics
  • Career website behavior
  • Social media
  • Recruiting

Script for Storytelling

How should a company create a narrative? Of the many possible structures, Adams recommends the Feel, Felt, Found method. For example, this would be a script for a video that potential employees can view when they are considering applying for a job. A current employee of the company would say, “I wasn’t sure about what to expect when I joined this company, so I know how you feel. You might feel anxious or nervous about the challenge. I felt the same way. But what I found was a supportive environment where everyone rallies around you. There are a lot of resources and development opportunities, and I found a sense of achievement and pride working here,” explains Adams.

While most companies view employee brands as a way to attract new talent, it’s also very important to remind the current talent of the value of working for the company. And one way to do that is to celebrate the impact the company has on the larger world. For example, one of the companies Adams works with is very involved in environmental issues. “When employees work for a company that is having an impact on the world, they talk about it with each other, and this becomes the story that they tell each other, and it can become a rallying cry for the company.”

Often companies forgot to celebrate their contributions, both big and small. “Working at a manufacturing company there are so many good stories all around you,” says Adams. “A company has to become proficient at telling these stories to their employees. And these are both the larger efforts the company makes that affect the world and the smaller things that make people’s personal lives better.”

These stories build a link from an employee to the overall organization. “People seek to have purpose, impact and a sense of belonging,” says Adams. “And being able to clearly see the organization and find your role in it, is why people stay at their companies.”

Companies bring in Adams to create this employee brand, since “storytelling is by far the most powerful form of communication since time began and it’s been proven many times,” he says. “Using this form of communication creates an emotional connection and produces goosebumps when people hear these stories. It’s the difference between a good brand and a great brand.”

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