How to fail at employee retention in the Malaysian marketing scene

Your star employee will never leave. Record that one under “business misconceptions”.

There’s a major retention problem in Malaysia’s creative, marketing and technology workforce, largely spurred by the ongoing digital revolution. Even at the best of times, brands and agencies often scuffle to retain their best talent – and you bet it’s costly. High employee turnover can cost businesses in time and productivity. And if you still believe that a fat compensation package will say good-bye to your retention nightmares, you are fundamentally wrong.

The perfect recipe to wooing top industry talent lies in assuring a holistic atmosphere that motivates and values them. So forget the ping-pong table, catered eats, and sleep pods. The most forward-thinking businesses are turning their focus to intelligent employee retention and engagement strategies.

If any of the following apply to your agency or brand, it might be time to re-think how you approach retention:

  1. You don’t know (or don’t care to find out) the real cause of turnover

For an industry built on marketing products and pursuing people - and one that majorly relies on its innovative talent - agencies have a big problem with their image. Be it work-life balance, job security or long hours, most factors go unacknowledged within an agency set-up.

Even in a mobile workforce, many agencies still depend on traditional exit interviews to pinpoint the causes of turnover. Unfortunately, this information is not recorded in exact terms and leads to inaccurate decision-making for future retention plans. Because many exiting employees also aren’t completely honest during exit interviews (who can blame them?) regular feedback is necessary to understand the reason for someone’s resignation.

At the end of the day, in an engaged and communicative office environment, someone’s resignation should not come as a surprise, or out of the blue.

  1. You haven’t prepped your managers to foster retention

Your managers are the first point of interaction between the company and the employee – and within the marketing team they are the gatekeepers of how stakeholders, both internally and externally, view your products and your company as a whole. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to be able to meet your marketing goals if you can’t keep the right people on board to see things through.

Ensuring managers understand why retention is a strategic priority should be highlighted and stressed in your overall leadership approach, and they should be encouraged and assessed on how frequently they solicit feedback from their team.

  1. You have no idea that someone is about to leave

How many times has “I’m officially handing in my resignation” taken you by complete surprise? I’m willing to bet more than just a handful. The creative industry has always been incredibly competitive, as agencies and brands continually attempt to poach the best talent. And when that key person does leave, it leaves you open to losing a big client or valuable relationship – not to mention a disturbance to your team’s culture and ecosystem.

Most agencies don’t have a process for identifying employees that are a flight risk – instead, they have thrown in the towel and just accepted that high turnover is a ‘thing’ and ‘the way things are’. But when it comes to preventing attrition, identifying employees who are most likely to leave is the most impactful measure. Intelligent predictive analytics is one way to predict who might be next to go, but this is often a “too hard” step for businesses in Malaysia. If you don’t have the data, just use good old-fashioned common sense. Are they taking more time off? Has their attitude changed? Have their office friends left? Have they emotionally checked out of discussions they previously would have been passionate about?

These are all key signs you should jump on before it’s too late.

  1. You throw money at talent to stay

Sure, it works… for now. Money will keep people around who were on the brink of leaving, but it’s only a short-term bandaid. It might give you time to figure out what to do if you’ve got a shallow talent pool to fill the vacancy, but it absolutely will not suddenly turn that disengaged, burnt-out employee into a productive superstar.

If someone resigns, don’t try to convince them to stay. Sometimes – and only sometimes – you can talk people around if their reason for quitting is due to an easily resolved situation or misunderstanding. But more often than not, their minds were made up about three months before they actually handed in their notice, and any chance you had to reverse the situation is long gone. What they needed months ago was support, advice, an engaged leadership team who could pinpoint the issues and work constructively to resolve them. At the end of the day, if pay is all you’re offering then you’re not getting to the heart of the problem.

Many agencies and brands in Malaysia still lack concrete and holistic understanding of retention strategies, or these strategies are being effectively communicated between HR and marketing. The result is a continuing high employee turnover, which is a carousel that just keeps on turning.

Make sure your company sees the long-term value in investing in their employees. With strong retention, employees become your brand ambassadors, helping to reduce attrition, enhance your employee value proposition, and help promote an overall positive effect on your ability to attract and retain the best marketers in the country.

The writer is Jacqui Barratt, APAC CEO of Salt.