Turn the tables on pitiful tenure

There are two kinds of people in this world- those who work to live and those who live to work.

An example of the latter is every company’s dream employee – Rocky Battista. Rocky Battista was awarded Coca Cola’s “employee of the century award” for working at Coca Cola for approximately 75% of a century. You heard right, Rocky Battista was one of the world’s most loyal employees, having worked for Coca Cola for about 75 years.

That figure is even more startling when we consider that in the rest of the population, the average employment tenure is 4.3 years for men and 4.0 years for women. Even more worrisome – The Bureau of Labour Statistics in the US found that in 2018, the median tenure for employees between the age of 25 and 34 is only 3.2 years.

How are companies to prosper in terms of ROI in this hasty period of time? Surely many company’s feel that they are developing employees for the sake of another company and receiving the bare minimum in return?

Not to mention the resources lost in the process- the time and cost of attracting, screening, selecting, hiring, onboarding, training- the list goes on… And before you know it- the process needs to commence from step 1.

So how do we increase the employee life span in our company?

Increasing employee tenure, is not only beneficial for the company, but for employees too. In fact, employees spend a considerable amount of time and energy transitioning between jobs seeing that they spend less than 5 years on each job. Why waste all these resources when it can be a win-win for both parties? How do we get our employees to love us as much as Rocky loved Coca Cola?

Let’s unpack Rocky’s approach for some tips, and combine it with some of our ideas for the perfect employee retention strategy:

Steps to make our employees sad to leave:

  • Create a connected environment
    Rocky had warm interpersonal connections with all his fellow employees, despite their age or status in the company. He knew his bosses and colleagues at a deeper level than many others care for in their work lives. How much do you know about your subordinates or colleagues? Do you know what goes on in their day to day lives? The names of their children, pets or partners? Creating a culture of interconnectedness can make employees feel like they are part of a community. It may provide them with a support system, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. There are several ways to do this. At 21st Century, we have a monthly newsletter that includes a column on an employee (alternating between employees in each edition), titled “Getting to know *insert name of employee*”. We find out fun facts about them, their likes, their dislikes, their hobbies and anything else they’re willing to reveal. This creates a culture of deeper understanding and comfort between employees. For occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, some of the employees are given the task of creating a Valentines movie day. The company gives them a budget which they spend on little goodie bags for all the employees; and sweets and popcorn to accompany the movie playing from the overhead projector in the board room which has been converted into the most comfortable movie house with pillows, cushions, blankets and people strewn everywhere, enjoying the movie as… people. Those who don’t have valentines dates, no longer seem to care because they have their family at work.
  • Create an environment in which people love to work
    Let’s face it- not everyone does the work they love. Even when they do, it’s pretty difficult to love what you do, every single day of your life (bar 2 days assumedly). It’s therefore the company’s responsibility to make work as bearable as possible.

    How can this be done? We treat our employees as people. We trust them. If they have the urge to attend to their Facebook notifications during work hours- that’s fine, they don’t need to hustle about to conceal their “sins”, switching screens in panic when someone begins to walk in their direction. We trust that if they have the freedom to be treated as adults, they will return the favour. And this is the case with a track record we like to boast about.

  • Under-promise and overachieve
    In most cases, under-promising and overachieving would seem to be the responsibility of the employee. However, it is a responsibility that extends to the employer.

    Employers tend to promise employees the world but as soon as employees realise they have been coaxed, the end result isn’t likely to be one the company was hoping for. Research has found that employees who decide that their match with their employers is not a strong one, have a high probability of leaving the company within the span of a year. It might seem beneficial to cajole your employees in the short-term- but it may just end up in quicker employee turnover and greater financial loss for the company.

    Honesty is always the best policy. Let your potential employees know exactly what they’re in for and then you may even pleasantly surprise them- they may never want to leave their jobs.

  • Make recognition an recurring theme
    Above extrinsic reward, intrinsic reward plays a major role in Rocky-like retention. An innate part of human nature is the need to feel appreciated or valued. Look at it from this perspective- have you ever invested your heart and soul in a task, recognising your own effort and value – only to have someone else criticise it or “notice” it for a brief minute, without any positive commentary and just go about their day? What do employees work for (other than money) if their efforts are pushed aside? Yes, people do work to live but with work immersing itself in our everyday lives, it is important to create meaning in those moments.

    Jobs with meaning have a far higher retentive ability than those that are merely “chores”. Studies show that celebrating employee’s achievements has a strong correlation with their tenure at the company. It is important to create a recognition culture where people are noticed and applauded for their efforts. They will want to work harder when they see that someone actually cares. It also brings them a sense of achievement, positivity and more optimistic cognitive associations with the company. Employees are applauded for their efforts; have a framed picture hung up on the inspiration wall; and even win a prize- such as a fancy dinner for 2.


Company’s today need to fight harder than ever to retain employees. For the sake of reduced employee turnover that will help spare wasted company and employee resources, several measures may be followed.

Most organisations who are best at retention are those that trigger a sense of belonging. Close-knit relationships are formed between colleagues and superiors, allowing individuals to feel comfort and positivity in the workplace.

Additionally, a workplace that takes the negative connotation out of the word “work” may be achieved by treating your employees as people rather than ‘workers’. Always remain honest with your employees- they will find out the truth in any event and your company will pay the price if they learn the hard way.

Lastly, recognition is one of the most highly recognised forms of retention- an easy and often, free practice that can make all the difference to your company.

Written by:

Mark Bussin
Chairman, 21st Century
[email protected]



Daniela Christos
[email protected]



More Articles

  • Changing role of HR Analytics

The changing Role of HR Analytics in enhancing HR Functions

Transforming HR functions through data-driven insights HR Analytics has become an essential tool in transforming traditional HR functions, providing invaluable insights that bolster decision-making processes. This data-driven approach equips HR professionals [...]

  • 6 Rs diagram

Introducing the 6Rs Model

Introducing the 6Rs Model: Evolving Your Workforce Strategy Workforce Planning expanded with a new 6Rs model. In the contemporary business environment, characterised by rapid technological advancements, [...]

  • analytics transformation

Unlocking the Power of HR Analytics

Unlocking the Power of HR Analytics Unveiling the Maturity of HR Analytics: From Insights to Action In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, data-driven decision-making has become paramount for organisations seeking a [...]

  • Regional nuances globe

Regional Nuances in ESG: Perspectives from a CEO

Regional Nuances in ESG: Perspectives from a CEO In today’s corporate world, the integration of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into executive compensation plans has become a beacon of progressive strategy, illuminating [...]

  • Navigating the ESG Landscape

Navigating the ESG Landscape

Navigating the ESG landscape: a global perspective with regional nuances In today’s corporate world, the integration of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into executive compensation plans has [...]