Employee Retention: Beyond the Honeymoon Phase

By Anna Roberts - Jul. 10, 2017
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Anna Roberts – Head of Content at UK-based RotaCloud. Her opinions are her own.
Employment is a lot like marriage. For better, for worse; For richer, for poorer; In sickness and in health; Til death do us part.
Okay, so may employment isn’t exactly like marriage. Still, we often talk about ‘being wedded’ to our jobs.

And the honeymoon phase also applies to work. Whether it’s three, six, or 12 months long, the honeymoon period that comes after starting a new job is full of hope and excitement for any new employee.

In fact, some new team members feel so positive about their new role in your organisation that they brush aside any worries or concerns.

Their pay check goes through a couple of days late? Not a problem. I’m sure it won’t happen again.

From an outside perspective, this way of thinking seems slightly delusional, but when they’re still in that honeymoon period, new employees don’t see it that way. That’s why, in some ways, it’s easier to keep new hires happy and motivated at work. It’s going to take a huge red flag to turn their enthusiasm into negativity.

However once the honeymoon’s over, it’s a different story. If that late pay check becomes a regular occurrence the employees start to get angry and frustrated until ultimately they start searching for something better. Yes … a new job.

Much like a marriage, your relationship with your employees after the honeymoon period needs work.

If you struggle to retain your staff for longer than 12-18 months, you have an employee turnover problem that needs solving. While your actions during the honeymoon phase certainly impact retention rates, it’s what you do after this period ends that ultimately determines whether or not an employee will stick around.

Here are the basics you need to improve on.


Learning how to communicate effectively with employees is critical: not just when discussing everyday business tasks, but also when talking about their future. An annual appraisal shouldn’t be the only time you discuss how an employee is faring at work.

Check-in with each employee every couple of weeks. Ask them about the project they’re working on. Find out if they have any concerns. Talk about any training or promotion opportunities. Use a mix of informal chats at their desk and private one-to-one meetings – there may be some topics they don’t wish to talk about with other staff present.

As with marriage problems, having a third party in place during difficult work-related discussions can help you make progress. Ideally, this’ll be someone from HR. If in doubt of the best approach, follow these communication tips.

  • Be honest and open whenever possible. This’ll encourage employees to act the same;
  • Be fair. Apply your policies fairly and provide full explanations for your decisions. Try to find compromises where possible, and look to previous incidents to help guide your response to future incidents;
  • Always stay calm. Shouting never helps;
  • Listen;
  • Understand that sometimes resolution is impossible – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

Personal development

If you don’t give employees the chance to gain new skills and advance their careers within the company, they will look for a chance to do so elsewhere.  After all, wouldn’t you do the same? That means you have two options:

  1. Don’t bother with training and development and plan for high staff turnover; or
  2. Invest in training and development to try to encourage staff to stick around, while also gaining a highly-skilled workforce.

The second option is the obvious choice, but  many businesses tend to hold back on personal development because there’s nothing stopping employees taking their newly-gained skills elsewhere.

Your employees are hardly likely to appreciate your distrust. Training and development are important not just for the new skills gained. Your employees will appreciate the change of pace the learning process provides. It adds variety to their role. It gives individuals new aims, goals and a sense of progress. After all, once you’ve been working a particular role for a year or so, there’s not much left to learn.

Rewards and appreciation

Once the honeymoon phase is over, employees will be less forgiving of their employer’s actions. They’ll notice if they’re efforts aren’t appreciated. In a way, it’s the little things that matter most. A quick ‘thank you’ for staying late to finish a task, or a brief word to praise a recent piece of work will go far.

Lavish bonuses and corporate gifts will certainly earn appreciation, but if they aren’t backed up by genuine appreciation, you’re unlikely to earn an employee’s loyalty in the long term.

It’s also a smart idea to celebrate the achievements of your staff. Opt for rewards that fit an employee’s preferences as well as being appropriate for the nature of the achievement. 

Don’t hold a raucous night out in honour of Brian from IT if he’d rather double his workload than set foot in a nightclub. Instead, tell Brian that you’d like to to do something special to celebrate his achievements. Make a couple of suggestions, and see what he makes of them. If he’d rather just take an afternoon off, let him – it’s cheaper for your company than hosting a party, after all!

Another important aspect of employee engagement is the connection employees have with the company as a whole. Celebrating company milestones is an obvious way to do this.

When you hit X clients, Y employees or Z turnover, don’t keep the information to yourself. Instead, arrange an event to commemorate this impressive achievement and your employees’ role in reaching it! As with marriage, celebrating the company’s anniversary (or the anniversary of a certain employee joining) is a fantastic way to strengthen bonds and look back fondly on the previous year.

Employees who feel a strong connection with the company will be less likely to look for work elsewhere.

The perils of change

Once the honeymoon phase is over at work, employees are in a better position to judge how the company is changing.

Sure, some change is expected, particularly if your business is growing. You might move offices, expand into other regions, launch new products and hire more staff. These changes will have a definite impact on your office culture – it’s inevitable. The office will feel different when there are 30 employees in the room instead of the five you had a couple of years ago.

What’s important is that the ‘heart’ of your business doesn’t change. When deciding to apply to work at your business, most employees probably took into account the working environment. Maybe they liked the idea of working in an informal environment, without having to worry about wearing suits. Perhaps they were drawn to the opportunity to work flexible hours.

Or maybe they just joined your company for the free lunches every Friday!

If you make the decision to withdraw or restrict these perks, employees would definitely be disappointed. It would give them one less reason to stay. You can communicate your reasons for the change with employees to reduce any resentment, but employees won’t only be annoyed at the decision for selfish reasons. They might be concerned about the direction your company is going in.

If your company stops providing free fruit to staff, does this mean that you aren’t prioritising staff wellbeing any more? If your company adds another layer of management, does this mean senior management won’t be so open and accessible any more? If your company stops contributing to charitable causes, does this mean your company is becoming more selfish?

Employees will ask these questions even if you don’t think they’re a valid response to your changes. Regardless of whether or not these adjustments are required and make good business sense, employees are bound to be resistant to changes that cause the business to diverge from the culture it had when they first joined.

Moving on

Even a model employer won’t be able to keep hold of employees forever. For most of us, there comes a time to move on and seek new challenges elsewhere. That doesn’t mean investing in staff retention is futile. Increasing your average employee tenure makes perfect business sense – so long as employees stay engaged and productive throughout!

If you’re going to take one business lesson from this article, it should be this: The honeymoon phase definitely exists for new employees, and smart managers are aware of that. You need to work on your employer-employee relationships as you work on a marriage, if there’s to be any chance of building a successful, long term partnership.

Anna Roberts is Head of Content at RotaCloud, an employee scheduling software provider based in the UK. Anna writes about HR, recruitment and small business management on the RotaCloud blog.


Anna Roberts

Anna Roberts is Head of Content at RotaCloud, an employee scheduling software provider based in the UK. Anna writes about HR, recruitment and small business management on the RotaCloud blog.

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