Unlocking Holistic Retention Strategies & The Power Of Purpose

Mili Panicker, director of HR and people operations at WebEngage, believes that addressing employee turnover begins with a positive onboarding experience, competitive salaries, professional growth opportunities, and recognising and rewarding contributions of employees


Mili Panicker, director of human resources (HR) and people operations at WebEngage, shares her insights on critical HR topics ranging from employee retention strategies to identifying root causes of attrition. She offers valuable perspectives on fostering a positive workplace culture, transparent evaluation processes and the profound impact of a strong sense of purpose on employee motivation.  

Employee turnover can be influenced by various factors. What holistic approach can be employed to address these factors and promote retention? 

It takes top talent, and retaining that talent for organisations to succeed, and in today’s context, employee turnover is a pressing phenomenon taking centre stage in most HR conversations. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Millenial and Gen Z Survey, 36 per cent of millennials and 53 per cent of Gen Z respondents globally would like to leave their employers within two years, which highlights the significant turnover risk faced by organisations when it comes to younger generations in the workforce.  

Addressing employee turnover requires a comprehensive approach that considers personal and professional factors. It begins with investing in a positive onboarding experience to set a foundation for long-term employee tenure. Competitive salaries, benefits and professional growth opportunities are crucial for attracting and retaining top talent. Recognising and rewarding contributions through an effective performance management system is key. Transparent communication, regular feedback and opportunities for employees to voice concerns are also vital components of a successful retention strategy.

Lastly, organisational culture is also pivotal in promoting retention. It becomes a must to make all the employees feel valued and respected by a company’s policies and actions, like promoting diversity and inclusion or encouraging a healthy work-life balance. Moreover, a company’s culture is reflected from the top down - the leadership in a sense embodies the culture of an organisation. 

How do you go about identifying the root causes of employee attrition and creating targeted solutions to address the causes? 

According to the Deloitte India Talent Outlook 2023 report, attrition in India had reached 19.7 per cent in 2022, up from 19.4 per cent in 2021. Employee attrition is a symptom of a deeper problem; therefore, it becomes necessary to identify the root causes and fix that problem for the successful functioning of a company. EY’s Future of Pay 2023 report identifies the key reasons for voluntary attrition, which include limited career development opportunities, external and internal inequity of compensation, role stagnation and lack of recognition. 

One has to take a comprehensive and data-oriented approach to identify the root causes specific to each organisation, which begins by conducting exit interviews. Exit interviews help in knowing the reasons why an employee wants to leave the company and what could have been done to improve. Feedback from existing employees can also help in providing valuable insights into employee satisfaction and engagement, which can be gathered by analysing employee surveys. Taking a number-driven approach, monitoring turnover rate over time helps in identifying trends that may need to be addressed. Finally, with employee expectations from a workplace evolving and changing rapidly, especially in the wake of the pandemic, it is imperative that organisations conduct regular reviews of their policies and procedures, and managerial assessments to avoid stagnation. 

Once the root causes are identified for employee attrition, the next step is to develop targeted solutions to address them. Some of the solutions include improving compensation and benefits, developing a culture of feedback, both negative and positive, empowering employees, addressing workplace issues and creating a positive working environment, and providing employees with opportunities for growth and development through training, advancement and new challenges. Through these targeted solutions, a company can work towards reducing its employee attrition and turnover, and keep employees engaged and productive.

How can HR leaders ensure that growth metrics are accurately capturing employee progress and potential, while also fostering a fair and transparent evaluation process? 

HR leaders must strike a balance between accurately measuring employee progress and potential while maintaining a fair and transparent evaluation process. When choosing metrics to measure employee progress, it is important to select those that are relevant to the employee's job duties and that can be accurately tracked. 

It is our responsibility to set clear expectations by setting clear goals and objectives at the beginning of the performance period. These expectations should be communicated clearly and regularly to employees throughout the year, which can be facilitated only by ensuring transparency. 

A balanced mix of assessment measures should be used as it helps in evaluating performance from a holistic perspective and ensures the process is unbiased, accurate and fair. Employees whose performances do not match their expectations should be given chances of improvement by providing additional training or mentoring, through career development opportunities. Overall, the growth metrics should be aligned with the organisation's goals and objectives. The metrics should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound and they should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they are still relevant.

In your experience, how does a strong sense of purpose impact employee motivation during challenging times or when facing setbacks? 

As an HR professional with over 15 years of experience, I have seen firsthand how a strong sense of purpose can impact employee motivation, especially during challenging times or when facing setbacks.

When employees feel like their work is meaningful and that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, they are more likely to stay motivated and resilient in the face of adversity. They are driven by a deeper meaning beyond just a paycheck, which helps them stay focused, committed and above all, inspired to their work despite setbacks. This is because they have a reason to keep going, even when things are tough.

A strong sense of purpose helps employees stay and cope with stress, anxiety, and performance pressure. When there is purpose added to one’s passion for their work, it kind of serves as a noise-cancelling combination, such that the stress and anxiety recede into the background. 

It also helps employees to feel more connected to their colleagues and to the organisation as a whole, which strengthens team cohesion. It fosters a higher level of engagement among employees. When individuals believe that their work contributes to a greater cause or aligns with their personal values, they are more likely to stay engaged and motivated, even when challenges arise. It further leads to increased long-term commitment, innovation and adaptability, which eventually contributes to organisational stability.

How do employee engagement activities lead to innovative solutions or improvements within the organisation?

Having employee engagement activities has become a very basic necessity for organisations to be viable today. These activities instil a feeling of being valued and respected amongst the employees and they feel like they are a part of the team whilst being able to maintain their individuality. It promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the organisations, and even more towards themselves. This creates a culture of employee empowerment and ownership. It provides employees with the autonomy, resources and support they need to take ownership of their work, make decisions and drive results. As a result, they are more likely to be creative and innovative and indulge in collaborative teamwork. Moreover, these activities also help in creating a more positive and productive work environment and reducing stress and burnout.

Hence, employee engagement activities play a significant role in influencing employee retention. Developing initiatives to boost employee engagement, such as wellness programs, team-building activities, across-department collaboration, or social events has a huge positive impact on the employees and their motivation to continue working for the same organisation, while also enabling learning and knowledge exchange. 


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