People Leadership

How to Improve Employee Retention: Five Ways to Leverage 1:1 Meetings 

April 9, 2024

Using 1:1 meetings to improve employee retention 

  • 1:1 meetings are a powerful employee retention tool employers can use to engage employees. 
  • During effective 1:1 meetings, managers regularly listen to, support, and recognize their direct reports. 
  • Track goals and discuss professional development opportunities with employees throughout the year to increase employee engagement. 

Improve employee retention 

If you’re struggling to retain your employees, you’re not alone. According to LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report, 93% of organizations are concerned about employee retention. And there’s good reason to be concerned. A survey by Robert Half found 41% of respondents are either looking for a new job, or plan to before year end. Regular 1:1 meetings between managers and their direct reports are a powerful retention tool. With the right approach, 1:1s enable managers to gauge how employees are doing and intervene before it’s too late. 

Research by McKinsey & Company found that employees leave their jobs for three reasons: unsustainable expectations, uncaring leaders, and lack of advancement potential. Effective 1:1s allow managers to address these problems by setting expectations, gathering and providing feedback, supporting career development. These meetings also provide a forum where employees can air their concerns and build rapport with managers. They’re also a time when employees can be assured that their manager cares about their wellbeing and values their efforts. 

Let’s look at five ways to leverage 1:1 meetings for better employee retention. If you’re a leader with direct reports of your own, keep the following best practice tips in mind and share them with your management team as well. If you’re an HR practitioner, you can use this information to advise managers, whether you have direct reports of your own or not. 

How to improve employee retention with 1:1 meetings 

Prioritize employee feedback 

According to the research by McKinsey & Company, social aspects of work, including quality relationships with leadership, are the strongest predictors of positive employee experience, and employees with a positive experience are eight times more likely to stay with their employer. Regular 1:1 meetings between managers and their direct reports provide an opportunity to build rapport and trust through two-way communication and active listening. Implement an Open Door Policy to establish your company’s commitment to welcoming open dialogue, whether you’re onsite, hybrid, or remote.

Making yourself available without distraction during open-door hours, listening openly, and addressing concerns will show your team that you value their feedback and input. Apply these same principles to your 1:1 meetings. Show that the meetings are important to you by making time for them every week or every other week. Don’t cancel them if you can help it. Hold them at a time that is good for the employee and limit your distractions so that you can listen fully. Ask for feedback regularly, let the employee do most of the talking, and follow up with any concerns. Making 1:1 meetings a priority, putting the focus on the employee retention, and listening to their concerns builds rapport and strengthens relationships, giving employees a better experience at work. 

Set and manage expectations 

Unsustainable work expectations are one of the most common reasons employees leave organizations. Set clear and reasonable goals with measurable employee retention targets using an Employee Goal-Setting Form (Quarterly) with each of your direct reports to outline goals for the upcoming quarter and review those from the previous quarter. During 1:1s, track progress towards those goals and address any roadblocks by helping solve problems and providing resources. Ask employees during these meetings about their workloads. If employees are overwhelmed, you may need to adapt plans and offer some flexibility, especially for unforeseen circumstances. Document any issues that interfere with the employee reaching their targets to ensure shortcomings can be considered and evaluated fairly. Setting clear, reasonable goals and following up to manage workloads helps keep employees motivated and engaged without burning out. 

Provide feedback and recognition 

Employees who feel unappreciated are more likely to leave their jobs. Over half of respondents to a survey by Achievers Workforce Institute reported that feeling recognized at work would reduce the likelihood they would “take a call from a head-hunter.” Recognize employees for their efforts by providing feedback during 1:1 meetings. For employee achievements that really stand out, acknowledge the employee’s good work verbally during their 1:1 and then follow up by sending an Employee Recognition Letter to thank them. In these instances, consider providing a gift card tailored to the employee’s interests. Whether feedback is positive or negative, it should be timely. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to provide feedback. Any feedback that you provide should also be specific with examples. Remember to focus on strengths rather than providing constant criticism. Having a standing agenda item about recent wins is a great way to keep things positive.  

Be a supportive resource 

Employees leave organizations when they feel their leaders are uncaring. Offer support and show concern about how your employees are doing and feeling, whether that be about a roadblock in a project they’re facing or something more personal. Be a resource for your employees where you can. It’s a good idea to have a recurring 1:1 agenda item for assessing the wellbeing of your direct reports. Show you care by asking employees about their wellness and work–life balance.

If employee retention efforts at your organization would benefit from mental health training, HRdownloads offers several online training courses to clients. Our catalogue includes topics like Mental Health in the Workplace and Wellness Essentials Training. They can be assigned and managed in moments from our online platform. To learn more, book a free demo with one of our HR experts at a time that fits your schedule. By regularly inquiring about the wellbeing of employees, you can proactively provide support and resources. Frequent communication can help build rapport by showing you care, and boost the quality of relationships to boost employee morale. 

Foster opportunities for career development 

Lack of career development opportunities is another key reason people leave their jobs. So it’s essential to discuss career aspirations and goals during 1:1 meetings. A Professional Development Planning Form is a great resource for facilitating these conversations. Fill in the form with your employee to assess their short- and long-term career goals, whether they are interested in opportunities outside your department, and what training options and resources would be beneficial. The form allows you to set a development plan with goals, action steps, and deadlines. The form also considers potential obstacles and the resources necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Help your employees feel that their jobs are meaningfully. Communicate that they are connected with their personal goals by facilitating these discussions periodically throughout the year.  

Final Thoughts 

1:1s improve retention by building rapport, managing expectations, and fostering development conversations. By making your employees a priority and listening to their concerns, you can gauge how they feel, how they are progressing with their goals and whether their workload is manageable. If you check in regularly, you can correct course in difficult circumstances by providing flexibility, support, and resources. Give your employees a voice and implement 1:1s today to improve retention at your organization.  

Does your organization need help with improving employee retention? 

HRdownloads can help. Revamping employee retention strategies can be time consuming, but they don’t have to be. With the help of our experts, creating Employee Recognition Letters, Open Door Policies, and Professional Development Planning Forms is simple.  

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