Employee Retention Strategies to Learn from Startups


Last Updated: August 26, 2022
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Startups have transformed our everyday life in ways we could never have imagined. 

Ordering that after-dinner ‘Gulab Jamun’, having a professional pedicure at home, getting a dental check at home – a decade ago, none of these would have been possible! All of these services have been brought to life by the imagination, creativity, and hard work of startups.

Due to the very nature of its culture, a startup is an intense, energetic, and exciting place. Having said that, it is also a little unstructured and uncertain as the idea and the final product may not always be clear in the initial stages. Moreover, startups are big on an all-hands-on-deck policy and the entrepreneurial drive trickles down right from the CEO to each team member.

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With so much to do and achieve in this high-pressure environment, how do startups manage to engage and retain their employees? It’s the million-dollar question! We spoke to a few start-ups to get deeper insights into this. Here’s what they had to say.

1. An Invigorating Work Environment

People sitting in a cafe

The Millennial generation – who make up a large part of the startup workforce, possess bright ideas, want excitement, and feel motivated to come to work. Knowing this, startups encourage a free flow of ideas, foster innovation, and provide greater autonomy & responsibility to the employees.

At startups, especially in the growing phase, there is a lot of work to be done and each employee takes ownership of the entire project. In such an environment, there is a lot of room to grow provided one has the willingness to learn on the go. On their part, the management provides a culture of bonding, excitement, and challenges.

‘Postman’ is a well-known Startup in the software development world, with millions of developers around the world using their API development tool. While the staff focuses all their energy on the software, the organisation provides an environment that takes care of their needs with facilities such as free meals, laundry services, a mini library and a sleeping room. Recreation is available in the form of foosball tables and even a PlayStation 4!

2. Organisational Support Is Crucial

People giving fists bump

A critical aspect of a startup CEO’s job is to continually share the vision and challenges of the organisation. This is implemented through all-hands-meet with the CEO and regular meetings with managers. Apart from formal meetings, the CEO and managers have informal interactions with the teams. This helps reinforce the culture of bonding and shared values.

Sandeep Verghese, who heads People Analytics at a Talent Assessment technology company says – “If there is a lack of clarity from CEO to lower down, people can feel lost.”

Another distinctiveness of a startup is an environment of openness – not based on hierarchy or power centres. Employees lead based on their competence – not on their designation or position in the organisation.

As Vivek Madappa, co-founder at MobiDent said – “People reporting to the leader must be encouraged to debate, discuss, and argue. Seniors must be coached to allow free conversations.”

Girish Menon, Head-HR at Swiggy, in a

mentions their culture of giving and receiving feedback. They even have ‘Performance Feedback Labs’ which is used by line managers to practice giving feedback. They have rituals such as Pulse Surveys to get feedback on the overall organisation’s culture, Managerial Effectiveness Survey from team members, and quarterly check-ins with employees to understand the level of performance conversations happening with their managers.

3. Recognise and Reward Contributions

Man smiling

Most organisations have systems in place to reward and recognise performers. However, these might be at pre-defined frequencies such as quarterly, or annually.

In startups, these recognitions are more frequent and timely. They are in the form of applause for good work done, bonuses, and awards. Also, as Sandeep shared – “We have ‘Rockstar’ awards, which are distinctive, in that these are nominated by their peers!”

Vivek shared some insightful thoughts when he said – “While we celebrate many things such as successful project completion, initiatives are taken, and stages in projects – we even celebrate and accept failures! This helps to build trust. Failure is not wrong. It’s the attitude towards failure that determines one’s success. There is nothing called failure. If things don’t go well, the choice is to change or wait if the time is not right or accept and adapt. Nothing is permanent.”

When employees see that they are not punished for their failures, it encourages them to persist in their attempt to be better the next time.

The reason for a lack of proactiveness in many large, hierarchical organisations is that orders and instructions are passed down from the top. Those on the lower rungs are expected to simply follow them- no questions asked. However, when it comes to startups, creativity is one of the most important traits they look for. In Vivek’s organisation, they ask every employee to share one new idea every week.

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4. Avenues For Leisure and Recreation

Foosball table

When you work in high-pressure environments, you need to take a break from time to time. For this, startups provide facilities like a recreation room with indoor games such as Foosball, Table Tennis, and so on.

Apart from this, there are frequent opportunities for social interaction outside office hours. As Sandeep shared – “The employees go out for movies, parties, sports, and other events. The emphasis is on work-life balance. People’s hobbies are encouraged, and they’re given opportunities to share them with the organisation.”

5. Encourage Learning and Self Improvement

Laptop and book on work desk

With automation and machine learning coming into the picture, it is essential for employees to keep learning and updating themselves. However, most of them get so caught up with work that they hardly find time for personal events, let alone time to invest in learning! 

To address this concern, Mentoria – a career discovery platform, has started a learning initiative for its employees. They encourage their workforce to dedicate two hours of their work time to learning. 

“As a company, we have always encouraged and helped our employees achieve success and new milestones in their lives. In one of our conversations with our employees regarding this, a concern that popped up was not having enough time to invest in learning and growing. To tackle this issue, we came up with “The Learning Hours”. We encourage our employees to take two hours out of work in a week and learn about industry trends, a new skill, or just about anything!” says Megha Saluja, People Manager at Mentoria. “At the end of the week, we have a lively discussion on what each of us learnt and how we think it will help us eventually reach our goals.”

Times are changing now. And while we expect employees to have a more all-hands-on-deck approach when it comes to working, we also need to make sure that we have them covered in the other avenues. If you’re wondering how to best engage and develop a long-lasting bond with your employees, reach out to us. We’re happy to help!

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