In the world of marketing, it’s a candidate’s job market. Anyone and everyone seems to be on the hunt for top marketing talent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for the marketing manager position itself is on an upward trend of 8%, which is faster than average for the labor market. While there aren’t official statistics for all the roles that make up a marketing team, it’s clear that marketing roles are on the increase.

How will you attract top talent to your team? More importantly, how will you keep them from jumping ship and bringing their creative and analytical skills (and strong meme game) over to your competition?

There’s a lot of talk about whether the younger generations of workers understand loyalty, but what’s missing from the conversation is that loyalty goes both ways. To earn their loyalty, you need to do more than cut a paycheck every two weeks.

Why Retention Should Be Priority #1

As a whole, employee retention is incredibly important for businesses. Hiring takes up a huge amount of time and eats into your team’s productivity. According to the Work Institute’s 2019 report, employers in the U.S. spent $600 billion in turnover costs in 2018 alone. To break it down into a more manageable number, you can expect to spend 33% of an employee’s salary on the cost of replacing them. Ouch!

The big mistake many employers (and managers) make is that they use retention to beg their employees to stay rather than making them so happy they don’t want to leave. The difference isn’t an issue of semantics. It’s an issue of engagement. When employees are engaged, they want to stay and they’re not out there actively (or casually) looking for a new job. And you might be shocked by the number of people browsing LinkedIn job boards from their desks: different studies find anywhere from 51% to 70% of employees are actively looking for a new job … while employed.

So how do you retain your top marketing staff and keep them happy enough to stay away from the job boards? You need a good strategy to start.

Focus on Personalized Engagement

Let’s leave behind traditional employee retention tools for a moment. If your team doesn’t want to be in the office with you, then they probably don’t want to be on an all-inclusive team-building retreat in the woods with you either.

A good employee retention plan isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every team: you also need to skip any uniform plans for every single employee. Instead, you should find ways for engagement that incorporate both day-to-day work culture (including work-life balance) as well as professional development and education. Using tools like individual development plans (IDPs) combined with regular performance reviews help you avoid the cookie-cutter approach and allow each employee to get the most out of their retention plan.

At the same time, data shows there are some simple ways that you can improve office culture and remove some of the barriers that might prevent employees from even being interested in engagement. For example, a ‘come-as-you-are’ dress code allows everyone to show off their unique style and feel more like themselves. Feeling good unlocks creativity, which is great for productivity. But relaxed rules also lower the barrier for entry for newer employees who don’t necessarily have a week’s worth of office wear in their closet and for whom new work clothes is an investment that could strain their finances. Another great employee retention strategy is creating a mentoring program. Not only does this improve retention, it passes valuable skills and knowledge from your seasoned employees to your new hires.

It’s a simple premise that costs you nothing and creates a more egalitarian culture. Plus, it works particularly well for marketing departments, who are rarely in client-facing roles anyway.

Compensation Plays a Role in Retention

Let’s talk about money for a moment. At the end of the day, people work to get paid. The number on their check is important, but it’s not the beginning and end of the conversation, particularly among the next generation of employees (Gen X). While Baby Boomers and Gen Xers valued salary level, millennials, in particular, value salary transparency as well as a mix of benefits choices. (Some data suggests that Gen Z is more private about salary matters than millennials.)

Companies with the best retention rates use a combination of personalized retention plans and compensation to solidify their position. For example, Clif Bar & Company has a 97% retention rate. Its success comes from its individualized professional growth plans and a strong work-life balance (aka their ‘Work-LIfe Cocktail’), but it also uses an employee stock option program (ESOP), which keeps the company employee-owned. This also reduces the gap between executive compensation and the employees who keep the ship afloat. The larger the company, the less equitable C-suite-to-worker pay ratios can be, but employee stock options can certainly improve this ratio.

But you don’t need to be a publicly-traded company to improve your financial offering. One way to retain employees is to focus on salary development in line with your talent development. Lay out your compensation structure as well as the raises and promotions coming your way. Let employees know what’s coming down the pipeline and how they can achieve it. If your employee knows that today they’re earning X dollars but in two years, they’ll earn Y dollars, then it lets them know that their value extends to their compensation and stops their eyes from wandering to greener pastures.

While the younger generations aren’t the most money-focused, they are facing the greatest amounts of debt and a huge cost of living. If you train them up to be stellar marketing experts, you don’t want to lose that investment to a competitor who is willing to help them pay their bills — not if you can afford it.

Employee Retention isn’t Just Loyalty

What’s important to understand about retention is that employee loyalty alone won’t keep your best marketing pros. Loyalty doesn’t pay student loans or grant mental health days without question. If you want loyal, engaged employees, you need to do more than pay them. You need to invest in them through a retention strategy.

If there’s one thing to take away, it’s that employees are increasingly expecting options and personalization. A cookie-cutter approach won’t engage employees and help them stay. So, it’s important to dig beneath the surface of ‘work-life balance’ and compensation structures and find out what it is that makes your team tick. If you can find out what they want, it makes it far easier to give it to them. Your demonstrated loyalty to your team will earn you theirs — and that’s real retention.