Q: What aspects of company culture are most important to retain committed talent?


A: While research on turnover and retention tends to focus on job satisfaction, the decision to leave a job goes much deeper, to employees’ identities and well-being. The difficulty of the decision behind whether to leave a job was the focus of an in-depth study three colleagues and I recently published. We identified six elements of identity and well-being, P-T-R-E-A-D, that were central in considerations to stay or go:

Purpose. Employees find meaning in contributing to the greater good and being connected to something beyond themselves. Does each employee have a “line of sight” from their job tasks to the good your organization does?

Trajectory. Employees find meaning in their stories as they develop and grow across their careers and lives. Does your culture reflect caring about each employee’s goals for their careers and lives?

Relatedness. Employees find meaning in a sense of warm belonging at work in a way that honors human dignity. Does your culture reflect that it values human dignity and fosters relationships?

Expression, acceptance, and differentiation of self. Employees find meaning expressing their full gifts in a way that has impact and being valued positively for the differences they bring.

Does your culture intentionally make room for differences and new ideas?

Employees often feel satisfied by some elements and dissatisfied by others. It is the balance that determines whether an employee stays or goes. The more of these human needs that you can satisfy in work, the more likely you are to have an engaged, committed workforce.

Adapting an organization’s culture can be challenging, but it can be done. Markers of culture include the way managers, owners and leaders act and what they focus on; the stories that get told over and over; the criteria used for hiring and promotion; the focus of any ceremonies, rites and rituals; physical space and how it’s used; and the language that’s used. Your mission or vision and values statement are also important, but only if these markers line up with them.


Teresa J. Rothausen is a professor of principled leadership and management in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.