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The 7 Best Employee Retention Ideas We’ve Ever Seen

Evan Ross
July 16, 2018
The 7 Best Employee Retention Ideas We’ve Ever Seen
Table of contents

Employee turnover is a frustrating problem.

It causes a ton of administrative hassle. You constantly have to be on the lookout for replacements. Oh yeah, and it’s extremely expensive.

Employee turnover is a really difficult problem to fix, too. There’s no silver bullet, and the solution isn’t immediately apparent – especially to companies that don’t have billions of dollars to offer their employees sushi chefs and massages and pods to sleep in.

The good news though? Employee turnover isn’t an unsolvable problem.

Some notable companies have gone above and beyond to turn themselves into workplaces their employees love and never want to leave. And these companies are reaping the benefits.

If you’re looking retention incentive ideas or inspiration so you can do the same with your company, look no further. We’ve assembled a list of strategies that several companies – both large and small – have used to knock their employee retention out of the water.

Read on to learn about the 7 best employee retention ideas we’ve ever seen.

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Creative Employee Retention Idea #1 – Zappos Shares the Love with Employee Engagement

Zappos is a leading source of inspiration for great staff retention ideas, but one of their methods stands out: their employee engagement strategy.

Core to their engagement strategy is a commitment to making employees feel appreciated for their hard work.  Their co-worker bonus program is a phenomenal display of this commitment in action.

In this program, co-workers nominate one another for $50 monthly bonuses. The bonus can be given for pretty much any reason. Anything from going above and beyond on an assignment to just making another employee’s day.

These bonuses aren’t huge, but they aren’t meant to be. They’re meant to be small tokens of appreciation between co-workers which incentivize employees to be awesome co-workers. This bonds co-workers together and fosters a culture of recognition that goes a long way towards keeping employees happy and making them want to stick around.

Here’s an awesome Youtube video Zappos uses to promote the program (naturally, the program’s a great recruitment aid):

As the video mentions, Zappos has shelled out $600,000 in co-worker bonuses since the program began. It may seem like a lot, but that’s a relatively small sum compared to what they would be spending on employee turnover costs. Like the best employee retention strategies, this one should help pay for itself.

This is just one of the many employee retention strategies employed by Zappos that help contribute to their innovative workplace engagement, but it stands out for creativity and dedication to an inspiring company culture. If you’re looking for easily implemented retention strategies, this is a great option.

Creative Employee Retention Idea #2 – Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is a Case Study in Listening

The power of listening is consistently underrated, particularly in a corporate setting, where so much emphasis is placed on speaking up. It might be a hard practice to make habit, but getting consistent feedback from employees is a powerful preventative for turnover.

In one of our favorite examples of improved employee retention via enhanced communication, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital chose to utilize exit interviews in order to help retain their talented employees. Exit interviews are one of the more standard employee retention techniques, and aren’t always huge successes.

What makes this a real stand-out though are the steps taken by the hospital following their exit-interview implementation.

Their exit interviews revealed specific areas of their employee management that were causing employees to leave. Among these was stagnation and dissatisfaction leading to increased employee turnover among the nursing staff.

To address this, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital changed their nursing employment structure to allow for pay based on experience, and to incentivize nurses to obtain advanced degrees. They even went so far as to develop partnerships with a local university to provide better tuition assistance for their nursing staff.

Their efforts resulted in a 34% reduction in overall turnover, and an 11% reduction for the most high-turnover-cost positions. They also saw employee ‘reasons for leaving’ change from being mostly supervisor-driven to non-hospital driven.

The power of listening is in what it reveals (ie. everything you need to know to better retain your talent). Listening is the ultimate employee retention strategy in that respect – all you have to do is let your employees tell you what they need. Follow through on what your employees say, and you’ll reap the rewards – just like Cincinnati Children’s Hospital did.

Free Whitepaper: Turn your 401(K) into a recruiting and retention advantage. Download now.

Creative Employee Retention Idea #3 – Solstice Mobile Uses Salary Solutions for Employee Retention

Pay raises have the reputation for being a relatively flimsy employee retention strategy. And mostly, that reputation is pretty deserved. Unfair compensation will definitely push employees to leave – but the deeper problems within the organization can’t be fixed with a pay raise. Pay raises generally won’t work well as a lasting solution to employee turnover.

…Most of the time.

We have to say, there are some pretty interesting exceptions. Chief among them is the strategy of small but frequent raises and/or increased promotions. A wide variety of companies use this to help reduce their employee turnover, but one of our favorites is from Chicago-based app designer, Solstice Mobile.

Solstice Mobile promotes between 5% and 10% of their staff every quarter – with an average corresponding salary bump of 14%.

On top of this, Solstice Mobile has two more rounds of salary evaluation every year. In one of the most recent cycles, the company reports that 70% of employees saw their paychecks increase by an average 7%.

It might seem like a significant departure from the norm – but so are Solstice Mobile’s retention rates. CEO John “J” Schwan says his company’s innovative salary and promotion system is a contributing factor to their 98% retention rate. The program is also popular with workers in the younger generations, who particularly value the frequent feedback.

The best part: with 175 employees, Solstice Mobile is a perfect example of a small business using the same employee retention methods as tech-giants like Facebook and Google to phenomenal success. Pay raises might not be the most traditionally reliable employee retention strategy, but thinking creatively and building a compensation system that works for your industry (and more importantly) your employees can have an enormous impact.

Creative Employee Retention Idea #4 – REI’s Cooperative Company Culture Retains Employees

REI’s company culture is all about working together. REI is a cooperative, and it’s the dedication to this spirit of cooperation that sets REI’s company culture apart.

From the moment they are hired, employees are exposed to the REI way of doing things. During the hiring process, interviewers make it a point to educate candidates on REI’s mission to “… inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” Part of the hiring decision is the applicant’s own connection to the REI mission. Training even includes a day of hanging out with co-workers in the outdoors, whether that’s helping with a creek cleanup or taking a day hike.

As part of their commitment to stewardship, REI even subsidizes their employees using public transportation (buses, trains, vanpools, and ferries) by paying 50% of the cost.

We couldn’t possibly list all the creative components of REI’s company culture, but one of our favorites is the Anderson Award.

Lots of businesses do yearly awards, but few give one out like the Anderson Award. This is the highest honor an REI employee can attain. Reserved for non-management only, this award is about employee appreciation on the highest level.

Make no mistake. This isn’t a fluff award dolled out by management to whoever they like that year. The selection process is no joke. Each store forms an employee task force (usually led by the previous year’s Anderson Award winner) to review all nominations and select a winner.

Each winner receives a certificate and an engraved brick placed at the REI headquarters in Seattle. They are also flown to the REI headquarters for a three day Anderson Award winner appreciation event. Their trip includes tours of the Seattle store and distribution center and a sailing trip with the president and CEO.

The key: The Anderson Award is given to the employee that “lives REI’s core values and embodies the co-op spirit.” This is an award that employees give to their co-workers. The rewards and recognition are awesome, but the real power of the Anderson Award is that its own process is an exercise in cooperation.

REI’s incredible commitment to company culture is repaid by their employees commitment to REI. REI has one of the lowest levels of voluntary turnover in the retail industry. In 2013, their average employee retention rate was 74.6% (compared with the retail industry average retention rate of 29%).

Creative Employee Retention Idea #5 – Patagonia Aces Work-Life Balance for Working Parents

There are many elements to a good work-life balance, and as many corresponding employee retention strategies. However, one of the best methods of improving work-life balance is to build a business that supports working parents

With the stay-at-home/breadwinner model of parenting and employment disappearing, many companies are looking to better retain working parents. Patagonia, however, has been quietly improving the lives of working parents for decades.

First, Patagonia offers generous parental leave that kicks in 9 months after hiring, meaning employees don’t have to delay any childrearing plans for the sake of their careers.  

For employees who already have children, Patagonia offers on-site child care centers that stand in stark contrast to many day-care centers. Staffed by teachers trained in childhood development, children spend much of their time learning outdoors, and the groups frequently take field trips. The accessibility of the child-care center allows parents stop in at their leisure, and many take the opportunity to eat lunch with their kids.

This isn’t just for small children. School-age kids have the option of taking a bus back to headquarters, where they can grab a snack and chat with their parents after school.

The commitment to working parents doesn’t stop at on-site child care either. Patagonia will pay for parents who have to travel to bring their partner or a nanny – easing the burden of work travel and the employee burnout it can cause.

Contrary to what it may seem, this quality of childcare is actually not prohibitively expensive. In the end, the cost to run this childcare facility only comes in at 0.005% of all selling, general, and administrative costs. The results are worth it.

Patagonia retains 100% of moms. Every single woman at Patagonia who has had children in the last five years (data from 2016) returned to work there. For comparison, the average rate in the US was 79%.

Creative Employee Retention Idea #6 – Hyatt Mixes Competition with Career Development and Training

As mundane as it is, boredom is a major reason why employees look elsewhere. The reason: they feel like their skills are stagnating.

People have a natural desire for growth, change, and personal development. It’s no surprise that  46% of employees cite ‘limited opportunities for learning new skills’ as the top reason why they are bored in their current roles (and looking for a change).

Anyone who has ever worked in a kitchen can tell you that it is a life of repetition, and yup, boredom). Hyatt knows this too, and to retain this hard-to-replace talent, they created “The Good Taste Series.”  It might not have the same ring as “The Great British Baking Show” or the punchiness of “Chopped,” but the principles are the same.

The details: kitchen staff compete in an internal culinary competition with local, regional, and national stages. During the program, the chefs are challenged to push their skills to the limit and create new, exciting, and delicious dishes for a panel of unbiased judges.

The program is open to any kitchen staff with the talent to make it, and many do.

The reward for the winner: An extra week of vacation, two airline tickets, and a free stay at any Hyatt in the Americas.

The result for Hyatt: a 10% reduction in overall kitchen turnover across 130 full-service hotels throughout the Americas. The competition also reveals promising and upcoming talent and drive. In the first year of the Good Taste Series, 6 of the 12 finalists received promotions.  

We love this employee retention strategy for a number of reasons, but most of them are pretty obvious. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it works really well. But in implementing this strategy, Hyatt shows that they recognized the occasional need for different retention strategies for different departments or positions. Turnover of hotel kitchen staff and skilled chefs was a problem, so Hyatt gave them a way to develop their skills and stave off the traditional boredom.

Creative Employee Retention Idea #7 – Draper Boosts Retention with Overhauled Healthcare

With high healthcare costs giving Americans anxiety, health and wellness benefits are incredibly important for employee retention. In fact, health benefits are one of the major reasons why employees stay in their jobs.

Enter Draper Inc, of Spiceland, Indiana – a small manufacturing business that’s at the forefront of employee health and wellness.

Draper’s commitment to employee health started in 2006, with the creation of their own on-site clinic. Draper partnered with a local hospital, Henry County Memorial Hospital, to provide staff for the clinic, and allow all their employees to receive basic healthcare there. For a minimal co-pay, staff can even bring in their families for care and check-ups.

Draper has also enthusiastically adopted health initiatives. Their efforts to reduce smoking with education and free nicotine addiction medication were met with resounding success. Likewise, their initiatives to improve health have been paying off. Drapers workforce has lost over 3,000 lbs collectively, and their efforts to improve diet and exercise have also seen blood pressure and high cholesterol incidents drop by approximately 33%.

At Draper, employee wellness is an ongoing, yet rewarding pursuit. Lisa Brinson, Draper’s Safety and Wellness Director sums it up nicely: “We have gone from raising awareness to helping employees understand the stressors that drive them to unhealthy habits—and giving them tools to succeed.”

Beyond the benefits from a naturally healthier workforce (fewer missed days, more productive employees, better morale), Draper’s employee wellness practices highlight how much they truly care for their employees. When it comes to employee retention, that’s what shines through every time.


As you can tell, there are a wide variety of approaches to tackling employee turnover and boosting retention. Any aspect of the employee experience that can be improved is an opportunity to improve retention rate. Work-life balance, company culture, career development, salary, and more are all excellent places to begin.

However, the best employee retention ideas however, do have one thing that unites them: they are created to maximize employee wellbeing and are put into practice by business owners who are truly dedicated to their employees. If you have those two elements right, whichever employee retention idea you’ve chosen to use will likely be a successful one.

Download 401(k) Employee engagement eBook
Top strategies to boost participation, pass non-discrimination tests and make your 401(k).
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Evan Ross
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1 Schwab 2022 401(k) Participant Study - Gen Z/Millenial Focus, October 2022.
2 As of 12/31/2022. Employees include both current employees and terminated participants with a balance.
3 "Morgan Stanley At Work: The Value of a Financial Advisor" Morgan Stanley, March 2022.
4 Sarah Britton was a client when she provided this testimonial through an independent third party review website. She received no compensation for her remarks. There are no known conflicts of interest in the provision of her comments related to the services provided.