I recently wrote a post explaining why perks aren’t sufficient for employee engagement and long-term retention, and it got me thinking – then what is sufficient? What are reasons employees stay with a company? What really causes an employee to be engaged and dedicate many years of service to an organization?

As I was finishing up grad school a few years ago and searching for that perfect post-MBA job, I interviewed with a wide variety of companies across the country. One of my favorite sets of questions for my interviewers was, “How long have you been at your company?”, followed up with, “And why do you stay?”  I found that most hiring managers had been at their company between three and seven years, and they all gave answers about a good variety of work,  growth opportunities, or some kind of benefits.  In recent months, I learned that almost all of these hiring managers have since moved on to “greener pastures” at new companies.

After months of searching and more interviews than I care to remember, I found a job that looked promising.  The company was the right size, in the right industry, in the right area.  The variety of work, growth opportunities, and benefits all looked fairly positive, and I was looking for one last thing to finally tip the scales. As the interview process continued, I finally flew out for an on-site interview.  I met with my potential manager, answered a few more behavioral interview questions, and finished up by asking her my favorite questions.

“So how long have you been at the company?”

“Let me see… almost 25 years now.  Yeah, I guess it really has been that long.”

Stunned silence, as I thought to myself, “She’s been here since I was in diapers.”

Finally I managed to reply, “That’s quite the accomplishment.  I’ve got to know – what is it that has kept you here all these years?”

“I absolutely love the people I work with, and I love what I do.”

It was that simple.  She had built a strong connection with her team, and she was in a role that played to her strengths and allowed her to have a positive impact on the organization.  It had nothing to do with benefits or promotion schedule; it was about the people and the job.

A few years later I found myself looking for another job and began my interview process once again.  I found a position that looked interesting in a growing company and went in for a round of interviews.  This time I found that all of my interviewers had been at the company for a minimum of eight years, ranging all the way up to nineteen.  I was shocked, especially because this job was in the tech world of Silicon Valley where average tenure tends to land around four years. I asked each interviewer what was keeping him/her at the company.  And every single one of them responded similarly: “I love the people I work with, and I love what I do.”

The best strategies for long-term engagement and retention have very little to do with stock packages, perks, or bonuses, but much more to do with building connections and providing impact and meaning for employees.

Why are you staying with your current company? 

Engagement MAGIC Training

Train managers on how to build engaged teams. Empower employees to own and grow their engagement.