It's contract season in schools which means teachers will soon decide whether or not to return to their school district next year. Most staff members will stay, while some will choose to leave.
There are many theories on how to limit employee turnover. The most common explanation is to increase employee compensation. "If we pay our staff more money they will stay!" is a common hypothesis.
Certainly, more money never hurts. However, in the world of education where salaries are fairly consistent across districts I don't buy this theory. A recent study cited in It's the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter suggests, "A competitor needs to pay an employee over 20% more to get them to switch jobs if that employee is engaged. If an employee is disengaged, they will leave for almost any increase in salary."
If employee engagement is more important than employee salary, how can school leadership improve staff engagement?
According to Big Potential by Shawn Achor, providing positive feedback is one of the best ways to keep employees around: "If employees receive four or more "touchpoints" of praise or positive feedback in a quarter, their retention rates increase to 96 percent over the next year (compared to 80 percent without)."
Furthermore, according to The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, "When employees are asked to rank factors that motivate, one factor was always at the top - “full appreciation of work done”. However, more than 80% of supervisors claim they frequently express appreciation to their employees, while less than 20% of employees report that their supervisors express appreciation more than occasionally."
I remember when I was an Assistant Principal we lost one of our best teachers to another school. As I explored their reasons for leaving, this teacher revealed they never felt like they were appreciated. They said they rarely received positive feedback from school leadership, leading them to question their ability and believe they weren't a good teacher.
Alternately, this teacher admitted their new school made them feel special. During the interview process they felt a level of enthusiasm about their teaching abilities they had not felt in our school. They confessed they felt better about themselves during the two weeks they were courted for their new position than they had during their entire time in our building.
I was devastated. How could I have not taken two minutes to let this teacher know they were doing a fantastic job? I will never forget losing this outstanding employee to another building because I failed to provide positive feedback.
The next time your school district discusses how to keep teachers from leaving, don't begin with increased compensation. Rather, discuss how you are being intentional about telling teachers they are doing a good job.
A single piece of authentic, positive feedback could be the difference between a teacher returning their contract or leaving for another district.
Looking for another good book discussing the importance of positive feedback? Consider reading The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.