3 Simple Strategies to Improve Executive Retention - Senior Executive
Human Resources 5 min

3 Simple Strategies to Improve Executive Retention

If you’re a board director, shareholder or a decision maker of another stripe, consider these three tips to salvage what’s left of your executive team.

by Scott Poniewaz on August 12, 2022

Nothing shakes up a company quite like the departure of one of its top executives, and these days, it’s happening more and more. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, CEO exits were up 29% compared to the same quarter in the previous year, and a recent Deloitte survey found that nearly 70% of C-suite executives are “seriously considering quitting,” and it’s easy to understand why. 

As leaders burn out in the face of unprecedented pressures, rapid change and a looming recession, chief people officers and HR directors can attest to how costly replacing a top executive can be—according to one analysis by the Harvard Business Review, “the amount of market value wiped out by badly managed CEO and C-suite transitions in the S&P 1500 is close to $1 trillion a year.”

Instead of searching for your next CEO, you’d be wise to search for remedies that keep top-performing leaders from departing too quickly. If you’re a board director, shareholder or a decision maker of another stripe, consider these three tips to salvage what’s left of your executive team.

1. Allow for (or Mandate) Remote Work

There’s been a lot of hemming and hawing about the pros and cons of remote work, especially among CEOs. You might recall last spring when WeWork’s CEO Sandeep Mathrani quipped that only the “least engaged employees” didn’t want to return to the office. Ultimately, Mathrani apologized after his comments sparked outrage and others were quick to point out WeWork’s financial interests in employees returning to a physical office.

While there might be some instances where getting a group of employees together in person would be more conducive than a video call, on the whole, remote work can’t be beat. The flexibility and balance it brings simply do not compare to commuting to and working from an office for eight hours a day. According to a recent report by McKinsey & Co., “87% of workers offered at least some remote work embrace the opportunity and spend an average of three days a week working from home.”

Although they might not always seem like it, since they’re technically “the boss,” CEOs are workers, too, and they’re not immune from burnout and work-life imbalances. While remote work doesn’t miraculously cure these issues, the flexibility that remote work provides is unmatched and is key to improving executive retention.

“Instead of searching for your next CEO, you’d be wise to search for remedies that keep top-performing leaders from departing too quickly.”

Scott Poniewaz

– Scott Poniewaz


2. Require Vacations

It’s been pretty well established that most executives aren’t the greatest at taking planned vacations. In 2015, it was reported that Whole Foods’ then-CEO had accrued over a year’s worth of paid time off or 2,703 hours. In 2022, this toxic trait has seeped into the rest of the workforce, mostly as a reaction to the pandemic, and some companies are responding by making vacations mandatory.

The physical and mental health benefits of taking a vacation are well-documented. Not to mention, it can bring a renewed sense of purpose and determination to complete the job at hand. But if these aren’t reasons enough to convince your CEO to book a flight and fully disconnect, consider implementing a mandatory vacation policy that goes all the way to the top.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: It’s one thing to require employees to take a vacation, but how exactly do you mandate vacations to the folks ostensibly in charge of enforcing policies? A few ways. You could consider setting aside a week once a year for the entire company to check out—something that’s becoming increasingly popular these days—or you might consider folding in a travel stipend to the executive’s benefits package.

If they still won’t budge, you can always send them on a bleisure trip—that way, they might accidentally relax in between meetings.

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3. Surprise and Delight

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: CEOs are workers, too, and everyone likes to feel appreciated for their efforts every once in a while. When it comes to gifts, think outside the box of floral arrangements and “World’s Best Boss” mugs. Instead, consider how you can surprise and delight your executives, both inside and outside the office.

Think exclusive experiences, such as surf lessons or wine tastings, that encourage them to unplug and connect with loved ones, or health and wellness subscriptions, such as meal kits or spa memberships, to give them a chance to focus on themselves. And if you are able to convince them to take that vacation, consider upgrading their accommodations or gifting them a lounge pass for their preferred airline to make traveling less stressful—perhaps increasing the chance they’ll take another vacation in the future.

Executive Retention Starts Now

Whether you’re convinced your executives would never dream of leaving the company or you suspect some might already be interviewing elsewhere, there’s no sense in waiting. In order to retain your C-suite—or, worst case, attract their successors—you must act now. Implement an executive retention plan today, or begin the costly search for their replacement tomorrow.

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