IR Employee Motivation and Retention

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. If you are interested in writing an eAIR article, or have an interesting topic, please contact  

This month’s question is answered by Dale Amburgey, Assistant Director, Institutional Research, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Subscribers are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

Dear Dale: I have recently been promoted to IR director at my institution, and have several IR Analysts who now work for me. Can you provide some guidance on retaining and motivating these employees?

Congratulations on your recent promotion!  Employee retention and motivation are a critical component of any institutional research office. Many times, these issues are not a priority as individuals start their directorship. However, retention and motivation are concerns that all levels of leadership will eventually encounter, and the sooner you understand what motivates your staff, the sooner you will benefit from lower turnover and increased productivity.

There have been numerous studies on the cost of replacing an employee, with some of the more conservative estimates being between six to nine months of the position’s salary. And that just represents a monetary estimate of filling a position and does not include the social impact of employee attrition. Think about the amount of time employees may spend pontificating why someone left the department and the rumors that may arise from such conversations. Simply put, employee turnover can have more serious consequences than budgetary implications.

Inherently, one of the first ideas a manager may have to retain an employee or improve their morale is to increase the employee’s salary. Unfortunately, most of us live in a world where budgets are encumbered, and the funds are not available to make such adjustments. However, here are a few ideas that may improve the work life of your employees without causing a budgetary catastrophe.

Provide opportunities to work on projects outside the normal scope of the employee’s work. Our work responsibilities can become repetitive.  If an employee is consistently performing the same analysis or attending a meeting with the same group, it is natural to experience feelings of boredom and frustration over time. However, if you can provide opportunities for your employees to work on a project outside of their normal scope of responsibilities, this may provide an escape from their day-to-day routine. Further, it may provide an opportunity for the employee to develop a new skill set or network with new colleagues.  

Schedule quarterly reviews of goals and objectives. Most organizations mandate a yearly performance review process of their employees to measure achievement of goals and objectives. Often, goals are set and not reviewed again until just prior to the annual review. By setting up quarterly reviews of the employee’s goals and objectives, you can periodically measure progress and relevancy. Further, you can address any issues that may arise much earlier in the process and reduce any negative impacts that may have resulted.

Quarterly meetings also allow you to realign your department and individual goals back to the ever-changing landscape of the organization, and staff who are connected to the overall institutional goals will feel more dedicated to reaching goals. 

These quarterly meetings are a great time to celebrate the successes the employee has achieved to date. Often, we spend too much time focusing on what has not gone according to plan and forget to celebrate the successes that have been achieved.

Make the workplace fun. I cannot stress enough the importance of fun in the workplace. Whether it is a themed pot luck in your department or an after-work movie night, the social interactions amongst your employees help develop stronger professional relationships. In addition, when humor is used appropriately, it can lead to improved employee morale and participation. More so, numerous research studies support the theory that happier workplaces are more productive and have less staff turnover. 

Practice succession planning. No employee stays forever. Given this fact, one would assume that succession planning would gain greater attention, but it usually remains a last minute, hastily addressed topic. When an employee leaves, there will be a social loss that their colleagues will experience. The fact that the departing employee’s responsibilities will now have to be divided among those left behind compounds those feelings and may be detrimental to employee morale.

A key to good succession planning is to have well-documented business processes. I have been in situations where an office spends the departing employee’s last two weeks scrambling to determine how a process needs to be completed and who will assume the responsibility. Succession planning addresses these topics in advance and greatly reduces uncertainty.  More importantly, good succession planning aids in the departure of one employee and the onboarding of their replacement. Smooth transitions positively affect employee morale.

Offer ways to be flexible         

We all face challenges in maintaining a balance between our personal and professional lives. No matter the magnitude of these challenges, they can have a significant impact on employee morale and turnover. However, if you are able to provide flexibility to your employees regarding their work responsibilities, you may be able to take steps to retain an employee who might have left. Flexibility may be in the form of working modified hours that would let the employee start earlier or work later to meet external obligations, allowing an employee to work remotely some days, or reclassifying a position from location-based to telework. 

These are just a few suggestions of what you can do personally to assist with building employee morale and reducing turnover.  Keep in mind that most Human Resources offices have staff training and development resources for you to use, and these are often available at little or no cost to your budget. 



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