Contrary to popular belief, hiring is not the biggest challenge faced by today’s small businesses.

Believe it or not, despite the tight job market, employee retention is the primary struggle that hinders most small businesses from achieving their full potential and keeping their enterprise afloat.

In fact, according to a post from WORKEST by Zenefits, new research states that 63% of more than 600 U.S. businesses with 50 to 500 employees claim that retaining employees is actually harder than hiring them.

Similarly, Lewer Benefit Group states that 64% of today’s workers are regularly job-hopping. The same post references a new survey from staffing firm Robert Half and a report by the Gallup Institute:

“Twenty one percent of millennials, the largest segment of the workforce, say they’ve changed jobs within the past year.”

Employee turnover, as defined by Workful, is “the percentage of workers who leave a company and are replaced by new hires during a specified time.”

Why is reducing employee turnover so important?

The same post from Workful provides some compelling reasons:

●      It costs a lot of time and money

●      It affects morale

●      It causes a loss of productivity and performance

●      It changes the team dynamic

WORKEST by Zenefits adds two other significant impacts that employee turnover can have on a small business, namely delays to customer projects and/or services and legal and/or human resources (HR) ramifications.

All these and more translate to lost business opportunities and revenue.

It’s even more difficult for small businesses as losing one client when they only have a handful can result in devastating consequences.

This begs the question: how can small businesses reduce employee turnover rates?

How Argentine Tango Helps With Employee Retention

There are many ways a small business can prevent high employee turnover rates. Various sources suggest implementing several changes to the workplace such as giving employees better incentives or benefits, improving communications and overall office culture, and revamping management strategies. But, how does one bring about these changes in a creative and engaging manner without inadvertently lapsing back into conventional “corporate-isms” that tend to drive workers away, especially younger employees?

One may find it an offbeat suggestion, but Argentine tango can actually help in this regard. This is not exactly to suggest that one should enroll their whole office in a tango class, although they would be served well by such an activity. What is simply being suggested here is to approach employee turnover reduction strategies with the principles of Argentine tango in mind.

For one, some of the fundamental principles of Argentine tango involve communication, leading and following, flexibility and adaptability, and exercising mutual respect — all of which are essential in making employees and the entire workplace thrive.

Here is how the principles of Argentine tango can be used as a guidepost to reducing employee turnover rates:

Adapt and Improvise

Improvisation is one of the most indispensable principles of Argentine tango. Leaders and followers of the dance don’t follow a choreographed sequence, but instead allow themselves to be led by the music and the feeling it invokes. Rigidity and memorization are anathema to Argentine tango as these take away the meaningful and creative collaboration between both dancers, replacing it with something routine and canned.

In the workplace, failing to adapt and improvise to the changing times can drive employees to seek better opportunities elsewhere as conventional corporate setups tend to rely on methods that have become passé.

A post from Tiny Pulse provides a fitting explanation: “Many workers are frustrated with a corporate culture filled with non-stop meetings that leave them feeling drained or like they’re not doing anything meaningful. Some may call it idealism, but if an employer doesn’t offer a more holistic job opportunity that clearly shows workers how their daily activities are making an impact, they may look elsewhere.”

With management exercising adaptability and the willingness to improvise, employees may feel more valued and find more meaning in their work since they’re given the chance to collaborate and not merely follow.

A post from Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row brings together the concept of improvisation in the workplace and in Argentine tango: “Perhaps the most striking part of the tango was the flexibility afforded to the woman dancer.”

“Our tango lead provided direction and a framework that allowed her to improvise. Steps, kicks, flourishes, twists, and turns. She was the show. He gave her the space to explore her creativity and develop beauty. Too often, this element of leadership is missing.”

“Sometimes, we as leaders create a framework that’s too tight. It confines creativity in the workplace. Instead, insightful leaders create space like the tango. There’s an openness to new ideas, new processes, and procedures. Staff are encouraged to develop their creativity and show off their highest skills. The creativity of the staff can be the showpiece under a wise leader.”

By being allowed to contribute and have an impact on the business, as well as outside of it, employees are more likely to stay with the business.

Improve Communications

Communication in Argentine tango is not exactly vocal. Rather, it is more intuitive and based on action. However…

Many people do not realize how important intuition is when it comes to communication in the workplace.

According to a post from World Economic Forum, “Intuition goes hand in hand with communication. Being mindful from the outset, setting good foundations, and practicing prepare you to make decisions and act intuitively. Mastering the basics gives you the tools to improvise.”

Furthermore, a post from Andrew Scott "Tango and Leadership" explains the role of intuitive communication as an important aspect of employee relations, not just leadership: “[...] it is possible to project your intention by the smallest of movements, inviting the other to respond, either as you expect, or possibly in an unexpected but creative way, contributing to the co-creation of the dance, in response to the music.

“We practiced the difference between leading a truly engaged follower, one who might push back, as opposed to a passive follower who merely did what was expected, and how much more creative the process was with the engaged follower.”

“Indeed the distinction between leader and follower often fell away, as both engaged in the co-creation of something that could not be choreographed in advance.”

As the saying goes, communication is a two-way street — whether that’s in dancing the Argentine tango or working in an office.

Sending a clear message to employees is vital in keeping them invested in the company.

According to Strategy+Business, inexperienced leaders “need more confidence that they are sending a clear signal that their followers would receive. Because they don’t trust that their followers will catch their lead, they move both parties along an unintended, inelegant path.”

Thus, without communication, employees will feel as though they are not being trusted by management, which will inevitably lessen their motivation to stay and work for the company.

Similarly, without communication, employees will not feel empowered and will assume that management simply expects them to follow rules and not contribute to the overall business process. Eventually, employees who feel that they have no vested interest in the business will seek workplaces with a more communicative culture.

Clearly Define Roles and Structure

Alongside communication, management must also provide clearly defined roles and structure.

While Argentine tango suggests practicing improvisation, that doesn’t mean the dance itself doesn’t have a semblance of structure or direction.

In fact, Work Tango describes tango as “a wonderfully complex and subtle dance, and to carry out such detailed movements and routines, it requires the utmost technique and structure. [...]

These techniques are equally valuable in the workplace. Good results take time and practice, and they are often the products of optimal balance and structure.

Structure is especially valuable within the workplace in the form of routines, whether it be a morning meeting to receive updates on the progress and plans of team members, a weekly planning sprint, or a continual feedback process.”

In the workplace, having routines and good working habits help define what an employee must accomplish within a day or within the duration of a project. If employees have neither direction nor a routine, an employee would be subject to doing all sorts of tasks even if it is beyond their expertise or sphere of knowledge.

Thus, they will not have a yardstick with which to measure accomplishments or milestones, thus lessening their job satisfaction. If employee retention is to be had, then employees must also operate within a reasonable structure and be given direction that clearly defines what they are supposed to accomplish in order to feel successful or satisfied in their work.

Exercise Mutual Respect

At the heart of employee retention is good management and reliable leadership. Aside from looking for employment that can offer better incentives, looking for an office with good management is one of the primary reasons employees leave a company. Conversely, many employees also tend to stay when they feel that management values and respects their work.

In tango, mutual respect is exercised.

As described by Work Tango, “Dancers have a formal way of asking each other to dance, by making eye contact across the room and then meeting in the middle of the dance floor. They treat each other with the utmost dignity and respect throughout the dance. [...]  It is governed by rules, and this gives the dancers the freedom of passion and expression. Within this framework of appreciation and respect, a beautiful, passionate dance can come to fruition.”

In the same manner, mutual respect must be exercised in the workplace.

According to Michele Wucker, “The essence of the Argentine tango lies in the intricate interplay of leader and follower, with each embracing a distinct role. And although learning the technical steps is an important part of the dance, the real challenge is psychological.”

“The leader must embrace the idea that the follower is not subservient, but an active collaborator. Followers, typically just as ambitious as leaders, have to learn to accept the lead for the dance to work. Both are essential, equal partners.”

By encouraging this culture of mutual respect, harmony, teamwork, and trust will easily come in the workplace.

Turning the Tide

Employee turnover is a costly and time-consuming occurrence, especially with small businesses.

One can reduce employee turnover rates by exercising the principles of Argentine tango when it comes to improving communications, adapting and improvising, clearly defining roles and structure, and exercising mutual respect in the office.

With these in place, a harmonious and creative working environment can be achieved, making it a win for both management and employees.

If you wish to learn Argentine Tango, we put our methodology in the book. You can reserve yours HERE.