Employee Engagement and Retention

Employee Engagement and Retention

Your best “recruiting” tool

In 2014 I wrote an article about employee engagement and retention. At the time we were still coming out of the recession and the mindset of many leaders was, “Why actively work on employee retention? Employees should feel lucky to have a job.” Fast forward to 2018 and oh how times have changed!

Low unemployment and an employee’s job market has those very same leaders scrambling to find talent. If only they’d had a different mindset and invested in their employees and their employee’s job satisfaction four years ago. They would have been working toward that phrase most employers desire – becoming an Employer of Choice. Instead, they would have fewer positions to fill and likely they would have a pipeline of talent from which to hire.

A Watson Wyatt Survey from a few years ago showed that 50% of companies have no formal retention strategy. Now is the time to develop a formal strategy so you don’t find yourself regretting not having taken action another four years from now.

Actionable Employee Engagement and Retention Practices

There are several actions you can take to put your regret into action:

Recruiting, Hiring and Corporate Values. As Julie Andrews said in the Sound of Music – “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Employee retention begins at the interview. Before the interview, be clear on the behaviors your organization values. I was talking to an executive of a successful company recently about recruiting. She said she would rather leave a position vacant than hire the wrong person. If you hire someone that doesn’t align/buy into those values, they will not stick around either by their choice or yours. So be sure to prepare questions that center around the key behaviors you need at your company.

Opportunistic Hiring. Okay, this isn’t really a retention strategy but it’s a solid strategy to consider when hiring. In your business travels, you likely interact with a lot of different people and you will occasionally have the good fortune to meet someone who is just a Rockstar. They have high emotional intelligence, share your values, have good business acumen and strong technical skills. They would be a dream to hire but you don’t have a position open. I would challenge that you can’t afford NOT to hire them! I’ve had the good fortune of doing this a couple of times and have not regretted it. Its been nothing but a win for our firm.

Onboarding. Employees are typically excited when they start a new job and want to put their best foot forward. But what if their computer isn’t set up or the training they receive is sitting in front a computer by themselves for hours? Think about it. Would this motivate you? Of course not. It’s time to take a close look at your employee onboarding process.

  • Keep in touch. When an employee accepts an offer of employment and is scheduled to start in one month its wise to stay in touch. Send a card welcoming them. Send emails periodically, “Hi Sue we’ve ordered your business cards and cannot wait for you join us.” Have a future colleague send them an email welcoming them. This may seem like a lot of effort but in this difficult hiring climate candidates are likely getting multiple job offers so it’s critical to differentiate your company from the rest. This will help reinforce for the new employee, that they have made the right decision to join your organization.
  • Be ready for them. There is nothing worse than being really excited to start a new job only to find your chair has not been ordered, your computer is not set up and oops, your manager forgot to tell HR you’ve been hired. I’ve certainly seen this – and worse – had it happen. Not being ready for a new hire will make them wonder if they made the right decision joining your company. It will also drain their enthusiasm for the job.
  • Follow up. Hiring them and putting them through training is not enough. Check in with them at 30/60/90/6 months and ask open-ended questions about their experience. “How can we improve the hiring and training process?” “What do you need to be more productive?” “What surprised you when you started here?” These are just a few examples of impactful questions you can ask.

One size does not fit all. Many employers I’ve spoken with think the key to employee engagement and retention is pay raises and bonuses. While this may motivate some employees, my experience has shown that this will not be the motivator for your entire workforce. When we begin developing an employee retention and engagement project with our clients we start by speaking with employees individually and asking them a series of questions to better understand their perspective on the workplace. Is the job what you expected? Tell me about communication with your supervisor, department, company-wide. You get the idea. Then we ask, what motivates you at work? How do you like to be recognized for your work? What do you see for your career path here? You can certainly ask these and other questions yourself. We have found that clients who hire an outside firm to conduct these employee meetings get more comprehensive results. The reason is employees are sometimes fearful that if they are honest it will in some way reflect poorly on them and put their job in jeopardy.

I need to feel XYZ. IMR researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 workers throughout the United States and found that the key drivers of employee retention include how they feel. Here are a few feelings IMR discovered were important to employees:

  • Feeling empowered to make decisions
  • Trust between management and employees
  • Opportunities for professional development
  • Active encouragement of creativity

Managers. An employee’s departure sometimes stems from their relationship with their manager. Ensuring that your managers have the training and support to be effective in their role is essential. We often conduct sessions around effective communication, coaching and mentoring, dealing with conflict in the workplace and more. Think about those employees in a supervisor/management position in your organization. Did you promote them to a manager because they excelled in their pre-management role? Now how many of you gave these individuals the training and support to be successful in this new role? Effective managers can keep teams motivated which helps with employee retention.

Career path. According to Jack Wiley, executive director of Kenexa Research Institute, “People have a fundamental need to know how they are doing and what the future holds for them. It’s simply part of who we are. Organizations that understand this and have the process in place to make it happen to have an advantage over their competitors. Not only are they going to outperform their competitors, but they are building a more engaged and committed workforce.”

In my 2014 article on this topic I wrote, “While the benefits of an employee engagement and retention initiative do not occur overnight, if you implement such a program now, just imagine how much better positioned your company will be over that of your competitors when the economy turns around.” So, let’s not have this same discussion about implementing an employee retention program in another four years. Please share with me the steps you have taken to actively implement employee retention practices in your workplace.