Broadly defined, employee engagement refers to the degree to which an employee’s emotional commitment focuses on the success of the organization for which they work. It becomes apparent when one looks at what employees have to say about their company, how strongly they take ownership for their roles, and how willing they are to “go the extra mile” in performing their work and in taking care of customers.
As we’ve moved through the recession, employee engagement (when focusing on the North American workforce) has dropped across nearly every area measured when comparing 2008 pre-recession levels of engagement. At one level, this is expected given the significant challenges we have faced; as persons and as members of the working community. Companies have had to streamline their operations to meet dynamic market challenges, reorganize staff and adjust performance expectations in a manner that has increased performance demands on employees. In addition, companies have often been forced to eliminate or cut back on programs that have focused on enhancing employee engagement (performance incentives, recognition programs, and coaching / career development programs to name a few).
While key market indicators have shown improvement in terms of GDP, market performance, corporate profitability and unemployment rates, comparable improvements in employee engagement have lagged. While the greater portion of the employee base indicates that they are more inclined to stay where they are in pursuit of job security, the group of employees marked as high-potential or high-performing are showing an increasing willingness to explore new opportunities. And if these opportunities do not exist with their current employer, they are now more willing to look elsewhere.
So what can companies do to retain their top talent? The five areas that stand out as most important in shaping employee engagement are: Career Opportunities, Recognition, Organizational Reputation, Communication Practices, and Managing Performance. With a little thought and creativity it is easy to touch on each of these areas and promote improved engagement levels in a very cost-effective manner.
Career Opportunities – Although near-term advancement opportunities may be limited due to organizational goals of controlling costs, keeping employees fully informed of the company’s strategies for moving forward. This can provide a sense that they are contributing to current successes and that future opportunities will emerge.
Recognition – We cannot overlook the effectiveness of recognizing individual employee contributions through such informal channels as a unit-wide email or acknowledgement in front of their peers in a weekly group meeting. There is no better way to motivate someone to go the extra mile than to publically recognize the simple things they do and recognize them in the simplest of ways.
Organizational Reputation – As the company recognizes the successes of its employees, it should take opportunity to broadcast its own successes. It is human nature to want to back a winner and to be a member of the winning team – even if that team is currently taking its lumps.
Communications Practices – Three areas are critical here: corporate-level communications on topics that impact all employees, Manager/Employee communications associated with individual employee performance (Managing Performance), and communications associated with enabling employees to have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs better and to be more successful. Honestly evaluate your performance as a leader in this area and work to continuously improve your company’s effectiveness in managing communications, both UP and DOWN the chain. From an engagement perspective, all of us function best in an environment where communications are clear, objective, open, honest, and relevant.
Managers should continue to be actively engaged with each of their direct reports: insuring they have the resources and knowledge to perform their current roles, recognizing their concerns and ideas for success, and insuring that they receive guidance adequate toward equipping them to be more successful. Otherwise we risk losing those that are most able to contribute to our ongoing success.
If you are interested in hearing more about employee engagement and retention strategies, join Career Partners International for our upcoming web seminar Let the War Begin: Winning Strategies to Retain Top Talent. Register now for this July 12th webinar.