Employees Heading for the Exits? Increase Retention Through Greater Engagement

"Businesses are suffering a staggeringly high quit rate," according to Gallup, a well-known trend analysis firm. A recent study by Gallup showed that nearly half of working Americans are actively searching for jobs or at least "watching for opportunities." Even if only a much smaller proportion of your employees are in that mode, you can't afford to wait and see what happens. It's time to get proactive.

First, what's at the root of this trend, which has been dubbed "the great resignation?" It's not all about pay, says Gallup. Indeed, many employers have been raising wages and offering "stay bonuses," yet the problem persists.

In some cases, offering higher wages backfires, triggering what Gallup calls the true root of the trend: employee discontentment. Depending on how it's handled, dramatic pay adjustments can cause existing employees to ask cynically, "If you could pay this much before, why didn't you?" Or, when they see how far you go to attract new hires, they might ask, "Why are you offering new employees so much more than I got?"

More Than a Paycheck

The common wisdom is that, during the worst of the pandemic, many workers began reflecting more on what's important in life, including having a job that energizes them. When a job is just a paycheck, employee engagement is limited. But engagement is what makes employees enthusiastic, productive and committed to their jobs — and to you.

How do you boost employee engagement? It takes more than flipping a switch. It takes time and a genuine commitment to support employees holistically, and to demonstrate to employees that you have made that commitment. As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) explains it, "Whereas engaged employees feel focused with a sense of urgency and concentrate on how they approach what they do, satisfied employees, in contrast, feel pleasant, content and gratified." The latter can wear off easily, just when you need employees to do their utmost to support the business.

Drivers of Engagement

The employee engagement recipe book features many ingredients, but you might not be able to throw them all into the mix immediately. Even so, you need to start somewhere. Indeed, you may have some of those components already at work. Here's a list of key "drivers" of employee engagement at the organizational level offered by SHRM:

Typically, what's more important to employee' engagement on a day-to-day basis is a set of more immediate concerns, including:

An underlying theme for maximizing employee engagement is sound communication, both formal and informal. Formal communication efforts include performance reviews, goal setting, training and employee surveys.

When these steps are rushed or poorly conceived, naturally their value is limited at best. Take the time to do them well.

Surveys and Other Approaches

Some employers use specialized employee engagement surveys. But their accuracy and employees' comfort level with answering them honestly could be affected by the size of your organization. The smaller the survey sample, the larger the margin of error.

Informal communication opportunities that help build employee engagement include mentoring, frequent performance feedback, conversations about career development, company social get-togethers and award programs.

Here are some other approaches to increasing engagement:

The list can go on and on. The bottom line is to do the best you can to create a work environment that inspires trust, confidence, pride and optimism for the future. Some turnover is inevitable, but when you maximize employee engagement, everybody wins and you're less apt to have a staffing crunch on your hands.

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