Updated: Jul 12
Talent has always been hard to find, but lately, it’s gotten worse. Thanks to the Great Resignation, coupled with the lowest unemployment numbers in fifty years, employers are searching high and low for new people to replace the employees who quit to take new jobs. This scarcity of talent has prevented businesses from growing quickly and has, in large part, slowed economic recovery from the pandemic. And the emphasis on replacing people has kept attention from the real fix to this situation – keeping the talent we already had.
The employees you have right now are good, talented people. More than that, they know your business. They are your institutional memory. They’ve been through changes and developments with your company, and they know how things work and why they work that way
Bringing in new talent is good. New hires bring new ideas and perspectives. But your seasoned employees are your team's backbone. Bringing the two together is a recipe for business success.
If you’ve ever been a Girl Scout or even been camping, you may have heard this song:
“Make new friends but keep the old
One is silver and the other is gold”
This song applies to our current staffing situation – new employees are good, but keeping your seasoned employees is great.
So how do you keep your seasoned employees? Two words – employee engagement.
Employee Engagement: More than Just a Catch Phrase
You’ll hear the term “employee engagement” tossed around a lot, but what does it mean? Is it just not making your employees hate working for you? Does that mean keeping employees happy? Or is it just some kind of ‘business speak”, essentially meaningless words?
Employee engagement is a popular phrase right now, but it’s more than just a trendy catchphrase. Employee engagement means that your employees are committed to the success of your company and that they’re emotionally invested in your success because they want themselves to succeed.
If this sounds a little crazy, think of the traditional way we look at work. Traditionally, we think of the relationship between employees and employers as hostile – mean boss clashes with lazy employees.
In the traditional way of doing things, employers resent offering employees bonuses and extra pay and employees are always trying to dodge work and extra responsibility. Employee engagement puts all of that on its head. Employees engage when they stop looking at work as a necessary evil and start looking at work from a positive point of view. Employees who see their jobs and their work in a positive way will work harder and look for ways to improve their working environment and overall company performance. Engaged employees do this because it matters to them that their employers succeed.
Benefits of Employee Engagement
Companies are in business to make money, and their primary motivation is profit rather than the satisfaction of their employees. But just because companies are profit-driven doesn’t mean employees have to be miserable. In fact, happy employees become committed and invested in their company’s success. This makes them better employees, even more than their paychecks (although compensation is still important).
When an employee is fully engaged, they’ll work more and call out less – over 40% less, and they’ll be 17% more productive. They’re also less likely to leave the company over a five-year period. Keeping employees happy is good for business, and you don’t have to be a business genius to see that having everybody on the same team, and working toward the same goal together is good for the bottom line. But how do you get there?
How to Engage Your Employees
Employees will commit if their employers give them a reason to commit. When it comes to commitment, talk is cheap, and action is everything. In other words, companies have to give their employees a reason to commit to get the advantages of employee engagement. Employers have to demonstrate their willingness to commit to their employees by developing a culture of engagement.
Develop a Culture of Engagement
Employee engagement isn’t “plug and play”. It’s not a benefit you can just roll out to your employees. A company has to start by reaching out to its employees, setting the tone, and creating a structure for them to follow.
Taking the first step toward developing a culture of engagement can be a little confusing. So here are some ideas to get you started.
Develop your Employees
One of the most frustrating aspects of work is the belief that there’s no room for advancement. When employees don’t have the opportunity to develop new skills and move into new roles, they feel stuck in neutral and they’re more likely to leave. A lack of career development is one of the top reasons employees give for changing jobs, with thirty percent of employees citing a lack of career development as the main reason for changing jobs.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Developing your employees is not only a good way to increase employee engagement, but it’s also one of the best ways to address your difficulties with your talent search. If you have a good track record of developing and promoting your employees, you will become a more attractive employer.
Find out what your employees want to do, and find ways for them to do it. Consider developing an interdepartmental cross-training program (this will not only help develop your employees, but it will also give you employee backup in case someone has to be out at an inconvenient time). Another way to increase your retention is to offer tuition reimbursement, compensating your employees who invest in their education. If you already offer tuition reimbursement, now would be a great time to promote this benefit, as tuition reimbursement has been shown to increase retention by up to 40%.
Remember Your Internal Talent Pool
It’s easy to forget that you have an internal talent pool. Every company does it – they miss the forest for the trees. You have talented employees who are driven to advance in their jobs and their careers. It’s important to not forget about them. One of the simplest and most effective things your company can do is to limit applications for new positions to current employees for one to two weeks before you advertise them to the public. When you look internally, you are showing that you value and appreciate the talents and experience of your employees, which will lower your turnover.
A Culture of Engagement Starts with Recognition
Another common reason employees change jobs is a lack of recognition. Employees get paid, of course, and get benefits like paid time off and perhaps they even get bonuses. Those are great, but they’re rather impersonal.
Everyone gets paid, everyone has benefits, and many employees get bonuses. You have to look at and recognize individual employees for it to have an impact.
Recognizing employees doesn’t have to be a huge, grand gesture - the small, personal gestures are often more appreciated.
When an employee has gone above and beyond, be sure to mention it. Send an e-mail to your team, or even the whole company. You should mention the accomplishment without going into too many details. Something like, “Carol found a new way to streamline billing, which will allow the company to collect revenues in half the time.” A thank you card, lunch with a manager, or even a free half-day off is a great way to show your appreciation for a job well done. And the effect of your recognition will have an impact on the whole team – they’ll see someone who was recognized, and they’ll be more motivated to get recognized as well. That’s human nature!
Empower your Employees to Recognize their Peers
Recognition doesn’t have to be limited to management. Give your employees tools to recognize and reward each other. For instance, you could allow each employee to nominate a co-worker of the month for a free lunch, gas card, or other prizes. Your team could vote on which team member was the strongest contributor of the month, quarter, or year and have a rotating award that sits on the desk of the employee who won. Implementing a peer recognition program will encourage your employees to work together and to feel part of their team without a huge investment from the company. And when your employees see that other people are noticing what they do, they’ll be motivated to work harder and smarter.
It’s difficult to come up with a more frustrating situation at work than having to wonder how you’re doing unless it’s hearing at your annual review that there’s something you’ve needed to improve for months only no one told you.
Leaving your employees in the dark will not only alienate and anger them, but it’s also ultimately self-defeating. The best way to improve employee performance is to give feedback. Ideally, you’ll give your employee more positive feedback than negative, but anything is better than surprising someone at their annual review.
Expand Your Benefit Offerings
Benefits are an important part of an employee’s compensation package, but you don’t have to be limited to traditional offerings of medical, dental, and retirement. Non-traditional benefits such as on-site massages, financial planning assistance, charitable matches, and even pet insurance can make a huge difference in encouraging employee engagement. It’s a great way to show your employees that you care about them.
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The Challenges of Engaging Remote Employees
There are a lot of advantages to working remotely, but there are also some obstacles as well, particularly when it comes to employee engagement. It’s easy to feel isolated from your team when you work remotely. Worse, it’s easy to forget your remote employees. All of the employee engagement ideas we’ve gone over so far will work with your remote teammates, but there are some extra steps you can take to make sure that your remote employees feel seen, heard, and appreciated.
Be sure to keep everybody in the loop. That means that your whole team, including the teammates who don’t come to the office every day. If you’re soliciting ideas and opinions, make sure to include everybody. And when it comes to remote meetings, remind your team that it’s easy to inadvertently talk over someone.
Provide a Space for Coffee Breaks and Water Cooler Chats
A team is built through more than just shared projects. People bond over shared conversation, small jokes, and even (mild, lighthearted) office gossip. Just because some of your teammates work remotely doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included.
Make sure that all of your employees, even those who aren’t in the office, have a place where they can share their thoughts and ideas. Whether that space is created and hosted internally or you use an outside provider, like Slack, Asana, or another platform, your team will perform better when communication is easier.
Have Remote Team Building Activities
Realistically speaking, your remote employees may not come to the office so they can participate in an office potluck or a team scavenger hunt. But there are other team-building activities that employees can participate in from a remote location.
For example, they could participate in team trivia or Pictionary. You could include them in your team pizza party by having a pizza sent to their location (this also works well with donuts and coffee for an early morning meeting). You could have a Silly Hat contest. You could even solve a murder mystery remotely as a team. Anything you do as a team that can be adapted to include remote employees should include them.
Employee engagement is powerful, but it’s also fragile. It’s not enough to simply do a few things occasionally for your people, employee engagement is an ongoing project. Fortunately, once you build up your employees they will help with the burden, reaching out to their teammates, working together, and telling you what your people need. If you commit to your employees, they will respond to you. Remember, employee engagement is a cooperative arrangement in which everybody wins.
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