Many business executives are missing the boat when it comes to their organization’s human capital. The mantra, “Our people are our most important resources,” is often touted, yet seldom acted upon. With unemployment rates steadily declining1, organizations are beginning to find that their best people are looking to the job market for new opportunities. Now more than ever, leaders need to put their words into action and demonstrate that their employees are vital to their organizations.
Why do top employees decide to leave their company? Top talent know their value and actively seek opportunities at organizations that appreciate them and their unique capabilities. Losing essential employees weakens bench strength which limits the pool of potential successors for key positions.2 In order to stay afloat in a competitive market, it is critical to keep a close hold on your company’s most skilled and high-potential employees.
A critical factor that plays a role in retention is employee engagement, not to be confused with employee satisfaction – which simply refers to employees’ contentment with their job and work environment.3 Employee engagement combines satisfaction with attitude and level of involvement. Employees generally fall under one of the following three levels of engagement: 4
- Engaged: employee is involved and enthusiastic about one’s work, feels a strong sense of commitment to the company, and believes their work contributes to the organization’s success
- Not engaged: employee lacks passion about one’s work and goes about daily functioning of the job demands with a “checked-out” attitude
- Actively disengaged: beyond dissatisfied to the point of deviant workplace behavior as an act of defiance; may be due to perceived inequity
While the state of engagement in the US workforce has begun to move in a positive direction, the majority of the population is either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” (see Figure below).
Source: Gallup Poll of U.S. Working Population, January–December 2013 (n=85,572)
While a good salary and benefits may have attracted your employees in the first place, rewards aren’t sufficient to drive performance and keep them engaged. The most important factors are the following:
- Autonomy 4
- Growth/Mastery 3 4
- Purpose 4
- Recognition 3
- Trust 3
With this in mind, here are some suggestions about how to create a culture of engagement to retain top talent: 6
- Treat employees as assets, not expendables.
Employees want to feel as if the work they are doing is important to the mission of the company and the company feels committed to them as well. Ensure their contributions are acknowledged so they believe they make a difference to the organization.
- Be clear about company expectations and goals.
Your employees can’t read your mind – set clear standards so there is no confusion about what is expected of them.
- Foster an open and honest work environment.
Communication is key. Provide feedback on employees’ work so they know you have expended time and effort towards their development. Seek their input, and receptively listen to their ideas. Top talent appreciates when their opinion is heard.
- Provide growth opportunities.
A typical component of the work experience that leads to disengagement is monotony. Challenge your employees with unique and stimulating work so they learn and grow. Focus efforts on developmental opportunities that strengthen their skillset and aligns with their passion and interests.
- Recognize achievement.
As mentioned above, extrinsic motivators are not enough to keep employees motivated. People want to know that their work has been acknowledged. A simple “Great job!” goes a long way. Make your employees feel appreciated, respected, and valued.
The relationship between an organization and its employees is a two-way street. While organizations place high expectations on their employees, employees have expectations and standards regarding what their organization/job offers them.5 An easy first step to enhancing employee engagement is having an open dialogue with your employees and listening carefully to their career needs. Most importantly, give your top talent the recognition they deserve, and provide developmental opportunities for their professional growth – or they may begin looking elsewhere for an organization that does.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Charting the labor market: Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS)” (October 2015).
2 Parry, D. & Mason, R. (2006, February). Retaining Top Talent and Creating a Strategic Succession Plan. FutureSense. Retrieved from http://www.futuresense.com/retaining-top-talent-and-creating-a-strategic-succession-plan/
3 Procaccino, Andrea. Employee Engagement. PowerPoint presentation. New York-Presbyterian.
4 Wathen, Audrey R. Employee Engagement and Retention. PowerPoint presentation. The New Jewish Home.
5 (2013, August). Retaining Top Talent: Yes, It Really Is All about Them. Strategy+Business. Retrieved from http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Retaining-Top-Talent?gko=655e9
6 Thomas, A. 5 Things Successful Companies Do To Retain Top Talent. Select International. Retrieved from http://www.selectinternational.com/blog/bid/148239/5-Things-Successful-Companies-Do-To-Retain-Top-Talent