With the labour market at its tightest for many years, talent retention has moved to the top of the agenda for organisations. “Unemployment is at its lowest level since 2007 and turnover has been creeping up and has now reached 11 per cent,”says Chris Kerridge, employee engagement expert with MHR UK and Ireland, a specialist provider of HR, payroll and analytics software and services.
“It comes down to engagement levels in organisations. One of the key issues is around employee and job alignment. If the job or the organisation is not what the employee perceived it to be or if there is no alignment with the culture, they won’t stay. Linked in with that is feedback, coaching and recognition.”
Kerridge believes employees need regular feedback on their progress in their jobs and on their contribution to the organisation reaching its goals and objectives. “On the flip side, if employees are not progressing and not receiving feedback on why and not receiving help to develop that will ultimately lead them to disengage.”
John Goulding, founder of employee engagement and internal communications company WorkVivo, points to some of the positive aspects of employee engagement. “It’s hard to recruit talent and the challenge is to hold on to it,”he says. “Employee engagement is one way to do it. We know if you get it right good things happen.”
He cites research by Gallup and Gartner indicating 37 per cent less absenteeism, 65 per cent lower employee turnover and 30 per cent greater customer satisfaction in highly engaged organisations.
That improved customer satisfaction is a natural function of high levels of engagement and retention, according to Kerridge. “An organisation with low turnover levels will gain a highly skilled workforce with detailed knowledge of the company’s products and services; the customer experience improves as a result.”
Recognition is also important, and can be small. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing like an award or a bottle of champagne,” says Kerridge. “A simple thank you or a pat on the back to say well done will do. If employees are not getting that it leads to unhappiness.”
Goulding agrees. “Lack of recognition is one of the reasons people become disengaged. It can be very quick and easy to recognise people for their contribution. You don’t need formal awards.”
The negative impacts of poor engagement and high staff turnover levels can be significant. “High turnover impacts morale and motivation,” says Kerridge. “Employees will be concerned about what’s happening in that situation. That diminishes productivity. One of the main negative effects is cost, as the average cost of recruiting a new hire is around €30,000.”
Goulding believes the key to good employee engagement is communication. His company’s internal communications platform looks and feels like a social media site and facilitates two-way communications between organisations and their employees.
“Companies need to invest the time to connect with their employees,” he says. “They have to explain the goals and objectives of the organisation and bring them alive. They have to explain why the goals are important to the organisation, and not just monthly or quarterly. Communication has to be constant. This facilitates recognition and improved engagement.”
If employees know they have a future they will be more likely to stay
There are other things employers can do to improve engagement. “Companies can support personal development and set out clear career paths within the organisation,” says Kerridge. “If employees know they have a future they will be more likely to stay. They can offer things like flexible working. Attitudes to the work life balance are changing. Employees now expect a level of flexible working.”
Measurement is also critical. “Employers should measure the impact and success of these things through regular surveys. They should do regular pulse surveys weekly or even monthly rather than just once a year.”
Indeed, the very act of carrying out the surveys can lead to a feedback loop which generates improved engagement.
And these steps can be taken by any company, regardless of size, Kerridge concludes. “Feedback and recognition don’t cost anything. Putting a career roadmap in place can be done at little or no cost. Flexible working such as working from home or starting earlier and finishing later needn’t cost a lot to implement. All these things help.”