The Great Reengagement: Retention Strategies That Actually Work
To retain top talent, employers must improve employee engagement by implementing proven strategies to meet employees' needs, utilize their strengths and offer the attention and support they deserve.
In a time of high talent mobility — when quitting rates remain high and available talent is scarce — employers must prioritize retention strategies more than ever. And, to retain employees, they have to foster higher levels of engagement. That's easier said than done; organizations everywhere are scrambling to offer perks that satisfy employees, from expanded benefits and time off to home office stipends and wellness reimbursements.
All of these strategies can help, but they may not result in the dramatic boost in engagement needed to overcome the challenges employers face.
To understand the link between high employee engagement and retention strategies, and to learn the most effective strategies for boosting both, we talked with Amy Leschke-Kahle, Vice President of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company, who counsels ADP customers on practical solutions for today's biggest employee engagement challenges. Here are the key details to know.
Defining engagement is critical
While engagement is an important facet of organizational culture, Leschke-Kahle points out that engagement is a local phenomenon and relies on the relationships between individuals — managers and their reports, team leaders and their cohorts and even peer-to-peer relationships. Thinking of engagement as an individual experience provides a pathway to understanding its inner workings.
Common sense helps us understand that higher levels of contentment mean an employee is more likely to stay — in a given role or within your organization in other roles — provided they continue to feel seen, heard and valued.
Leschke-Kahle offers proven strategies for leaders to encourage and facilitate higher levels of employee engagement: meeting basic table stakes, leveraging employees' strengths and demonstrating support for their roles.
Meeting table stakes
The first in Leschke-Kahle's three-prong strategy for improving employee engagement is addressing the table stakes. That is, offering employees adequate compensation, benefits and working conditions to meet their basic needs and preferences. "Market pay, pay equity, reasonable benefits — those are table stakes," Leschke-Kahle says. "[It also includes] giving employees as much agency as we reasonably can inside of the organizations, given the work that people are doing."
Meeting those table stakes is essential to building engagement. The next steps won't be as effective if the basic table stakes are not in alignment with what employees need and want. And from a talent acquisition perspective, table stakes are crucial for attracting and engaging with the right talent and keeping candidates engaged throughout the recruiting process.
Identifying and utilizing employees' strengths is the second key step in building higher levels of employee engagement. When employees are in a position that does not leverage their unique skills and abilities, it's more likely they will be less productive and less engaged. In another position that relies on their strengths, the same employee could become a star on your team.
Leschke-Kahle illustrated this concept with an example. A retail store employee working on the floor wasn't wasn't meeting the expectations of her job. Her department was messy, and she fell behind on other tasks. The manager observed her one day and realized that she wasn't getting the work done because she was conversing with every customer. Realizing this employee's knack for friendly chat, the manager moved her to the customer service desk, where her natural abilities helped her thrive.
"When leaders in the organization — and particularly direct team leaders — recognize employees' strengths and offer projects or positions that require the things employees really love to do, that's how we move the needle on engagement," Leschke-Kahle explains.
Demonstrating support via weekly check-ins
The third strategy for improving employee engagement is arguably the most effective: the weekly check-in. Leschke-Kahle dubs this the "power practice" for moving the needle on engagement. Working best as a one-on-one touchpoint between an employee and their immediate team leaders, supervisor or manager, the goal of the weekly check-in is not face time or the illusion of accessibility. It's about real support. The agenda for the check-in should focus on two questions:
- What are your current priorities?
- How can I help?
These check-ins can be in whatever format works: a recurring 1:1 meeting, a brief email or text message, or on a platform like StandOut. What really works to increase levels of employee engagement, according to Leschke-Kahle, is "the power practice of really checking in with someone to make sure that there's alignment on what is the most important work that needs to get done" and providing the resources and support employees need to achieve those goals.
Can a biweekly or monthly check-in suffice? The research is clear that a weekly frequency offers the biggest boost in employee engagement. Based on over 40,000 data points collected between April and June of 2022 in StandOut, employees who received weekly attention were 2.7 times more likely to be fully engaged (the highest level of engagement) than those who received attention once a month or less.
Better engagement can lead to better business outcomes
Higher levels of employee engagement have long been linked with higher retention — and they can also result in more inclusive work cultures, a stronger employer brand and higher profitability. Investing a little time and energy in weekly check-ins and other ways to support employees can have a dramatic impact on engagement, as the research illustrates. Even better, it can ultimately help your organization retain more of your valuable employees.
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