4 Simple Strategies to Boost Employee Engagement and Retention

4 Simple Strategies to Boost Employee Engagement and Retention

Engaged employees don’t just work to get a paycheck. They’re loyal, productive and committed to the organizational mission. As competition for talented workers heats up, how can your organization attract – and keep – engaged employees?

Julie Kniseley, director of human resources at James Moore, has more than 25 years of HR management experience, serving a variety of organizations. She leads both JMCO’s internal HR team and its HR Solutions Consulting team, which provides clients with guidance and solutions to build and improve their HR infrastructure.

According to Julie, your organization can boost employee engagement even if your HR budget is limited. In fact, investing in engagement can save you money in the long run. Engaged employees are more likely to stay, helping you sidestep the costs of rehiring (which averages 33% of a position’s annual salary).

“It’s no secret that there are a lot of jobs open right now and not enough people taking those jobs,” Julie said. “There are a lot of things that you can do from a work culture perspective, or an employee engagement perspective, that are low cost or free.”

Here, Julie shares four simple strategies to help your staff flourish.

What is engagement?

Engaged employees work with passion and feel a connection to their company. They’re not just there to do a job. They want to see the company improve. Engagement drives retention and increases employees’ productivity and participation. It also influences how they treat clients and customers and enables them to weather changes more smoothly.

“They probably could go somewhere else and make more money,” Julie said. “But they choose not to because they believe in what you’re doing.”

Lack of engagement can go from mild to so severe it impacts the team. You may have reliable workers, but mentally, they are checked out. They won’t go that extra step to improve what’s happening in the organization. Disengaged employees, in contrast, are not only unhappy with their job, they actively complain about it to co-workers. This negativity can be contagious, sinking the morale of others.

The goal is to move employees into the engaged category where they feel connected and valued and would recommend the company to friends looking for work – the “happily ever after.”

Engagement begins with the job ad.

The first step to fostering employee engagement is to hire the right staff. Don’t rely on a “post and pray” hiring approach. Make sure you are recruiting people with the right skill set, knowledge and education who will also be a good fit for the organization.”

“Narrow that front door,” Julie said. This tactic helps eliminate the “revolving door” through which employees leave later.

Think of your job ad as a sales pitch. Describe your company mission and culture in the first two paragraphs. This will help attract candidates with similar core values. Treat recruits and new hires as you would any customer, client, funder or donor. And share positive feedback you’ve received from your staff about why they enjoy working there.

Onboard the right way.

A clear and thorough onboarding process also helps retain employees. According to Julie, most workers decide within the first six weeks whether they’re going to stay in an organization. A rushed or incomplete training process will leave new employees feeling overwhelmed and disconnected.

“Your onboarding curriculum needs to be more than just the technical skills and the HR forms,” Julie said. “How do you introduce them to your work culture?” Show new hires where they can stow their lunch and where the bathroom and office supplies are. Explain the protocol for leaving at the end of the day.

To help them connect socially with their team, consider assigning a coworker to mentor them for the first month. This can also be a good growth opportunity for employees whose goals include a move into a supervisory role.

Script out new employees’ first 90 days, scheduling regular check-ins. Focus on key milestones, such as their first success or their first meeting with a client. Treat their first mistake as a coaching opportunity. “Those touch points and interactions are just as important as anything you do before they walk in the door,” Julie said. “And you will ruin all of that effort to recruit somebody if they get blasted the first time they make a mistake.”

After 30 days, sit down with new employees and ask if they were equipped and trained with everything they needed from the get-go. Adjust your onboarding process based on their feedback.

Take the time to do a stay interview.

Don’t wait until a star employee has resigned to ask about their work experience. A proactive approach to keeping employees is to schedule stay interviews. These should be sit-down conversations with immediate supervisors, at least once a year for current employees and twice in new hires’ first year.

These conversations help you craft a plan that will keep valued employees’ engaged and allows you to gauge the likelihood of retaining staff.

Julie recommends asking five questions during a stay interview:

  • When you travel to work each day, what do you look forward to? This can also reveal challenges to productivity and wellbeing.
  • What are you learning? Ask how your employee learns best and if there’s anything they’d like to be learning, but aren’t. Are there barriers to reaching their career goals?
  • Why do you stay? Explore whether employees stay because of the type of work they do or because of relationships with coworkers and/or clients. Cohesion with a team is key factor in retention.
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving and why? Ask employees to rate their intention to leave on a scale of one to 10. Listen to their feedback and decide on what actions you can take to address their concerns. “Be willing to accept the answer,” Julie said. “That answer could develop into a pattern with other employees. Those are going to be the things you need to look at.”
  • What can I do to improve your experience at work? Don’t just ask what you should do more of as a manager, but also what you could do less of. Try to discern whether your staff views your actions as fair and reasonable. Do they feel heard when they raise concerns?

People need to feel safe to have these candid conversations. If your organization struggles to keep employees, look at managers first. Nurture high-quality supervisors, and create an annual management training plan.

When employees do resign, be sure to conduct an exit interview to learn how you can improve your workplace.

Build a life-friendly work culture.

Julie warns against making the mistake of assuming work habits and culture will revert to pre-pandemic norms.

“It is not going to happen,” she said. “Employees are looking for something different. They don’t want to give up that flexibility. They’ve taken a lot of time to look inward over the last few years and say, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’”

For nonprofits and other organizations without much wiggle room in their budget, the good news is that employees are not necessarily looking for extra financial perks. Even under budgetary constraints, you can develop family- and life-friendly work policies and practices.

Julie offers the following low-cost options:

  • Provide flexibility. Consider allowing remote or partly remote work schedules, and accommodate requests for more flexible shift times. Many employees have reported their productivity improved while working from home, or if they could start earlier or later in the day.
  • Invest in an employee assistance program. The stress, pressures and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the growing importance of mental health. EAPs often cost organizations little to nothing.
  • Catastrophic leave policies can help struggling employees. Some policies also allow employees to donate extra leave time to coworkers in crisis.
  • Protect paid time off. PTO should genuinely be PTO. “People need this now more than ever,” Julie said. “They need that mental break.” Ensure that employees feel no pressure to check or respond to work email while on PTO, after working hours or on weekends. Be alert to signs of burnout. Make sure you are delegating tasks and responsibilities evenly so that top performers aren’t overloaded.

Importantly, ask your employees what changes in the work culture would be most meaningful to them.

“Taking the time to really look at what your culture is, how you treat your employees and how you communicate with employees is going to get more and more important in the future,” Julie said.

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