Features | April 27, 2023
Improving Employee Engagement and Retention Through Organizational Changes
By Paige McAllister, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Employees stay at companies where they feel valued and safe, and leave companies where they feel discounted, taken advantage of or disconnected from managers and co-workers. Increasing the engagement and retention of good employees can propel a company’s success, allowing leaders to focus on proactive strategies instead of reactively putting out fires. While some more immediate actions can create short-term engagement, long-term commitment requires leaders to examine and redefine how things are done by the company as a whole and how employees are developed and nurtured.
To help employees connect with the company, ensure that every aspect reflects the goals, vision and philosophy of its leadership. Policies, practices, communication, decisions, clients, etc. all need to connect back to the same message so employees know who the company is and can gauge their actions accordingly. Stating one thing but letting managers and employees do another sends mixed messages and makes employees doubt the integrity of the company they work for.
- Create purpose and commitment by fostering formal and informal connections between leadership and employees, departments and co-workers. Institute ways for employees to interact with leadership such as panels, lunches and “meet-and-greets,” and develop reasons for employees to work with others across the company such as initiatives, committees and affinity groups.
- Improve communication and transparency by offering regular insights into the company’s goals, financials, wins and challenges. Schedule quarterly or monthly meetings and/or send regular newsletters or impromptu communication so employees hear what is going on directly from leadership. Hold managers accountable to pass along timely, important information to all of their employees.
- Review your organization as a whole, starting at the top and extending through every level and job. Update your policies, practices and culture to eliminate any toxicity, harassment or discrimination and create the consistency of acceptance and equality throughout. Engage an outside consultant to assess your practices and recommend initiatives from an objective perspective.
- Make all employees feel welcome and valued regardless of their background. Prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives (including race, gender, LGBTQ+, religion, national origin, age, education, etc.) to benefit from the diversity in thought and experiences that come from a varied group of people.
- Update your technology, infrastructure and resources to give your employees the best tools to do their jobs. Find ways to make employees’ jobs easier.
- Stop making decisions “because that’s how we’ve always done it” and allow employees to feel comfortable and empowered enough to offer their thoughts and insights. Welcome brain-storming new ideas and teamwork to improve results.
- Extend your focus on excellent customer service to include your internal client – your employees. Make sure your employees feel valued and respected and ensure you are meeting their needs just as you expect them to do with your external customers.
Recognize that most employees do not “live to work,” but they do want to dedicate their time and talent to a company that appreciates them. Today’s workforce is not composed entirely of people on the traditional career path. Employees have different needs, priorities, goals, lifestyles, backgrounds and challenges, often changing many times during their tenure. By helping employees succeed with their personal and professional goals, you will enhance their commitment to the company, increase their productivity and inspire their innovation. Meeting employees where they are in life may require individualized, out-of-the-box thinking, and implementing new policies and procedures can produce remarkable results.
- Instead of necessitating “promotion by changing jobs,” work with employees to determine how they can follow their desired career paths while staying at the company and keeping their institutional knowledge in-house. Are they looking to be promoted? Explain those expectations and give them the chance to learn those skills. Do they want to keep doing what they are doing? Help them refine and improve those skills so they can do them even better. Do they want to try a different job? Find opportunities for employees to work in different departments to find their best fit. Do they want or need to take a step back? Work with them to find schedules and job duties that allow them to balance their demands.
- Change your focus from attendance and punctuality to availability and performance. Recognize that working in the office 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday does not work for a significant portion of the workforce, including employees who still have a lot to offer. Instead, explore flexible work arrangements such as remote work, reduced schedules, partial year, hybrid arrangements and job-sharing to allow good employees to better integrate their work responsibilities into the rest of their lives.
- Expand employees’ responsibilities to allow them to develop new skills such as supervising others, controlling an aspect of finances or understanding how their role coordinates with another through cross-training. Don’t require employees to take on more work or stress with no benefit but rather give them opportunities they value and compensate them appropriately for their added effort.
- Demonstrate your trust in experienced employees by giving them more autonomy and flexibility in how they do their jobs. Many managers succeed in positions similar to those they supervise so feel they know the best and only way to accomplish a task. However, allowing employees to experiment and find what works best for them gives them buy-in and could result in a more efficient and productive process.
- Provide regular job-skills training so employees know the latest expectations and work methods. Assist employees to develop job-related skills even if they are not traditionally associated with the position, such as learning a new language. Pay for employees’ licensing, certifications, professional development and continuing education, asking them to share some of what they learn with others to multiply the return on investment.
- Develop objective performance management tools to have employees set SMART goals, document job expectations and track their performance. Reward high-achievers with increases, promotions and empowerment. Assist employees with potential by giving them more frequent communication and training. Remove low-performers to eliminate the stress, burden and toxicity they can cause.
Institutional changes take a lot of work and are a long-term commitment which may involve disruptive decisions such as ending established practices or letting go of employees who do not fit the vision. Taking deliberate action to include all employees in the company’s journey will make them feel valued — leading to higher engagement, productivity and retention — and will make your company more attractive to prospective employees. These results in turn will allow you to develop a strong, successful workforce to represent and grow to your company now and in the future.
Paige McAllister is a contributor for Affinity HR Group, Inc., Brand Chain’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as Brand Chain and their member companies. To learn more, visit www.affinityHRgroup.com or connect with us at 877-660-6400 or hello@AffinityHRGroup.
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