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How to Improve Employee Engagement and Retention

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As the competition for talent shows no sign of slowing down, knowing how you can improve employee engagement and retention will not only save time and resources but also spare you the heartache that comes with losing and trying to replace exceptional talent.

While you can't stop every employee from pursuing new opportunities, a recent Gallup poll shows that approximately 52% of all exiting employees believe their manager or employer could have prevented them from leaving their job.

Being proactive about employee retention often correlates with being proactive about employee engagement. Engaged and productive employees are more likely to enjoy their work and are less likely to seek out other professional opportunities.

High employee engagement also unlocks benefits that enrich your organization such as stronger team bonds, increased productivity, and higher overall employee morale.

What is employee retention and why does it matter?

Employee retention refers to a company's ability and effort to keep its existing employees year-over-year and prevent them from looking for professional opportunities elsewhere. On the other side of the coin, we have employee turnover, which represents the rate at which employees leave your organization (voluntarily or involuntarily) and are replaced by new ones.

So why should leaders care about retaining their people? When an employee leaves a company, it can have heavy ramifications on the rest of the workplace. But by nurturing a positive employee experience, a business can see the following benefits:

  • Stronger employee loyalty
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Healthier company culture
  • Lower turnover rates
  • Increased productivity

Employee engagement refers to the mindset and emotional commitment your team members have with your organization based on their experience at work. While some people interchange employee engagement with employee happiness, the two differ.

Employee satisfaction means that a team member is satisfied enough with their position that they aren't actively seeking other work. But it doesn't necessarily mean they're committed to giving their 100% to the organization and their role. In many cases, satisfied employees may be more motivated by external factors like salary or benefits than their daily tasks.

On the other hand, employee engagement measures how involved and emotionally invested an employee is in their job. Engaged employees are excited to come to work, ready to tackle new challenges, and often encourage the rest of their team to strive for success.

The relationship between engaged employees and high employee retention is simple. Employees who like what they do are more likely to stay in that job than hunt around for new employers.

Addressing engagement concerns often leads to improved morale and lower employee turnover rates. Proactively maintaining a high engagement rate promotes company success by retaining your top talent.

Case study: How LG2 improved employee engagement and retention at scale

What does it take to stay connected to your people and sustain great employee retention, especially during rapid growth? Creative agency LG2 integrated IceHrm to help their managers better connect with their growing distributed teams, and we got the inside scoop on how it helped them successfully retain top talent.

Challenge: Difficult to keep new employees connected

LG2 was on its way to becoming the largest independent creative agency in Canada, but as the team rapidly grew from 32 to 50 people, with minimal HR support, the responsibility of keeping morale high and teams engaged fell on the managers. Some were more natural in this role than others, so they needed to find a way to level the playing field and ensure all employees were happy with the work culture.

It became more challenging to have one-on-one meetings and they weren't getting much feedback through town halls. In a new virtual world, it was hard to get a pulse of what was really going on.

To help managers connect with their teams in a more meaningful and useful way, they needed a tool that could help employees feel safe sharing their thoughts and concerns, make it easier for managers to acknowledge and action issues, and maintain regular open communication.

Solution: Focus on improving the employee engagement strategy with the help of IceHrm

Luckily, they discovered IceHrm at just the right time. This people-first employee experience platform created a safe space that facilitated open and productive conversations between managers and staff. It also helped them identify priorities, get a better look at team satisfaction, make one-on-one meetings more meaningful, and celebrate team efforts. Overall, it was a great solution for improving relationships and decision-making and maintaining a positive employee culture.

Outcome: Higher employee retention than the industry standard

The most notable result was achieving an exceptional level of employee retention. They achieved an average annual turnover rate of 5%, beating the industry average by a whopping 500%. In terms of seniority, 50% of employees have been with the company for 5 years or more, and 25% for 10 years or more.

10 ways to improve employee engagement and retention

To improve employee retention and engagement may feel like a tall order, especially for companies with high attrition and low job satisfaction. The good news is that there are an array of cost-effective employee retention strategies that will reduce turnover rates while simultaneously boosting employee engagement, wellness, and productivity in the workplace.

1. Have a solid onboarding process

The onboarding process is one of the first interactions an employee has with a company. New employees might feel uncertain about their position in the organization, and neglecting them at this point can lead to poor engagement and retention.

Common challenges with developing an onboarding process:

  • When an organization is fast-paced, the perception is that spending too much time on onboarding might actually hinder productivity.
  • When resources are limited, some organizations feel they can't afford the investment needed to develop a comprehensive onboarding process.

Positive interactions set a strong foundation and ensure that the employee feels welcomed, valued, and appreciated. But few organizations have a fully defined onboarding process.

Developing one means your new hire can hit the ground running and have the confidence to perform well from the very beginning.

Great onboarding is one of the first pieces of the great employee experience puzzle. In fact, effective onboarding even leads to faster employee productivity in the long run.

Onboarding can be optimized with existing resources through effective structuring and documentation, so make sure your new hires start off on the right foot with the help of a seamless onboarding platform.

Actions you can take today:

  • Put together a complete onboarding checklist that covers everything from A to Z. This means tasks like setting up equipment, introducing company policies, and assigning a mentor or buddy to help guide new hires.
  • Address any questions or concerns during the onboarding process by having regular check-ins. This helps ensure new employees feel supported from the very start.

2. Foster a positive company culture

A competitive workplace culture may seem like it produces results, but the truth is that whatever gains you reap are mitigated by attrition and loss of talent. Many companies have noted that a happy and engaged workforce is significantly more productive.

Typical challenges with building company culture:

  • Having a positive company culture is a good thing, but some think it could lead to complacency, reduced drive for innovation, and a lack of improvement.
  • It takes time and effort to build a positive company culture, so an organization might not see immediate results in terms of better engagement and retention.

A positive company culture is more cost effective as teams and employees can focus on excelling rather than worrying about a lack of support or dealing with a negative environment.

When you foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, you tend to drive innovation and avoid complacency. Implementing mechanisms like regular brainstorming sessions or innovation challenges are a great way to stimulate creativity and proactive thinking.

There are many moving pieces when it comes to fostering inclusive company culture. However, with consistency and hard work, any business can improve retention and increase employee engagement, through a more positive, open culture.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that a positive culture has long-term benefits, including improved engagement, retention, and overall employee contentment.

The best way to get there is to focus on small, incremental changes that align with the culture you're trying to create, and reinforce them consistently to create the positive work environment you strive for.

Actions you can take today:

  • Implement regular team meetings and feedback sessions that support open communication and encourage employees to freely express their ideas, concerns, and suggestions.
  • Make employee recognition a priority by regularly celebrating their achievements and milestones. Rewards or a dedicated recognition program are great ways to make it happen.

3. Seek employee feedback

One of the best ways to gauge and improve engagement is to ask your employees to share their thoughts. Even collecting employee feedback can engage employees, as they have more say in the experience, their expectations, and company culture, especially when they see their input taken seriously and implemented.

Challenges when seeking employee feedback:

  • When you collect employee feedback, you open the doors to complaints and negativity that could create a toxic work environment when approached the wrong way.
  • When employees are asked to provide honest feedback, they may be hesitant and fear the repercussions, or feel that their input will not be acted upon.

Honest employee feedback gives you deeper insights into issues that matter to them and may even reveal potential improvements to business operations and processes.

It's essential to create a healthy feedback culture by establishing clear guidelines and expectations for providing constructive feedback.

When setting these expectations, encourage suggestions and solutions for improvement, rather than solely focusing on the complaint. A great way to do this is to create anonymous feedback mechanisms that provide employees with a safe space to share their thoughts openly and without fear of judgment.

Make sure they are aware that their feedback is always confidential and will be used to drive positive changes (rather than for punitive purposes!).

Actions you can take today:

  • Gather anonymous feedback from employees via regular pulse surveys. Check in on things like their current level of satisfaction, and how happy they are with communication and opportunities for growth.
  • Share the results of the employee feedback surveys and take visible actions based on the feedback you got. This kind of feedback loop is a game-changer.

4. Make your employees feel valued

One of the biggest culprits of low employee engagement is a lack of recognition. If you treat employees like cogs in a machine, they will start to feel disposable and invisible. Soon, they will likely leave for a company that values them as individuals.

Common challenges with trying to make your employees feel valued:

  • Employees may develop a sense of entitlement and expect rewards for routine tasks if they receive regular recognition for their efforts.
  • Trying to cater to the different preferences and needs of all employees, like the way they like to receive recognition, can be challenging.

A great employee engagement and retention strategy is to offer regular recognition for all employees and to highlight big achievements and strong efforts alike. Employee recognition shows that your business values its workforce and motivates peers to challenge themselves to achieve the same level of recognition.

When you tie recognition to exceptional achievements and contributions beyond routine tasks, it helps you avoid the sense of entitlement mentioned above. Get started by establishing clear criteria for recognition, with a focus on outcomes and impact, and not just on the completion of routine tasks.

During the process, be sure to implement a variety of recognition methods, including verbal praise, team acknowledgments, and personalized rewards, to accommodate different preferences and switch things up.

Since everyone is different, it's a good idea to encourage employees to provide input on their personal preferred forms of recognition. This allows for customization and personalization within reasonable boundaries.

It's important to get employee input on how they feel about the recognition they receive. Ask these employee recognition survey questions to gain valuable and actionable insights.

Actions you can take today:

  • Support employees to nominate and appreciate their colleagues for their exceptional work and efforts through a peer recognition program.
  • Establish individual employee preferences and acknowledge their efforts with personal recognition delivered in a way that resonates with them.

5. Promote a healthy work-life balance

A healthy work-life balance is key to keeping employees motivated and engaged, and is no longer something that can be compromised. The recent shift to a more hybrid or remote work model has only highlighted this further as people have more flexibility with their time, and more autonomy in their lives. Healthy work-life balance benefits everyone, the employees and the company.

Common challenges when trying to promote a good work-life balance:

  • Promoting a good work-life balance can sometimes create a perception that personal life always takes precedence over work, potentially affecting productivity and commitment to the organization.
  • Achieving perfect work-life balance can be challenging, and even impractical, especially in certain industries or roles that have demanding deadlines or high client expectations.

It's important to note that healthy work-life balance actually enhances productivity. It gives employees the chance to properly recharge and maintain a better overall well-being.

Now more than ever, it's also important to clarify that work-life balance means finding a healthy blend of personal and professional life without neglecting work responsibilities.

We all know that it can be a challenge trying to achieve a perfect balance, so it's best to strive for a situation that's reasonable and sustainable.

Encourage flexibility with your employees and provide support systems to help them manage demanding workloads while still maintaining a sense of balance and well-being.

There are other ways companies can support employees towards a healthy work-life balance. Learn what works best for your team with employee wellness surveys.

Actions you can take today:

  • Remind employees to disconnect from work by taking breaks and setting clear boundaries. Always promote the importance of work-life balance!
  • Implement flexible work arrangements, like remote work or flexible hours. This enables employees to tend to personal responsibilities and help achieve a better work-life balance.

6. Offer competitive pay and perks to retain engaged employees

Some employees may genuinely feel passionate about their work but still seek employment elsewhere to earn higher compensation. While money doesn't automatically guarantee happiness, it can alleviate financial stress which can impact productivity and employee well-being.

Challenges when trying to offer competitive pay:

  • Offering competitive pay may attract people whose sole priority is money. This can make for a less engaged and less dedicated workforce.
  • Providing perks above and beyond the norm could strain the company's financial health. It impacts long-term profitability and isn't sustainable.

Higher employee morale translates into higher employee engagement, so paying your people a competitive salary and having thoughtful perks that reflect employee needs can improve performance and dramatically reduce your company's turnover rate.

Some things to keep in mind are that it's best to align compensation with performance and also incorporate non-monetary incentives. Both factors help foster a culture of dedication and engagement.

Secondly, implement a comprehensive selection process that assesses candidates' alignment with your organization's values and cultural fit. This helps ensure a holistic evaluation beyond monetary motivations.

When it comes to perks, prioritize those that have a high impact on employee contentment and engagement. Make them meaningful rather than excessive.

And lastly, stay on track by conducting a cost-benefit analysis to identify the perks that provide the most value relative to their cost. This helps you take a sustainable approach to employee benefits while maintaining financial stability. This way, everyone is happy!

Actions you can take today:

  • Regularly review and benchmark salaries to ensure that salaries are competitive within the industry. Plus, consider performance-based incentives to reward high achievers.
  • Make a comprehensive benefits package a priority. Focus on employee needs like healthcare, wellness programs, professional development opportunities, and of course, ample paid time off.

7. Practice what you preach

Many employees will seek out organizations with strong values that align with their moral compasses. Employees want to contribute to these values, so employers must adhere to them in their jobs.

Some responses for why it's hard to actually practice what you preach:

  • Company values can get in the way of flexibility and make it more challenging to adapt to changing market conditions or evolving business strategies.
  • High-pressure situations or conflicting priorities can make it challenging for leaders and managers to consistently uphold company values.

If employees feel that the company doesn't embody those values in its day-to-day operations, they're less likely to feel passionate about their work. As a result, they may leave for an organization that upholds and lives by its mission statement and company goals. Luckily, there are some solutions to this.

Start by ensuring that your company values are adaptable and aligned with the company's mission and overall vision. This allows for greater flexibility so you can stay the course during market changes while maintaining core principles. Continuously assessing and reviewing these values also helps ensure they remain relevant and supportive of both the organization's long-term goals and the dynamic business environment.

Of course, this all stems from the top. That's why it's great to provide leadership development programs that focus on helping leaders understand and integrate company values into their daily decision-making processes.

A supportive culture that encourages open communication and transparency will always function best as it allows leaders and managers to seek the guidance they need and make value-aligned decisions, even in challenging or unexpected situations.

Actions you can take today:

  • Define and communicate the company's values in a clear and concise way in order to ensure they're implemented throughout the organization. This applies to everything from decision-making to daily operations.
  • Demonstrate the behaviors you wish to create by leading by example and factoring the company's values in your own actions and interactions as a manager.

8. Provide growth opportunities

Few people want to stay in the same role throughout their careers. Having clear growth paths can improve employee engagement by motivating your people to exceed their expectations and achieve their career goals within the organization.

Common fears when trying to decide how to invest in employee development:

  • When you invest in employee development, employees bring greater value to the table. This can make them stand out to competitors and possibly lead to higher turnover.
  • Providing tailored growth opportunities to all employees as they have different growth aspirations and different levels of desire for additional responsibilities is challenging.

A lack of clear growth and career development opportunities is usually an indicator of high turnover, as employees move to other jobs that offer them support for professional development. Providing growth opportunities for engagement and retention is about more than meeting training needs. As a leader, you need to sit down with your employees, identify career development goals, create clear growth paths, and provide opportunities for success within the company.

Increasing employee engagement through career development has several added benefits to companies. Benefits include retaining higher-quality talent over a more extended period, resulting in a more experienced workforce and an improved body of expertise.

Here's how you can do it: Implement a comprehensive employee retention strategy that combines development opportunities with competitive compensation and a positive work environment. Emphasize your organization's commitment to employee growth and career advancement. This fosters loyalty and creates an environment where employees see long-term benefits beyond immediate job prospects.

As everyone is different, be sure to offer a variety of development opportunities, including both vertical and horizontal growth paths, to accommodate each individual's career aspirations and preferences. Then, implement personalized development plans or career conversations to understand each employee's goals, and align growth opportunities accordingly. Remember to always focus on areas that resonate with each employee's unique interests and skills.

Remember: As long as your organization uses other retention strategies and keeps your employees engaged, you don't have to worry that your best employees will leave after receiving development opportunities. You can reap the benefits of having a highly-skilled, motivated workforce.

Actions you can take today:

  • Craft a career development program for employees. This should include regular performance evaluations, goal-setting, and individual development plans.
  • Help enhance employees' skills and provide opportunities for professional growth by giving them access to training programs, workshops, and online learning platforms.

9. Keep employees informed

Many leaders neglect to inform their employees about significant organizational changes. Rumors and uncertainty can significantly impact employee engagement and retention. This anxiety may lead to loss of talent as employees pre-emptively look for other work to escape what they fear may be an unstable environment or a change in leadership.

Reasons why some organizations don't keep employees in the loop:

  • When you're transparent about organizational changes, it can decrease morale, cause anxiety among employees, and breed uncertainty.
  • While you want to include employees in the decision-making processes, it can be detrimental in that it can actually slow it down, reduce consensus, and lead to a lack of clear direction.

Transparency can reduce high turnover by providing clarity about corporate issues. Well-informed employees are less likely to panic and start looking for other jobs but don't underestimate the importance of making them feel more valued and respected by being included in decisions about how business culture can adapt to changes. This is called “leading through change” and this strategy is sure to reduce employee turnover and improve engagement.

It's actually best to create regular communication channels, like town hall meetings or Q&A sessions, in order to address employee comments and concerns and provide opportunities for discussion and clarification. Having a structured decision-making process in place can help balance employee involvement efficiently, and ensure that decisions are made in a timely manner.

Actions you can take today:

  • Put transparent communication channels in place. Think regular updates across the organization, town hall meetings, or even newsletters. This keeps everyone up to speed on the latest updates and changes within the company.
  • Seek feedback and input from employees to create a sense of ownership and involvement in the decision-making process for things that impact both their own work, and the entire company.

10. Track employee engagement

The best way to avoid high turnover is to proactively manage and measure employee engagement. Measuring employee engagement can range from directly asking employees about their feelings to sending out regular pulse surveys and questionnaires.

Reasons why some teams don't track employee engagement:

  • When you focusing on tracking engagement metrics, then the numbers become the primary focus rather than addressing underlying issues. We want to avoid having checkbox mentality.
  • We can't get a holistic view of employee satisfaction and motivation when we only measure engagement. It doesn't account for qualitative factors or individual circumstances.

Understanding the current level of employee engagement gives business leaders the ability to correct course and identify potential issues that may be leading to the loss of talent. Tracking also allows HR leaders to monitor the success of their employee engagement initiatives and allow them to continue with the strategies that yield positive outcomes, and ditch the others.

One of the most effective methods is to use engagement metrics as a starting point to identify areas of concern, prioritize qualitative feedback, and open discussions to gain deeper insights into underlying issues.

What matters is how you then interpret engagement metrics and act on them in the context of the overall employee experience. Use them as a tool for improvement rather than solely as a measure of success, and see the positive changes that follow!

Remember to always take individual circumstances into account by considering factors like team dynamics, workload, and personal challenges when interpreting engagement data. This allows for a more nuanced understanding of employee experiences.

Actions you can take today:

  • Start measuring engagement levels by implementing regular employee engagement surveys. Asking both quantitative and qualitative questions can help you identify areas for improvement.
  • Put key performance indicators (KPIs) into play. Make sure each one relates to employee engagement factors like retention rate, absenteeism rate, or employee satisfaction scores. When you consistently track and analyze these metrics, you get a better sense of how effective the engagement initiatives are.

Reduce employee turnover with better employee engagement and retention strategies

Employee engagement and retention are critical to organizational success. Engagement can affect almost every aspect of an individual's performance, from productivity to their ability to inspire their team members.

The key to improving employee engagement is to measure it accurately. IceHrm's enables companies to measure the engagement of their workforce using science-backed questions, identify issues and areas of improvement, and track the success of current employee retention strategies.

IceHrm's employee engagement solution helps you to increase engagement and employee retention, keep an ear to the ground to satisfy your team, and find new ways to keep your employees engaged and motivated.

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