Just because employees stay — and created The Big Stay — doesn’t mean they’re happy.
In fact, many are “disgruntled stayers,” not happy campers.
What’s at issue: Some people stayed because the job market went flat. Others didn’t see pay jumps they thought existed outside their organizations. So they stayed.
What disgruntled stayers want
But staying doesn’t equate to engagement. In fact, employees complain they aren’t finding what they care most about about at work these days — career progression, flexibility and better compensation, according to research from ADP.
“Employees want assurances that their work is making a contribution and that their voices are being heard,” says Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP of Talent Insights and Innovation at ADP. “It may be overstating the obvious but sometimes simple everyday conversations and intentional weekly check-ins are the best way to accomplish this.”
Of course, not all disgruntled stayers will turn into engaged employees that easily (and some will always be miserable because that’s who they are).
Here are eight ways to re-engage disgruntled stayers. Even better, these engagement tips can help HR and front-line managers boost employee engagement across the board.
Double down on attention
Now that employees have stayed, they’d like to be noticed and appreciated — not for staying, but for their efforts and accomplishments.
“Every one of us craves to be paid attention to for the best of ourselves,” says Leschke-Kahle. “At work that looks like ensuring alignment around our most important work, knowing our manager cares about our well-being, and the ability to ask for help.”
To that, she offers these questions front-line managers can ask employees weekly:
- What are you priorities this week?
- Do you need any help?
- How are you feeling?
To make it happen, “HR plays a critical role in creating this culture of high attention by ensuring that this simple practice is woven into the expectations of every manager, no matter where they sit in the org chart,” says Leschke-Kahle.
Amp up mentoring
Disengaged stayers are everywhere – on site, hybrid and remote. So it’s important to stay intentionally connected.
“One of the things that gets lost in hybrid and remote workplaces is the opportunity for causal mentoring,” says Jennifer Dulski, CEO at Rising Team and lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Instead of waiting for this to happen informally, try being intentional about setting up mentor pairings to make sure everyone has active opportunities to grow.”
Even veteran employees who are slightly disgruntled can benefit from mentorships (Tom Hanks in “A Man Called Otto” is proof it can work.) Perhaps you can ask them to mentor newer employees — and see who learns the most from whom!
Share the responsibility
While it’s important managers make efforts to keep employees engaged and happy, encourage employees to be proactive in getting attention when they need it or just want to interact.
“Employees don’t need to wait for their managers to check in. A simple email or text message can be enough,” says Leschke-Kahle.
Understandably, disengaged stayers will be less likely to be proactive. While you don’t want to force them to check in — or be checked in on — give them tools to make it easier. Perhaps set up Slack channels specifically for employee praise or engagement ideas (such as planned check-ins with managers and/or friends at work).
Shake preconceived notions
More on hybrid and remote engagement: Try to get rid of concerns that it’s not effective.
“That concern itself is a problem, though, causing employees to feel less trusted, thereby lowering engagement,” says Dulski. “Instead of micromanaging when and where people work, organizations can boost both productivity and engagement by reducing the number of unnecessary meetings and focusing on outcomes, rather than hours.”
The best approach: Ask employees to work with their bosses to set clear goals and deliverables. Then let them go to manage their time and outcomes. That builds trust, engagement and job satisfaction. And if they fail, it’s OK to review and adjust the flexible approach.
As long as flexibility works for your team, consider creating avenues for employees to change their roles throughout their career if they’d like.
McKinsey researchers found the most productive, successful employees change roles throughout their careers — not just at the beginning.
The key is to offer training and development to employees at all points along their career journey.
Improve career development
In addition to role changes, use career development as an incentive to keep employee engaged. While you might think employees in their early career are most interested in advancing or changing, McKinsey researchers also found employees of all ages highly value career development and learning.
Turns out, nearly everyone — even the disgruntled — care about opportunities to get promoted, change roles and/or develop more skills.
Gather with intention
People still make better connections to work and colleagues in person, as opposed to on video calls and/or in communication apps.
“While remote and hybrid work arrangements offer numerous benefits, it’s essential not to completely abandon in-person gatherings,” Dulski says. “Face-to-face interactions have their unique value in building strong relationships and fostering team dynamics.”
The key: “Know when to use in-person gatherings,” she says. “Use in-person gatherings strategically, such as for team-building workshops, critical project kick-offs or brainstorming sessions.”
You can leverage those to let employees connect on a deeper level personally, too.
Finally, check your data
You can likely re-engage the disengaged stayers. But don’t expect it to last.
“Approach engagement as a local metric, team by team, and to measure it more frequently,” says ADP’s Leschke-Kahle. “Frequent data on the critical few factors that are necessary for all-in employees, collected at a team level can be the data organizations need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to measuring engagement.”
You don’t need cutting edge engagement analysis apps to get it done (although, they’re helpful). You can try free tools such as Survey Monkey. Or your existing communication apps might already have survey capabilities to capture sentiment.
The key is to determine what’s most important to engagement in your organization and consistently asking the same few questions about those to:
- set the baseline
- check it regularly, and
- react to changes.