Employee engagement is one of the biggest challenges in talent management.
But meeting that challenge is worth it.
Keep your best workers engaged and you’ll keep them working for you.
In this period of low unemployment, top workers are leaving every day for new opportunities.
And your competitors are doing their best to get more to jump ship.
Top performers are the backbone of every successful organization.
When those employees leave, you lose essential knowledge about your operations, the investment you’ve made to train them and the relationships they’ve built inside and outside your organization.
The cost of turnover
Why is employee engagement so important? One reason is that the costs of replacing a star employee are very real. In addition to the institutional losses, there’s the hard-dollar cost.
The average cost of replacing an entry-level employee in private industry is about 50% of the departing worker’s annual salary.
And it can be much higher for others – 150% for midlevel employees and a whopping 400% for specialized workers.
Those departures wreak havoc not only on the bottom line, but on the rest of your team’s productivity and efficiency as well.
That’s why every organization should place the highest priority on engagement – motivating, nurturing and rewarding top employees.
You need your stars to feel valued if they are going to stay with you for the long run.
Why do they leave?
We all know the saying, “Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.” And everyone will recognize some of these management styles that tend to drive top employees away.
These folks are easy to spot. They’re constantly asking whether employees will hit their deadlines or quotas. They want to see work before it’s finished and ask for repetitive progress reports.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting projects done correctly and on time, but for great staff who consistently get things done and done well, constant oversight feels (correctly) like a lack of trust.
Feeling they are not trusted, despite proving themselves over and over, is going to drive top performers to look for a new job.
They know they are trustworthy and don’t want to waste time soothing a manager’s unfounded anxiety.
Sure, every organization includes workers that do need constant checkups.
But the really good performers just need you to set expectations, outline the assignment and get out of the way. If they need help or aren’t going to hit a deadline, they’ll let you know.
The invisible manager
So, does that mean top performers should be left alone entirely unless there’s a problem?
No. There’s a line between trusting proven performers to get the job done and keep your organization successful and adopting a hands-off approach that makes them feel ignored.
First of all, if
But even if that’s not the case, when a manager tells hardworking employees, “If you don’t hear from me, you’re doing fine,” that might translate to, “You’re doing OK, so I’m going to ignore you and spend all my time managing the lousy workers.”
That’s not an engaging message of value or worth for top employees who want more than just “You’re doing fine.”
Good employees will always want to know where they stand and how their efforts are advancing the organization’s strategic goals.
Don’t lose your top workers by leaving them guessing. Constant communication and regular feedback are key for even your most self-directed staffers.
Pushing employees to produce by yelling and screaming at them, sometimes called baseball bat management, just doesn’t fly when top employees have so many other opportunities.
Some of these managers will insist they are motivating workers by acting like a tough coach. You know the difference and so do your employees.
The “Do it or else!” management style does more harm than good. Managers who try to rule by threat are always going to push your turnover higher.
The great equalizers
Consistency can help morale at times, and it can buy some degree of legal protection as well. But when managers treat good and bad employees the same, they send the wrong message.
When an employee goes the extra mile – like coming in on a Saturday to close a profitable account – managers are asking for trouble if they
When bad employees are treated the same as good ones, top staffers will start to wonder why they should try so hard if they can still get paid for slacking.
In fact, workplace studies have repeatedly shown that too many managers spend too much time trying to raise up poor performers.
They should be putting extra effort into recognizing people whose performance makes a difference.
High morale and productivity follow when managers spend most of their time supporting the top 50% of their performers.
So, find a way to recognize and reward top employees or be prepared to replace them.
What are top performers looking for?
Great employees want to work hard, and they want to be recognized for that hard work.
And to do their best work, they need to know exactly what they’re responsible for and how they’ll be judged.
When good workers don’t know those things, they’ll leave for an employer that can tell them.
So, what do they want?
To start, they’ll want a detailed description of the position you’re considering hiring them for.
Even during the initial interview, candidates should get an accurate idea about what to expect from the job.
That includes work schedule, overall responsibilities, job priorities and accountability.
Expect big changes down the road? Make sure they also know how their responsibilities might shift to support those changes.
Once they are on board, share company information regularly so employees understand how they contribute to the big picture — and so they can be thinking about how to improve their teams’ workflows and procedures.
One of the most useful strategies for retaining top performers is asking for their input.
Your best employees are on the front line every day, and they see things that might slip under your radar.
To keep top workers engaged, create an environment where questions and opinions are not just welcomed but encouraged.
That’s because when employees ask questions, it means they’re concerned about results.
Even top performers are going to have questions, so it’s important for them to know they can always ask you for clarification.
And, perhaps most importantly, they need to see how they will be able to grow and advance within the organization.
Rewards and recognition
Employees who do a good job each day view recognition as verification that their performance matters.
Of course, each top employee will be motivated differently, so it’s important to tailor your recognition efforts to the individual.
Here’s one way to determine the best recognition techniques:
- Write down what you think motivates your best workers, leaving room for write-in answers.
- Check off the items that motivate you, then distribute the list to those employees.
- Analyze the overall results for insight into what will motivate most employees – such as time off – but also look for ideas that might appeal to specific workers.
And this exercise can help you gain perspective as well by revealing how different your own motivators might be from the ones that energize your top employees.
A great way to recognize employees is with “spot rewards” like movie tickets or inexpensive gift certificates that managers can hand out at random times during the workday when an employee’s exhibiting exemplary performance.
Little things do mean a lot. Employees love perks not because of the perk itself but because of the recognition that goes along with it.
Low-cost rewards that improve employee engagement can be almost anything. A short list includes:
- tickets to sporting events and shows
- free beverages and snacks
- gift certificates for meals
- a free lunch
- free car washes, and
- holiday family parties or picnics.
But there’s one more perk that pleases everybody: time off. An extra day off to reward an outstanding job goes a long way toward lifting an employee’s opinion of his or her company.
If appropriate, meet with top employees and devise a plan tailored to meet their motivational factors.
You can’t make every employee’s job perfect.
But you might be able to improve employee engagement in some ways – like providing more flexible schedules for those with family responsibilities.
Here’s a checklist to use when considering ways to tailor your workforce to accommodate changing lifestyles:
- Determine the core business requirements for your department or area first: What is it you need to achieve?
- Talk with staff about what they want.
- Develop possible flextime strategies and seek feedback from your workers.
- Decide who will be covered by the policies and check to ensure the policies don’t unfairly or illegally discriminate.
- Draw up written procedures for implementation and evaluation, including regular reassessment.
- Get support from upper management.
- Present the changes in a manner that shows you’ve taken the lead in responding to the need for work/life balance.
Finally, managers who excel at engaging and retaining high-performing staff are the ones who develop detailed short- and long-term growth plans for each employee.
So, how do you design a development plan that will best nurture each top employee?
Identify each top performer’s strengths and talents and establish goals that take advantage of those strengths or address any skill gaps.
Develop work plans that allow employees to learn from co-workers, other departments and managers, including cross-training assignments.
And schedule regular meetings to talk with them about their goals and ask what they enjoy and don’t enjoy about their work.
Then offer help, whether that be involving them in a new project or setting up a meeting with HR to discuss how they can prepare for a promotion opportunity in the future.
Ask for feedback
Here are three questions to ask your top performers:
- “Can you tell me our organization’s top three goals for the year?” To analyze the level of engagement of top staffers, you need to make sure you’re all on the same page.
- “If you were competing against our company, what would you do?” You may be surprised to find that top performers know exactly what a company’s weaknesses are.
- “What could we change to get things running smoother?” Giving top staffers the opportunity to speak freely might yield some great results. Top employees will be grateful that you asked and are bound to have good ideas.
And provide performance feedback frequently.
Top performers aren’t waiting a year to judge themselves and the old once-a-year review just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Want to lose a star? Surprise them with complaints about their performance when it’s time for their compensation review.