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Employee Engagement and Retention: Digging Below the Surface

Addressing employee engagement and retention traditionally involves examining areas 

that may feed the problem: effectiveness of candidate screening, compensation/rewards positioning, career path progression and broad work culture assessments particularly focused on leadership and management.  All that said, turnover continues in some organizations even when these areas are examined and strategies are applied.  As an example, some of our clients groom talent through rotational development programs. 

They spend top dollar to attract talent and invest in their learning and career development.  However, two to three years later a significant portion of these individuals leave the organization, creating a talent hole, not to mention the loss of investment dollars and time spent by others in developing them.

While turnover is accepted as a business reality for certain jobs and industry segments, in recent time turnover seems to be increasing in many non traditional areas.  To this point, Department of Labor statistics indicate that, on average, for all jobs, employees entering the workforce will have roughly four jobs in the first ten years of their career.  With the economy picking up steam that number could possibly get worse in the future.  So you could say that we live in a transient work world where change is constant.

As noted above, most organizations address traditional areas when dealing with engagement and retention.  Beyond these fundamentals I thought about two simple overarching factors that influence organizational stability and turnover.  These factors need to be discussed, assessed and baked into the overall engagement and retention strategy.

The first is the concept of genuineness.  In other words when we interview and select candidates there is a communication exchange which follows a simple pattern.  Candidates are quizzed about their past work history, behavior and career interests, including compensation.  Hiring managers/recruiters describe the job and to some degree sell the candidate to join the organization.  Within this dynamic communication exchange, the degree of genuineness exhibited by both the candidate and company management will dictate how well expectations are aligned and will significantly influence tenure. 

The issue in today’s marketplace is that candidates are experienced at interviewing often and answering questions in a politically correct fashion leaving the employer to guess if they will truly work out.  Assessments help to some degree but do not fully alleviate the problem.  Likewise companies do not invest the time to thoroughly communicate the pros and cons of their organization and leadership team.  It is only after the employee is there for some period of time that reality manifests itself.

Connected closely to this first factor of genuineness is the concept of relationship.  If we combine the two you can call it a genuine relationship.  The definition implies that there is a common appreciation between the employee and the organization.  It is a trust factor.  When it’s done right the employee is fully engaged and supports the efforts of the organization while the management team genuinely looks out for the best interests of its team members.  However, in recent times the relationship concept has deteriorated and we have realistically moved to a “transient” relationship.  There are many historical reasons for this, economic, social and other.  Nonetheless building genuine relationships should be the overarching goal of every organization.  This is equally important as compensation, career paths, and other traditional considerations. 

While this approach sounds simple, it is very challenging to build the genuine relationship concept into the organization and company culture.  It takes commitment and vigilance.  It is a broad effort which starts at the leadership level and cascades down to day to day business decision making.  Not all leaders, managers or employees are comfortable with being completely transparent and open.  Consequently, the relationship and trust factor evaporates quickly, rendering these strategies useless.  One can see a similar correlation within our personal lives, where the success of personal relationships is dictated by day to day engagement.  The best relationships are built on authentic and transparent relationships.

Dan Simovic is the Managing Director at TAMS Group. He works with a team of top-notch consultants to provide practical solutions to companies designed to improve employee and organizational productivity, attract, develop, manage and reward their most critical assets: their employees; and minimize workplace compliance risk.