Retaining talent through employee engagement

Susan Long Associates

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2018 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. This involves 20 free events, workshops and training sessions along with thought leadership blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Official Partner and Sponsors – The West Midlands Combined Authority, Aston University, South and City College Birmingham and Curium Solutions - all events are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more here.

This year, 47% of British workers are looking to move jobs – according to the employee sentiment poll (2018) held annually by Investors in People (IIP). This actually represents a 12% reduction from last year`s statistics, but the survey shows that nearly 1 in 4 workers who are unhappy at work, cites poor management as the main reason for wanting  to move on.  So that old adage “People leave bad bosses, not bad companies” lives on!

The survey also found that what makes employees happiest at work - perhaps unsurprisingly, is the level of enjoyment they get from the work itself, but flexible working hours and a good team were also important factors. Conversely, following on from poor management and pay issues, the survey reveals that an important driver for employees wanting to leave their jobs is lack of career progression.

So what are British employers to make of this? With the unemployment rate at 4.3% - the lowest since 1975, and yet with wages remaining more or less static, never has it been so important to engage and retain your talented people.

Let`s assume you know where your talent lies in your business. You are holding regular and meaningful conversations with your employees, so you know what makes them tick, what they like about their work and what they don`t, and you understand their aspirations. So you have an idea which employees who are key to your business, either now or in the future, might be at risk of looking for pastures new.

Not all businesses are in a position to offer career progression in its most accepted sense – a bigger role, more pay for more responsibility. Enlightened organisations are looking at other ways to stretch and broaden a role, to provide new experiences, different skills and delegated responsibility. This also helps to make work more interesting, varied and enjoyable.  Ambitious people will value the opportunity to work on cross functional groups, addressing problem solving and business improvement projects across the business, and many will remain loyal to an organisation who is sponsoring external recognised training and qualifications. Alternatively, helping an employee through coaching or mentoring, to acquire increased valuable behavioural skills such as leadership and motivation can increase their commitment (and value) to your business.

If you want to increase engagement, it is important to give your people a voice. No longer will a suggestion box in the corner of the kitchen, gathering dust and old bus tickets fit the bill. Regular 2-way briefings and staff groups who genuinely have the ear of the boss will ensure that employees are more in tune with what you are trying to achieve and believe that their views matter. One (large and dispersed) organisation I work with holds regular “big conversations” across the country, which involve senior executives of the business sitting down with staff at all levels to hear what they have to suggest, and to share future plans. Others make good use of private social networking services such as Yammer for people to share their views and build stronger informal networks.

Finally, people will stay longer with a business if they feel valued and fairly rewarded for their efforts. My more recent experience with business clients has demonstrated that employees are increasingly appreciative of opportunities for flexible working, (also identified in the IIP survey) often in preference to financial benefit. Smart businesses recognise that most people “work to live” and that if they make that work time as enjoyable and appreciated as possible, they will stay longer. To make sure this happens at all levels of their business, leaders and business owners must re-evaluate how they review and reward the effectiveness of their managers. If a manager is only rewarded or paid a bonus for achieving business led KPIs, but not the number of times they have held a team brief or celebrated a team member`s success, then they should not be surprised if their talented staff go elsewhere.

Sources: Investors in People 2018 Employee Sentiment poll.

ONS statistics – November 2017

Sue Long is an independent coach and business advisor, with over 20 years` experience working with all sizes of Midlands businesses, after working in blue chip company management and as a consultant in the Birmingham office of KPMG.