With Brexit looming and still no clear sign of what sort of deal (if any) we’re going to have with Europe, the need for employers to retain key talent is greater than ever, because it might be about to get a lot more difficult to hire it from outside the UK. Businesses need to do all they can to keep their best staff on board, as good candidates will suddenly be in even greater demand.
Employee engagement is already an important idea, with the youngest professional generation generally looking for more from an employer than just a job they enjoy - and why not?
Employees want to work for organisations that recognise them as individuals and give meaning to their lives. And is that so much to ask as they contemplate the reality of working into their seventies, or even never retiring?
Here are nine themes I see as key to creating employee engagement.
1. Regular reviews and check-ins
Is an annual appraisal and salary review something we can live with today? Before older leaders accuse young employees of being needy and seeking constant reassurance, consider the differences in markets today than when we were cutting our teeth as professionals: constantly shifting, very challenging economic conditions; political uncertainty; changing international markets; the fourth industrial revolution and technology (with attendant opportunities and threats) that changes almost overnight. A formulaic, form-led chat once a year suddenly seems a bit inadequate, doesn’t it? Employees today need to adapt, and constantly. Regular reviews and feedback, input, coaching and mentoring may not have been available to me when I was starting out, but it feels about right for the world we live in today.
What kind of candidate do most employers want? I think it’s fair to say that they want the kind of individual who doesn’t rest on their laurels, who is always seeking to improve themselves, their skill set and the contribution they can make. Certainly, with the conditions described above, many employees now fear standing still. Opportunities to develop are one of the biggest draws for employees today.
3. Long-termism an option
Happy, successful long-term employees are a great indicator that an employer knows how to look after its people, and a clear signal to newer staff that it’s worth sticking around. Doubly so if the long-term employee is an internal success story, by which I mean someone who was hired as a junior and trained and promoted from within. If an employer looks after their long-term employees, word soon gets about. These people can become a marketing asset for your employer brand, not to mention a priceless source of wisdom for their peers.
Quite often, employers are cagey about offering flexible working up front, preferring to hire the person they want and then offer flexibility if the individual makes a compelling case once they’ve got the job.
But if they were willing to do that in the first place, what a great advertisement for their brand. What a marketing opportunity for an employer in the race to hire great people, and what an opportunity to stand out in a world where almost every employee wants flexibility.
5. Respect for leave entitlement
From an employer’s perspective, there is rarely a “good” time for staff to take their hard-earned leave. But staff do not owe a business their life or their health. There will always be too much work. Staff shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about using their leave, nor made to jump through hoops to be able to take it.
6. Communication (respect)
Some time ago, I met an individual who worked for a rapidly-changing business. His team was restructured, with seventy per cent of staff leaving. A new manager was brought in above them, without their prior knowledge. The new manager was similarly in the dark, and had not known he would be managing a team.
Amazingly, this is a true story.
Why the manager wasn’t informed about the team he would be managing is a mystery to me. And if I wasn’t told that I was about to get a new manager, I’d wonder what my employer expected of me after treating me this way.
My guess is that the leadership team did not deliberately withhold this information from the team. I think it never even occurred to them to care. Treat employees like this and you can expect them to walk.
7. Coach, don’t boss
Most employees today want more coaching, not less - this is particularly true of Millennials and Gen-Z who, don’t forget, will comprise over 50% of the global workforce by next year. What does this mean? It means managers who coach rather than boss, and who provide opportunities to learn, develop and progress.
A coaching management style creates more engaged employees than simply telling, but it takes time and is a more nuanced approach requiring empathy, patience and a little sensitivity.
8. Brilliant onboarding
We all know that first impressions count. And the way you treat a new hire will have a big impact on their impression of your business. So make their first days and weeks enjoyable, informative and fun. Make sure they understand the expectations of their role, and their development opportunities. Ensure they are introduced to their team, mentor (if they’re lucky enough to have one) and have all the tools and training they need to do to their job.
It can be difficult to remember just how much support new starters need and how baffling a new organisation can seem to even the most experienced new hires. Every business has its own jargon, culture, assumptions and protocols which can seem strange at first.
I love cultures that offer variety. I admire corporates who give junior hires a stint in lots of areas of the business, so they have a well-rounded understanding of the whole value chain. But there are many ways businesses of all sizes can embrace variety.
At a more humble level, variety can be used to re-frame what it means to have a meeting, brainstorm session or appraisal. Simply by avoiding a standard template for how sessions like these are held, employers can keep catch-ups lively and interesting, and encourage a bit of creativity. Why not encourage your employees to run their own appraisal (with their manager present, of course!), create fun ways for staff to introduce themselves at meetings or meet somewhere different for a change, mixing up the degrees of formality in meetings?
What makes an engaging company for you? Feel free to share your opinions with us and please share this blog if you like it!