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Your employees have voices. Listen to them.

Five tips to increase employee engagement and retention


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All of us have had friends or acquaintances who, when speaking with them, rarely let you get a word in. You wait for a moment to interject. When one arises, you comment, but your point or question is quickly swept away as the person returns to his or her train of thought. Not much fun, right? Sadly, that type of one-sided dialogue all too often plagues organizations and prevents effective communications with their team members.

Arguably, the most important thing corporate leaders can do to foster employee engagement is to listen. Successful organizations encourage employees to speak their minds and amplify those voices across the company. This may sound like chaos and discord but when leaders create a culture that values freedom of expression, employees feel they are important, and they are more likely to stay.

Retention of good employees is more important than ever with the unemployment rate averaging 2.63% over the last three months. When an employee is engaged at a high level, they don’t have time to think about working somewhere else.

Retaining employees is important for several reasons:

  • Less money and effort is spent replacing people. According to industry research, the total cost of employee turnover can range from tens of thousands of dollars to nearly double the person’s annual salary.
  • Employees who want to stay, perform better and contribute to greater overall productivity. According to Gallup poll findings, teams that score in the top 20% in engagement realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and 59% less turnover.
  • Employees are more likely to stick with their company through tough times if they feel listened to and their opinions are validated.
  • A loyal employee often translates into loyal customers because his or her positivity is infectious.

A 2018 report from cloud software company Salesforce found that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are four-and-a-half times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Conversely, one study found that 38% of employees lacked initiative when they felt leaders dismissed their ideas without hearing or acting on them.

Performing an employee survey is one of many tools employers can use to take the pulse of their people. But tools are only as effective as the leadership behind them. Here are five commitments that will not only make employees feel listened to, but also improve engagement:

Establish regular one-on-one meetings

The importance of manager involvement cannot be overstressed; they are far and away the number-one go-to source of employees for information. Empower your managers and give them tools to help translate the business strategy to their teams. Give them messaging and a simple slide deck outlining how the business is performing against its objectives that they can customize by adding their own departmental objectives.

Celebrate team and individual successes.

Ask managers to nominate teams or individuals who have gone the extra mile for a customer, have solved a problem or have demonstrated how their day-to-day work supports the business strategy. Recognize them and share their stories throughout the organization.

Reinforce a culture of active listening and learning

This starts at the top. Leaders should have an open-door policy, take time to walk the halls and listen to employee concerns. Managers should not be afraid to ask the simple question, “How are you doing?” and engage in a conversation, actively listening to the responses. Encourage managers to sharpen their conversational skills. It’s an underutilized touchpoint.

Encourage candor and vulnerability

This may seem daunting, but it can be powerful. When employees feel they have a safe environment to bring up their concerns and share their experiences, it can be liberating. Their minds are then freed to focus on the organization’s mission and think about how they can help you achieve that mission. This is when innovation and creativity flourishes.

Use the right tools

We have more devices and platforms than ever: desktop, tablet, mobile, collaboration software and social intranets, to name a few. Solicit employee or team input before deciding which ones to implement. Some companies prefer moderated chats, where leaders respond to employee questions in real time. Others prefer town hall meetings. Not all platforms are suitable for every organization. Never stop evaluating the effectiveness of your methods, either; continue to gather input as you roll out new campaigns or technology.

If you want to reduce turnover and improve employee retention, you must cultivate honest two‑way communication. Dig in, listen closely, make a plan and really communicate effectively with your teams regularly.

Sioban Moore is the vice president and market leader for the Mountain region at Kelly, a global leader in connecting talented people to companies in need of their skills. An experienced workforce solutions executive, Sioban leads the staffing and business solutions operations for Kelly throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Connect with Sioban on LinkedIn.

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