How to keep long time employees engaged

building bloks of employee engagementAccording to Gallup’s 2013 employee engagement report, on average only 30% of employees are engaged at work, 50% are not engaged, and 20% are actively disengaged. To put this in perspective, imagine that the average company is a rowboat with ten people on board trying to row to shore.  This would mean that only three people are rowing the boat back to shore, while five people have their oars out of the water, and two people are rowing out to sea.  Not exactly a formula for success.

Why doesn’t everyone row in the same direction to help the team win?  Why isn’t everyone engaged?

Here are the five keys to keeping long term employees engaged:

The first key to keeping long term employees engaged, is to treat everyone as a long term employee.  Is there a difference in engagement between the newer employee and the long term employee?  According to Gallup, the answer is yes.   What surprised me is the definition of long term employee.  Engagement scores are the highest during the first six months of employment and from that point forward scores drop by 10 percentage points, and on average never recover.

“The relatively high engagement levels of workers with tenure of less than six months may reflect a “honeymoon” effect in which employees’ initial excitement about being a part of their new organization counteracts any preliminary negative impressions.” – Gallup

The second key to keeping long time employees engaged is a diligent focus on engagement.  Companies that consistently focus on engagement with their employees can reverse the declining trend after the first six months.  Scores increase across employee tenure for companies that have a multi-year commitment to employee engagement.  In fact after nine years of dedicated focus, engagement scores are slightly above 60 – twice the average score. 

“Engagement increases at all levels of tenure as employees continue to participate in focused initiatives to improve their engagement.”  – Gallup

The third key to keeping long time employees engaged is to assign accountability. Senior executives from the CEO down have to be dedicated to employee engagement and make it a priority for them and their managers.  Don’t just talk privately in meetings about its importance.  Document your expectations in annual goals; assign due dates to each step of the process and track progress; make action steps short term and achievable; and most importantly, coach your managers on how to achieve employee engagement.

Transformation occurs at the local level, but it only happens when the tone is set from the top down.” – Gallup

The fourth key to keeping long time employees engaged is to focus on developing their strengths. The difference in engagement of employees in organizations that focus on employee’s strengths versus those that focus on their weaknesses, or worse ignore their employee’s development is staggering.  It won’t be a surprise to anyone that organizations that ignore their employees have a very low engagement score – it’s 3%.  But some may say that focusing on helping employees improve their weaknesses is a good thing, and the engagement score proves that right – it’s 45%.  But when companies focus on developing their employee’s strengths engagement increases to 61%.

If we go back to the boat rowing example in the beginning of this article we also looked at the level of active disengagement – this is when people work against the goals of the organization.  Now here is when the difference in focusing on weakness versus strengths really shows results.  When focusing on improving weaknesses, 22% of employees are still actively disengaged.  But when focusing on developing strengths, only 1% of employees are actively disengaged.

“The best opportunity for people to grow and develop is to identify the ways in which they most naturally think, feel, and behave, and then build on those talents to create strengths.” – Gallup

The fifth key to keeping long time employees engaged is to make all employees part of the solution.  If you want your employees to be engaged, then engage them in the discussion.  I always say if you want to know something than ask someone who knows.  It’s really that simple.  Talk to your employees, ask them what they need to be engaged.  The answers can’t come from managers, you need to hear the unique needs of each group.

There are commonalities in answers when questions about engagement are raised.  For instance according to Gallup, “Opportunity to do best” and “mission and purpose” are the strongest factors for retaining employees. But when considering younger generations, “opportunities to learn and grow” is important, while “supervisor cares” is more important for older generations.

Action planning boosts employee engagement because the process itself demonstrates that the opinions of each person on the team matters.”