Employers Increasingly Focused on Retention As Economy Recovers

Posted August 13, 2012 by

John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & ChristmasEven as employers appear reluctant to ramp up hiring, a new survey shows that the majority are committed to retaining the workers they have and are focused increasingly on employee engagement as the most effective means of achieving that goal.

In the survey of human resources professionals, 80 percent said their companies were focused on employee engagement and 67 percent said the focus on engagement is greater now than it was before the recession.  The survey was conducted by global outplacement and executive coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. among attendees at the annual conference and exposition of the Society for Human Resources Management held recently in Atlanta.

“As the job market continues to improve, albeit slowly, more and more workers are starting to seek new opportunities.  In recognition of this, employers are stepping up their efforts to hold on to the talent that was critical in helping the company survive the downturn,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“However, as many companies understand, retention is not merely a matter of salary hikes and fancy perks; it is about taking steps to ensure that employees feel that they are valued, challenged, and that their contributions impact the bottom line.  That is what engagement is about; forming a bond between the employee and the employer,” he added.

Several surveys and studies show that when employees are not engaged, they are not only more likely to seek positions elsewhere, but they are less productive and are not motivated to do their best or go beyond their basic job responsibilities.

In the Challenger survey, communication between employer and employee was recognized as the most effective method of boosting employee morale and engagement.  It was selected by 26 percent of respondents as being the best means of improving engagement.  Just over 20 percent of respondents named awards and other forms of recognition as the most effective engagement-building tool.

“Of course, no company should employ just one method of increasing engagement.  It is likely to take a combination of tools, which could change significantly from company to company, and even from department to department.  It may be necessary for companies to test several methods before finding the best combination of programs,” said Challenger.

In order to find the right mix and then gauge whether engagement efforts are actually succeeding, respondents said their companies use a number of tools.  The most popular, utilized by 83 percent of the employers represented, is simply conducting regular performance reviews where employees and their supervisors have the best opportunity to share and get feedback on a wide variety of issues.

“Performance reviews should not be a one-way street, where the supervisor merely informs a worker where he or she is doing well and where he or she needs to improve.  The communication should go both ways, with each person coming out of the meeting with a better understanding of the other’s goals, expectations, and motivations,” said Challenger.

Sixty-seven percent of human resources professionals said their companies use staff meetings to measure engagement.  Other tools included surveys (52 percent), one-on-one meetings (47 percent) and teambuilding exercises (37 percent).

“Just as companies may have to rely on several engagement-building tools, it is likely that it will require a number of tools to successfully measure engagement.  A survey of employees may show that the 75 percent are motivated primarily by money, but what if none of those identified as the top performers or high potentials are among that 75 percent.  Companies that rely strictly on the survey results might conclude that paying out bonuses is the answer and then still end up losing their best people because that was not the key to their engagement,” said Challenger.

“It is important to remember that employee engagement is not the same thing as workplace satisfaction.  It takes far more than simply providing free coffee and donuts in the break room and an annual company picnic to boost engagement.  If you want to win the hearts and minds of your employees, so that they want to go the extra mile for the good of the company, then the company has to demonstrate that it is willing to go the extra mile for its employees.  It has to be a two-way street or efforts to increase engagement will fall flat,” he concluded.

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