Here is an article written by Mike Prokopeak for Talent Management magazine. To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.
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Just because employees are highly engaged doesn’t mean they’re going to stick around. And managing to your engagement survey results isn’t likely to fix the problem.
The reality is a company can have successful employee engagement programs in place and still lose half its employees the next year, said Elizabeth Craig, research fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance.
According to Accenture research detailed in a June 2011 report, “What Executives Really Need to Know About Employee Engagement,”43 percent of highly engaged workers have weak or lukewarm intentions to stay with their employers.
Despite that, many executives still tend to equate high engagement with increased retention and implement policies and initiatives in response to survey results that fail to deliver the promised retention boost.
“The problem with that view is that it takes a very short-term focus on delivering the engagement numbers,” Craig said. “They’re managing to that without fully examining or understanding the fundamental conditions in an organization that allow or encourage employees to engage.”
The Problem With Engagement Surveys
The typical engagement survey gauges employees’ experience at work — their relationship with their boss and co-workers and whether or not they find the job interesting. That type of measurement accurately describes what an employee’s work situation is like, but fails to assess his or her behavior and attitude toward work, Craig said.
“This is how much effort you put in, how excited or enthusiastic you are about what you’re doing and how focused you are on the work,” she said. “When people invest their personal energy in their company and their success, we call them engaged.”
The June report, based on a survey of 1,300 employees in U.S. companies, analyzed that engagement and intention to stay separately to identify the characteristics of high-engagement, high-retention workplaces.
“It’s really not about bumping up compensation,” Craig said. “You need to attend to the culture in the organization — is it a place where they feel like they are supported? Do they feel like they can take risks and they won’t be punished for that? Do they feel like they can count on their colleagues? It’s that deep culture that matters more than executives appreciate.”
Linking Engagement to Retention
The report details three employee beliefs that are important for sustained engagement:
1. I’m making a difference: Employees believe the work they are doing is important.
2. We’re in this together: Everyone is doing their part.
3. My company has my back: There is a culture of trust and respect.
To help employees see that they are making a difference, Craig said companies should focus on creating real meaning, not just mission statements. Motivating jobs that offer variety and opportunity to exert influence, good relationships with colleagues and a compelling future at the company are catalysts to create that meaning, she said.
Companies should also set reasonable expectations and actively balance effort and recovery to help employees see that everyone is doing their part.
“In order for people to invest their energy in their work and the company’s success, they need to be able to … restore their energy stock and to recover from major investments,” Craig said.
A culture of trust and respect is the factor that really matters for holding on to highly engaged employees, Craig said. Employees need a safe work environment where they feel like they have manager support and can take risks; they also need dependable co-workers. According to the survey, 74 percent of highly engaged employees say they can trust and count on their colleagues; 73 percent who did said they have a high intention to stay.
It’s important for talent managers to understand the basics of sustained engagement and help executives understand them, too.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to build trust and increase transparency that create the kind of environment that highly engaged people want to be a part of,” she said.
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Mike Prokopeak is editorial director for Talent Management magazine.