A Publication of WTVP

I predict that 2014 will be the year your firms’ disengaged employees say, enough! Your employees hung in during the recessionary dip, which took root in 2009, but after five years surviving countless organizational layoffs, job eliminations, mergers, reductions in training and development investments, and few promotions and pay increases, employees will again be in the driver’s seat.

Why should you care? Employee turnover is expensive. Many studies show the total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5 to two times annual salary. Consider the real costs of losing an employee:

Wayne Cascio, author of Investing in People, says the residual effect caused by rounds of layoffs can take years for the “surviving” employees to recover their pre-layoff levels of commitment and engagement.

Now that we’re seeing an economic recovery, your employees are beginning to gain confidence in the job market. Are they also beginning to look for a new job?

2014 will be the year that your now “disengaged” employees start quitting. Why? They have renewed confidence in the job market, with fewer concerns about being another employer’s “last in.” Dealing with spikes in turnover will be exasperated by the fact that many firms are growing and need to hire even more talent. Growth means adding to head count, but in reality, organizations will be adding and replacing departing employees.

I don’t think I’m being an alarmist. In fact, Gallup’s 2013: State of the American Workplace Report concludes that only 30 percent of the workforce is engaged. The scariness of this statistic is amplified in a June 2013 Fast Company post (“Creative Conversations”) by contributing editor Mark Crowley. Mark metaphorically describes the state of employee engagement in 2013 by asking us to imagine we’re part of a crew team. As you look behind you, you discover that only you and two of your crew mates are rowing your butts off, while five of your fellow rowers are casually looking at the scenery, and remarkably, two are attempting to sink your boat by bringing water on board. Can your crew team win the race? Of course not. But according to the Gallup study, that is precisely what is happening in the workforce. This example is reinforced in my just released employee engagement video, “Who’s Sinking Your Boat” (

I anticipate significant job movement as we head into the New Year. Your retention and engagement investments (and goals to become the “employer of choice”) should not be analogous to a light switch—you shouldn’t just turn them on or off. You need to have a strategy in place that can sustain the good times and the not-so-good times. Think of your engagement investments and efforts as a dimmer switch: during financially challenging times, you lower slightly, and during boom times, you elevate slightly, while continuously communicating with your employees the realities of your business challenges and successes.

Companies need to focus on their engagement and retention strategies today to be prepared for tomorrow. These strategies need to focus on the following best practices:

  1. Create a line of sight describing where the company is going, how you’re going to get there, and what role all your employees play in helping you get there.
  2. Train your first-line leaders on creating an engaged culture with their employees. Why? Because the number-one driver of employee engagement is one’s relationship with their boss.
  3. Create a robust communication culture built on transparency, honesty and consistency.
  4. Drive high performance… because A players want to work with A players.
  5. Foster a culture of celebration and recognition.
  6. Do well by doing good. Identify both the “what” it is you do (what you sell), along with your “why” (your purpose or mission). This will enable you to crystalize your purpose and allow you to win in the marketplace. In fact, according to research by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, firms that focus on purpose outperform their peer group six times!

Bob Kelleher is a speaker, entrepreneur, author of the just-released Employee Engagement for Dummies and founder of The Employee Engagement Group. For more information, visit