If you are successful in improving engagement, employee retention might not be the only area in which your business improves.
High rates of turnover undermine the effectiveness of even the best business strategy. Sometimes your staff moves on for personal reasons, or because they found better pay and benefits elsewhere. These factors are concrete and widely recognized, but mostly out of your control.
One factor that is within the reach of employers of any scale is the degree of engagement employees feel with their workplace. Employee engagement is a hot topic right now. But what is it, and why do you need to pay attention? The higher your staff’s engagement level, the more likely they are to stay with your company.
In fact, “employees most committed to their organizations put in 57 percent more effort on the job—and are 87 percent less likely to quit—than employees who consider themselves disengaged,” according to James C. Price, citing a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study. Jack Welch, longtime CEO of General Electric, highlighted this intangible yet critical factor in employee retention, noting that “any company trying to compete must figure out a way to engage the mind of every employee.” Not only does this help you retain quality employees in the long term, it also helps you recruit new ones. Existing employees and their attitudes toward their workplace help “sell” the company in what is known as the “HR value proposition.”
Meaningful Community Involvement
Of all the intangible factors that contribute to an employee’s sense of engagement with their work, one factor that is often overlooked is community service. This is especially true for certain demographics, including the millennials, sometimes called Generation Y. These are people who were born starting in the early 1980s. More than previous generations, this group is attracted to companies that have strong reputations for community involvement and corporate social responsibility. Millennials are looking for work that is meaningful, not just well-compensated. It follows, then, that recruiting and retaining top talent in the rising Gen Y will be easier and more effective when an organization makes clear its commitment to meaningful community involvement.
Millennials will soon be the largest single group in the workforce, poised right now at a critical mid-career stage, with enough responsibility and experience under their belts to assume increased leadership roles in the workplace. If you want to recruit and promote the next generation of leaders, as millennials will soon be, then attracting them in the first place is a smart strategic move now.
While you might not think that sponsoring unpaid, volunteer work in the community would pay dividends in your bottom line, “Creating a culture of giving back is a great way to retain your employees who are looking for meaning in their work,” as we know millennials are, writes James C. Price in Refresh Leadership. Now more than ever, employees are voluntarily quitting their jobs rather than being terminated, in search of better opportunities. With this in mind, it is increasingly “important to provide your employees with meaningful work—which can be achieved through volunteering,” says Price. Building relationships through meaningful work decreases turnover.
Promote and Measure
But measuring the quality of relationships is not a straightforward process. Consider using an employee opinion survey with algorithms designed to meaningfully measure employee engagement. This can be a smart step before undertaking any large-scale change at your company—or trying to shift opinions through greater community involvement.
As with most practices, it turns out there is a right way and a wrong way to promote volunteerism at your organization:
- A less effective way is to be heavy-handed and withdraw choice from employees.
- Don’t limit your company’s community service options to one large corporate event in which participation is expected or required.
- Instead, encourage flexibility and choice of community-service options. People are passionate about different things, and commitment to certain types of projects varies widely by individual.
- Give your staff autonomy in what community service to choose, just like you give them autonomy in how to execute their job responsibilities. Both of these increase engagement levels because employees know their choices are valued.
- Do try to emphasize your company’s vision and values by highlighting certain community service options that align well to your company’s mission. However, this factor should not come at the expense of employee choice.
If you are successful in improving engagement through volunteerism, employee retention might not be the only area in which your business improves. Customer satisfaction starts with employee satisfaction. Speaker, consultant and business leader Jon Gordon writes that “a number of my banking, retail and restaurant clients have significantly improved revenue and service by focusing on and measuring employee engagement. You can literally track their growth and improved performance with their improvement in engagement.” With this in mind, go forth and engage! iBi
Larry Timm, PHR, SHRM-CP is vice president of AAIM Employers’ Association.