The Best Features of a High-Performance Engagement and Retention Strategy

In a difficult hiring environment, the best strategy is to keep the employees you have. Here are some employee engagement and retention strategies that work to do that.

For much of the past decade, HR departments everywhere in the world have been dealing with an unprecedented challenge. That challenge is keeping their talent pipelines full despite historically low unemployment rates. In such a hiring environment, businesses no longer have the upper hand, and job-hopping has become the new normal.

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At the same time, businesses of all kinds have started to struggle with employee engagement. It’s an issue that has compounded the difficulty already created by a tight labor market. Some businesses have turned inward to try and figure out where the problem is coming from. The reality, however, is that poor employee engagement is a common problem in every industry, despite the many attempts made to improve it.

In truth, these two factors are inextricably linked. Employees are likely to leave for another job if they’re not engaged in their current position – and the tight labor market makes it easier than ever for them to do so. Fixing the problem requires a systemic approach that changes the whole equation for employees, providing incentives to stay when the labor environment gives them every reason to leave.

Making this happen requires HR departments to create and effect a comprehensive employee engagement and retention plan. It must result in nothing short of a complete cultural shift throughout the organization to achieve the desired results. Here’s a top-to-bottom look at the best features of a high-performance employee engagement and retention strategy that every business should consider putting into action right away.

Begin With the Right Metrics

One of the greatest mistakes the majority of employee engagement and retention initiatives make is a failure to create the right data collection infrastructure before making changes to existing procedures and policies. Without the right metrics to guide them, HR departments tend to make changes that conform to industry expectations rather than to the reality of their own organizations.

Although the specifics of what’s needed will vary from company to company, the essential metrics to track are:

  • Employee development
  • Job satisfaction
  • Employer perception
  • Co-worker relationships
  • Employee health
  • Communication effectiveness

The good news is that the CakeHR performance management module makes collecting most of this data fairly easy. For example, custom surveys can capture data on all of the above metrics (with the exception of health, which should remain in one-to-one HR settings). With the right data, it’s much easier for HR to find potential weaknesses in existing engagement and retention strategy, to then limit their efforts to what’s really needed. In short, the data will create a map to guide the program.

Offer a Complete Employee Development Program

As it turns out, there’s a reason that employee development was the first metric listed above. It’s because employee development is one of the biggest keys to employee engagement and retention. It’s so important that a recent survey found that an astounding 94% of employees would remain with their current company if it invested in their career. That number alone should be enough for any business to justify whatever spending is necessary to create a comprehensive employee development program.

The best way to do this is to adopt a blended approach that offers learning opportunities in a variety of formats. To start with, a tuition reimbursement program gives employees the option of learning on their own time and through the medium of their choice. It’s flexible, generous, and a great retention tool. A good program won’t stop there, though. It should also create at-work opportunities for growth.

That means creating time within the work schedule to allow for training activities and online coursework. The first step is to get buy-in from managers throughout the organization who will be at the front lines of the policy. It should be made clear that employee development is a business goal that everyone should work toward. If possible, managers should have a say in which types of skill development would be most valuable to their group.

When there’s a clear picture of what kind of development is required, a good next step is to partner with an online learning platform that offers the needed coursework. Today, there are online courses available to suit every need, including a variety of human resources courses so those crafting and managing the program won’t be left out. It’s even possible for businesses with sufficient resources to craft their own custom coursework using one of the many business-oriented online learning platforms.

The bottom line is that there’s no longer an excuse for any company to not make employee development a core part of their engagement and retention plans. And with the statistics proving how valuable such an effort is, it’s tantamount to business malpractice not to.

Take Steps to Improve Communication

Judging by the vast majority of studies on employee engagement, there are few things that sap morale faster than poor communications. More often than not, employees feel disengaged due to their perception of their on-the-job reality, rather than on what’s actually going on around them. The key to fixing that problem is to provide the tools necessary for effective, transparent communication at all levels.

Today, this is easily accomplished by deploying the latest in digital collaboration and communication tools. The most well-known of these is Slack, is an all-in-one platform that allows for everything from company-wide messaging to drag-and-drop filesharing. Better yet, it even integrates with existing digital systems to become a central interface for all business communication needs.

For example, it integrates with CakeHR to create a time off request system that uses an interactive chatbot and calendar connections to book employee vacations. It can also integrate with knowledge management platforms, task management software, and just about any other tool imaginable. This does wonders for inter-office communications because anything an employee could want to know becomes accessible in one place – all they have to do is ask a question and they’ll get the answers they seek. In addition, tools like Slack enable direct communications between managers and staff, which creates the kind of top-down transparency required for high employee engagement.

Embrace Flexible Work Arrangements

For many years, the biggest factor in the average employee’s decision to stay or leave a company was an obvious one: money. Compensation routinely topped every list of considerations on the subject. Lately, though, that has started to change. Younger workers are beginning to prioritize their quality of work life, so much so that surveys indicate that they’d take a pay cut to improve their happiness.

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One of the key components of that happiness that many cite is having a better work/life balance. Among those who are happy enough to stay in their jobs, 42% cite this as the reason – a close second to compensation. That illustrates that employers have a powerful incentive to find ways to help their employees balance their professional obligations with their personal ones, and that means being prepared to be flexible.

Flexible working arrangements are a simple way that employers can help their employees keep their lives balanced. This kind of initiative can take many forms, from allowing employees to work from home when appropriate, to offering alternative hours outside of the typical nine-to-five workday. Any accommodations in this vein are valuable and should be made standard operating procedure.

For those who believe allowing flexible working arrangements will be too much of a disruption, the available statistics disagree. In fact, the study referenced above that placed work/life balance just behind compensation in the mix of reasons employees cite in their decisions to stay or leave also indicated another, more interesting finding. It found that a full 89% of companies that offered flexible work arrangements experienced greater retention – even if nobody was taking advantage of the opportunity. Just having the option was enough to satisfy most, and no disruption resulted from the policy.

Foster a Culture of Involvement

As we touched on earlier, a high-performance employee engagement and retention program must produce nothing short of a cultural shift organization-wide. That shift should be toward creating a culture of involvement, both inside and outside the workplace. Internally, this means training managers to become active participants in the work lives of those underneath them. They have to know how, when, and why to step into the work of their charges to provide support, assistance, and encouragement when needed.

This has a trickle-down effect that encourages employees to work together and ask for help when they need it. It also encourages them to offer help to others when they see a need for it. That creates a beneficial circle of interdependence throughout the organization. In short order, every employee will feel connected to those they work with and for and know they’re having a measurable positive impact on the people around them.

Outside the workplace, a culture of involvement can take the form of community service. To that end, company-sponsored volunteer activities make an excellent addition to any employee engagement and retention effort. According to Deloitte, 89% of employees believe that companies who sponsor volunteer programs offer a better working environment than those that don’t. That goes a long way toward keeping employees happy and engaged in their jobs. It also provides a visible example of the company’s values in action, which is another big engagement driver.

Focus on Employee Recognition

As simple as it sounds, some employees benefit tremendously from an occasional pat on the back. In practice, recognizing employee contributions provides tangible benefits to retention. One study indicated that the simple act of acknowledging employee contributions increased their likelihood to remain on the job for an additional year by 27%. For such a large benefit, this should be a no-brainer.

The best thing about recognizing employees is that it can be done in so many ways, both large and small. It doesn’t have to take the form of formal rewards (although that is always a good idea). It can also take place throughout the office on a daily basis, by:

  • Beginning meetings by highlighting an employee who has done great work
  • Calling out good work as it happens
  • Creating an employee highlight section in communication forums and newsletters
  • Making efforts to point out employees in support roles who enable teams to achieve great results
  • Creating a bonus system for high-achievers

No matter the approach taken, helping each employee feel like a valued team member whose contributions don’t go unnoticed is good for everyone involved. Even better, no amount of recognition is too much, as long as it’s deserved and isn’t patronizing. This is the single most cost-effective feature of a high-performance employee engagement and retention plan – and it’s also the easiest to implement.

Thriving Despite Challenges

Any business that prioritizes employee engagement and retention will overcome the challenges posed by the current tight labor market. As the above initiatives should make clear, there are plenty of ways to keep employees happy, engaged, and best of all – keep them from leaving. Stemming the rate of employee churn is by far the most effective way to keep a talent pipeline full, and that’s a worthwhile goal in any hiring environment.

Plus, these types of efforts have a net positive effect that extends well beyond keeping employees around. They also improve work performance, productivity, and employee brand perception. That last one makes it easier to attract top talent by creating a reputation as a fantastic place to work. At the end of the day, that’s the kind of effect that money can’t buy, but that every business – and the HR professionals that support it – should strive for.

Andrej is a dedicated writer and digital evangelist. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing everything from neural networks and natural language processing to the latest in smart home IoT devices.

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HR management software app system CakeHR human resources

CakeHR is an award-winning HR software company that provides attendance, performance and recruitment management for customers worldwide. More information at

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