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Mar 4, 2016

With the unemployment rate dropping below 5 percent for the first time in eight years, it’s no surprise that business owners and senior executives are increasingly concerned with driving employee engagement to retain their top talent.

According to the most recent ADP Midsized Business Owners Study, concerns over employee engagement spiked 25 percent in 2015 after being flat since 2012. The study found two out of five employers surveyed (those with 50-999 employees) now express high levels of concern over engaging their employees to be active contributors to their business.

While employee engagement isn’t a new concept, it’s become more of a hot-button issue as the job market improves. After an economic downturn, there’s typically a rise in voluntary turnover in the United States, meaning the number of employees moving to a new job usually increases.

Millennials more willing to jump jobs

According to LinkedIn, the percentage of people open to changing jobs has spiked in the past four years, with 87 percent of professionals reporting they are open to speaking with a recruiter. Further, Millennials ages 18-34 make up the largest percentage of workers who look at new job opportunities.

With Millennials expected to make up more than half of the workforce by 2020, employers are looking for new ways to engage and retain their best people.

Research shows that Millennials have a shorter average tenure and less feelings of corporate loyalty than previous generations. In fact, 60 percent of Millennials have changed jobs between one and four times in the last five years, according to State Street Global Advisors.

If workers don’t feel their employers care about their overall well-being and career aspirations, chances are those employees won’t be committed to their organization’s goals and values, and won’t be motivated to contribute to the company’s overall success. If top performers leave, an organization can potentially be left with a low-performing workforce that’s working longer hours and delivering fewer results.

While business owners are starting to see a connection between employee engagement and productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction, according to the recent ADP study, only slightly more than half of midsized employers surveyed feel they currently have a good, repeatable process to facilitate it.

Business owners and senior executives surveyed cited managing performance, managing compensation and setting goals as the most important strategies to facilitate engagement.  While these strategies are key – there are additional strategies employers may also want to consider:

1. Ensure employees know their work matters

People need to see the how their work contributes to the company’s success. By helping employees see how the work they do on a daily basis supports the company’s overall business strategy, they will likely feel more engaged.

This is especially important to Millennials. They want their work to have a greater sense of purpose. A Harris Poll study conducted on behalf of Indeed revealed 51 percent of people age 18 to 34 said meaningful work was the factor that would most attract them to a job. That’s compared with 40 percent of people age 35 to 44.

2. Establish a strong corporate culture and communicate it

Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement and job and organizational fit will likely attract and keep top talent.

Culture is rooted in an organization’s values and reinforced by corporate leaders. That said, companies need to clearly define their corporate culture and then ensure it’s articulated, understood by employees and lived every day in the organization. To foster culture, it’s important to have regular and candid communications and keep employees informed of company news, charitable events, new hires, and more. This helps employees feel that they are “in the know.”

According to Deloitte, 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.

3. Build and strengthen employee links with team activities

Start employee recognition programs, community service outings, recreational leagues and fitness challenges. According to the ADP Midsized Business Owners Study, three of five business owners and senior executives surveyed believe focusing on employee recognition for achievements is important to their organization’s success.

One way to do this is to implement new tools that allow employees to recognize each other on internal social platforms, and provide awards that are point-based and redeemable for merchandise or gift cards. Also, group activities around fitness and community service encourage employees to interact with people outside their department, building camaraderie and fostering team cohesiveness.

4. Define employees’ career paths

A key driver of turnover is the perceived lack of career opportunities and advancement. Managers should provide role clarity and career path information to their employees and translate career goals into day-to-day work.

When employees are learning, they are engaged, so it’s important to offer leadership training and skill development courses. Also, job shadowing and mentor programs are good ways to expose employees to different skill sets.

5. Offer job flexibility and work-life balance

Employers need to create talent strategies that engage all the generations that make up their workforce. For example, flexibility in terms of working remotely or flexible hours has a much higher value to Millennials than it does for Generation X or Baby Boomer employees.

According to the 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce Study, 66 percent of Millennials value flexible working hours and 56 percent value flexible working locations. The study also found that while work-life balance is important to Millennials, it’s even more important to Generation X, with 53 percent reporting they consider work-life balance an important characteristic when considering an employer.

As former President John F. Kennedy said, “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” Even if turnover [or engagement] is not a problem in your organization today, there is a high likelihood that it will become a challenge in the near future.

With that in mind, take steps now to engage employees before the company’s wondering where all the best talent went.

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