Mar 10, 2015

Employee turnover is a fact of life. And as it turns out, not even the most in-demand employers are immune.

Earlier this year, rumors were circulating that “tons of engineers” were ready to leave Google after employees received underwhelming year-end bonuses, and Elon Musk recently claimed that Apple was offering his employees a $250,000 signing bonus to leave Tesla.

Turnover is costly to any enterprise, but especially to high-profile companies like Google and Tesla. Not only do you lose valuable team members, but also an employee who quits can cost up to 150 percent of his or her salary to replace.

There are a variety of reasons why employees decide to leave a company. Some leave for a higher-paying position, a challenging new role, or a more appealing title, but most reasons boil down to one preventable factor: employee disengagement.

Why employees disengage

There are two types of disengaged employees.

First, you have those who simply get tired of their role at your company and leave. These losses can be painful, but the alternative is worse: Employees who disengage and stick around. These employees are poisonous to your company because they can infect the rest of your team with apathy and resentment.

Employees disengage for a variety of reasons, but usually it’s because they feel underappreciated in their role when their effort and sacrifices go unrecognized. They may also feel like they don’t have autonomy in their role or a clear path for future growth.

Whatever the reason, if you’re going to retain a solid and lasting workforce, you need to find ways to make them feel engaged, appreciated, and excited about the future.

5 ways to boost engagement and retention

A study by Glassdoor shows that employee appreciation truly does make a difference in employee engagement and turnover. Some 81 percent of respondents said they feel motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work, and more than half would stay with their employer longer if their boss showed more appreciation.

There are several things you can do to boost morale, increase engagement, and get employees to stick around:

1. Give small artifacts of appreciation

Sometimes keeping your employees happy is as simple as providing small, thoughtful gifts.

This probably won’t cut it if you’re not delivering on the core necessities such as fair pay, good health care, and a quality work environment, but if you take the time and effort to provide the occasional thoughtful gift, it will show employees that you really care about them.

2. Think beyond the office

Remember that your employees are people who have lives during the 16 hours that they’re not in the office. Do something to make that part of their lives easier — especially when they’re working extra hard on your behalf.

At my company, many of our employees are working moms who feel obligated to clean the house while staying on top of their work. We solved this by paying to have employees’ homes cleaned every other week.

This is an expense they would probably never spend their own money on, but it makes their lives much less stressful. And while it might cost us $1,500 annually per employee, the return is $20,000 in productivity because our employees are focused on work instead of worrying about their growing to-do lists.

3. Plan trips that include spouses

People who play together stay together.

Create a community beyond the office in a way that rewards employees for great performance, provides a chance for spouses to connect, and gives everyone the opportunity to unbutton his or her collar and relax.

4. Track appreciation

You’re probably already tracking most aspects of your business, from sales to website visitors to call-response times. But what about employee appreciation?

Ask your managers to track and report how often they give positive feedback to team members. Not only will employees feel good about getting the appreciation they deserve, but it will also build this engagement-enhancing gratitude into your company culture.

5. Surprise employees with unexpected generosity

You’ve probably heard about the importance of surprising and delighting your customers, but treating your employees this way is just as important.

Say you added a $5 bonus to every weekly paycheck. Probably no one would notice or care. But if you surprised employees with a $250 gift at the end of the quarter, the response would be huge.

Everybody wants to feel loved and appreciated, and smart companies capitalize on the kid inside every employee with these random displays of generosity.

In the end, it’s ALL about appreciation

At the end of the day, employee disengagement isn’t about salaries or year-end bonuses. I’d be willing to bet that even employee turnover at companies like Google isn’t solely a money issue; it’s an appreciation issue.

Your employees work hard, and you can’t wait until the yearly retreat to tell them how great they are. You need to show it year round and build appreciation into your company culture.

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