2 Secrets to Keeping Your Employees Engaged

“Employee engagement” is a hot buzzword in the HR world today—but unlike some buzzwords, this is one every small business owner should care about. As the recession cut into salaries and increased workloads, especially at small companies, it’s become increasingly challenging to keep employees engaged.

The recently released Employee Engagement Report 2011 from leadership development firm BlessingWhite has some insights that might help. The company surveyed levels of engagement and also looked into why employees leave their jobs and why they stay.

Overall, the report found 31 percent of employees are engaged, while 17 percent are disengaged. Not surprisingly, employees who were older, had been with the company longer and had more senior roles were more likely to be engaged. Also not surprisingly, more employees are seeking opportunities outside their current company than they were in 2008.

young female executive

But there’s also some surprising news about why employees leave and stay. Here are the top reasons employees stay with a company:

  • My career. I have significant development or advancement opportunities here. 17 percent
  • My organization’s mission. I believe in what we do. 11 percent
  • No desire for change. I am comfortable here. 10 percent
  • My job conditions. I have flexible hours, a good commute, etc. 10 percent
  • My finances. I expect a desirable salary, bonus, or stock options. 7 percent
  • Other (the economy, my manager, my colleagues) 15 percent

And here are their top reasons for leaving:

  • My career. I don’t have opportunities to grow or advance here. 26 percent
  • My work. I don’t like what I do or it doesn’t make the most of my talents. 15 percent
  • My finances. I want to earn more money. 15 percent
  • My desire for change. I want to try something new. 12 percent
  • My manager. I don’t like working for him or her. 10 percent
  • Other (the economy, job conditions, organization mission, colleagues) 18 percent

While managers and business owners often think that pay or benefits are the top reason employees’ consider career change, BlessingWhite found that overall, career development was the top factor for employees of all ages. In fact, the workers who were motivated by money were generally less engaged. As the study sums it up, “Engaged employees stay for what they give; disengaged employees stay for what they get.”

So what can you do to keep your best employees engaged? BlessingWhite offers two suggestions for you and your key managers:

  1. Coaching, relationships and dialogue: Managers must understand each person’s talents, interests and needs and match those with the company’s objectives. They also need to build personal, trusting relationships with employees. And they need open and frequent dialog with employees to head off problems that can lead to disengagement.
  2. Trust, communication and culture: At the top level, a business owner must earn trust by being consistent in words and deeds. It’s also important to communicate frequently. Finally, create a culture where your company’s values are truly reflected in day-to-day business practices. In other words, walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

5 Reactions
  1. I think it’s appropriate to mention incentives in this discussion (and I don’t just mean monetary incentive). Most employees only do enough to not get fired because there is no incentive for them to do more than that. Career development is the top reason people stay or go and that’s because it’s an incentive. You work harder because it will help your career. Recognition of exceptional work adds incentive to do exceptional work. Companies need to ask themselves what they’re doing to incentivize desired outcomes.

  2. The last two points are critical for small businesses as well as large.

    Challenging the business owner to step back and coach their staff instead of commanding them can make a huge difference to overall performance.

    Coaching in turn leads to trust building and ultimately allowing the employee to act in a more entrepreneurial fashion.

    Hope that some small business owners read this article and get on board – I am sure it would make their lives a little bit easier.

  3. I had the pleasure of joining Mary Ann Masarech of BlessingWhite in a webinar on the findings from this research and how it coincided in many ways with our own.

    Some of those findings as discussed in the webinar:

    * In every region of the world, more employees planned to leave in the next 12 months, with the percentage saying “no way would I remain” doubling (from 2008 to 2010). Globally, only 30% are fully engaged. 17% are disengaged. Australia/New Zealand and India have the highest engagement numbers; China has the lowest.

    * Employee engagement occurs when employees are making the maximum contribution while enjoying the maximum level of satisfaction. Engaged employees are using their talents to make a difference in the bottom-line.

    * Older employees and those higher up the ranks are more engaged. Mary Ann believes this to be because those in the upper ranks or who have been around longer feel they have more control over their work experience and greater insight into company strategy than those who are younger and at lower levels.

    * Employees closest to customer contact are most engaged. – Sales, HR/Training and Marketing. Least engaged are IT, R&D and Finance.

    The webinar is available for free if you’d like to listen to recast. recognizethisblog.com/2011/03/help-employees-align-connect-to-increase-employee-engagement-lessons-from-blessingwhite/

  4. Great subject. Having a fully engaged workforce is essential to blowing away the competition. I certainly learned this while conducting more than one successful turnaround of a management disaster.

    How to Create Engaged Employees is a lot easier than it looks. For the essence of my approach, please view this video.


    Best regards, Ben
    Leadership is a science and so is engagement