Do the Unexpected to Take Employee Retention to the Next Level

Do the Unexpected to Take Employee Retention to the Next Level

Studies show that many organizations find employee retention their top challenge today.

There’s a problem, however: retaining employees isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be— enough. You also need them to be engaged in their work. Gallup, which has long studied employee engagement, in 2013 estimated that actively disengaged employees cost U.S. employers $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year. The cost of poor engagement is not something you want to retain and sustain in your organization.

New research by Achievers shows that many workers who aren’t engaged do, in fact, have no plans on leaving. Seventy percent of survey respondents said they don’t consider themselves engaged, but only 34.7 percent said they’d be looking for a new job this year. 

Perhaps we should instead think of retention as a two-fold challenge:

  1. Improve the retention of engaged employees.
  2. Increase engagement levels of employees.

The Engagement Situation

Increasing employee engagement wouldn’t be that important if engagement levels were high. The latest Gallup employee engagement study shows modest gains, but the following findings still show a ton of room for improvement:

  • 13 percent of workers are actively disengaged
  • 54 percent are not engaged (generally satisfied but not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace — usually will show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer)
  • 34 percent are engaged (involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace)

Two-thirds of workers are either actively disengaged or not engaged. What this means is there’s significant opportunity to impact engagement and do wonders for your organization.

Retention Strategies: The Expected vs. The Unexpected

You’ve probably known people who’ve stayed in a job for an extended period despite disliking it to the point of being actively disengaged. The reason they did so is probably one of the following:

  • Apathy or not feeling like they can get another job
  • Financial rewards — strong employee benefits, high salaries, annual bonuses, profit sharing, etc., keep them around
  • Work-life balance — workers, especially those with families, can value flexible schedules and remote work enough to remain in place

While important for retention, financial rewards and work-life balance often don’t increase employee engagement because employees today expect them. A good paycheck, for example, doesn’t impact most workers’ commitment to the organization because they assume they will be paid competitively, and because it doesn’t significantly impact their day-to-day work experience.

To impact employee engagement, provide key advantages that employees don’t necessarily expect—especially advantages that impact their day-to-day experience. Going beyond what employees expect can go a long way to help employees feel appreciated by and connected to your organization.

Here are some examples of how exceeding employee expectations can help:

  1. Superior onboardingA Gallup poll found that just 12 percent of workers strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees. Providing a superior onboarding process that sets employees up for success, and helps them connect and acclimate to the organization, can make a tremendous difference on employees’ all-important first impression of your company. 
  2. Ongoing feedback — Studies have shown that as many as 65 percent of workers would like more feedback. Regular feedback helps workers know how they stand, to feel confident about what they're doing well, and to feel inspired to work on areas of improvement. Seeking workers’ feedback to your organization is also impactful—it shows them that you value their opinions and delivers insights that you can use to improve processes that impact the employee experience.
  3. Commitment to employee and leadership development — People want to feel like they are growing in their careers — according to The Execu|Search Group’s 2019 Hiring Outlook, 86 percent of professionals said that they would change jobs if they were offered more opportunities for professional development. Dedicated employee and leadership development programs show employees and leaders that their development matters to the organization. The resulting promotions, performance improvements and other career benefits they experience drive home that they are growing in your organization. As a side benefit, effective leaders also help keep their employees motivated, so quality leadership development programs can have a "trickle-down" impact on retention and engagement.
  4. Coaching/mentoring — As with development, having a dedicated coaching or mentoring program is a major plus for employees, and keeps them engaged with and focused on their future with your company, rather than feeling stuck and possibly looking toward a future with another organization.
  5. Actively working on team dynamics —Being part of a dysfunctional team can be demoralizing and erode employees’ engagement. While not a classical retention strategy, in today’s increasingly collaborative work environment actively working on team dynamics is both unexpected and makes a tremendous difference in the employee experience and employee engagement.

Combine the Expected and the Unexpected

It’s critical today to retain employees, but you also need to inspire and motivate them. For best results, combine the expected and unexpected. Doing so will help you have more happy and productive employees over the long haul.

To learn how Connect the Dots can help you boost employee retention and engagement, contact us at