How to Win the Engagement and Retention Battle

February 13, 2017

How to Win the Engagement and Retention Battle

Losing the battle on employee engagement and retention is the surest road to business failure. Employee turnover not only undermines long-term client relationships, but replacing employees can also get very costly—generally 20 percent of annual salary for mid-range positions (earning $30,000 to $50,000 a year). It also takes a new employee a full one to two years to reach the productivity of an existing person and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employee length of stay at a job is only 4.4 years.


The fundamental aspects of this model are inclusion, control, and affection, either expressed or desired. In other words, how you behave toward others, and how you would like others to behave toward you.

If we look at our own career arc and recall the time we were new hires, we often remember those first few months. We know who was kind to us, who helped us navigate the company’s political landscape, and who showed us how to effectively use the tools and resources introduced to us during our onboarding period. If we pause and reflect, we may also come to new understandings of why we stayed or left our jobs. So why is this conversation still relevant, if not more so today than ever before? Aside from all the technological advances we’ve made which keep people connected and engaged, there are still basic tenets that, when applied to new talent, enhance levels of engagement and retention of that talent within organizations.


I have coached many people who, two years after being hired, still wrestle with feeling as if their input doesn’t matter. They believe that if they keep their head down, produce, and don’t ask too many questions, all will be fine. If we expect an employee to have the desire to go the extra mile, be productive when external pressures of the day are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, or make the best decisions for the company, not just themselves, then we must pay greater attention to the beginning of their story with us or they will end up as squandered talent.


When you speak to managers and ask them how they know their direct reports are engaged, they may give answers pointing out how often the employee meets deadlines, shows up on time for meetings, complains (or rather does not) and attends company-sponsored events. While these are indicators, they don’t paint the full picture.


Will Schutz, renowned American psychologist and author, introduced a model in the late 1950s to assess group dynamics that is still widely used today: the FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior) instrument. The fundamental aspects of this model are inclusion, control, and affection, either expressed or desired. In other words, how you behave toward others, and how you would like others to behave toward you. When we include new hires in sharing their perspective on which piece of marketing collateral they think works best to which client needs the most focus that week, we are allowing them to flourish, take their skills and life experiences to the next level, and go home satisfied that they contributed well.


Even when that individual is on a steep learning curve, it is imperative to tap into their perspective because it guards against groupthink—the innate desire for group harmony without questioning norms that may be detrimental to the desired outcome. When we talk over new hires in meetings, use curt tones when answering their questions, or forget to recognize efforts that yielded great payoff for the organization, we slowly aid their disengagement.


Just think about how many times you were busy and grunted an answer without a second thought or left someone off relevant email chains because you were going at breakneck speeds. Give more thought to how many talented people didn’t realize their potential and left because they were excluded. Slowing down and taking the time to dialogue may be just the secret to keeping new hires engaged.


Today, employees demand more rewards, more learning opportunities to expand their careers, more mobility, and more opportunity. So, we must keep up with these challenges and create learning cultures that not only attract and engage talent, but also retain talent.


Organizations can address concerns through experiential exercises during the first month, such as business simulations, cohorts or structured communities, and mentoring schemes. They can facilitate learning pathways that promote the least amount of down time between learning something and its real-life application All of this will go a long way in sustaining a people agenda aimed at engagement and retention and keeping your company competitive.

The Authors: 

Melissa Vuernick is Executive Director of Kaplan U.S. Leadership and Professional Development.