Is employee engagement the key to employee retention?

A recent Twitter thread took the internet by storm when it proved that the popular complaint, "nobody wants to work anymore", actually dates back to the 1800s.

On the one hand, it’s funny because it proves that this issue is not uniquely modern, nor can the lack of satisfied employees be blamed solely on millennials. Here's the thread if you're interested

But it’s also thought-provoking because it highlights an important concern: if this isn’t a modern issue caused by a 'lazy' new generation, then where did this problem originate? And does the fault really lie with employees?

Evidence suggests that nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, the problem is not a lack of people who are willing to work. Rather, the core issue is a lack of employers willing to give their workers what they deserve, you know, a competitive salary, flexible working hours - the list goes on.

And if the ever-growing audience on the 'antiwork' subreddit is anything to go by, employees have had enough. 

So, if the problem lies with a company’s inability to make employees happy, what can you do to attract and keep the right people? How do you ensure that your employees are engaged, and how do you convert that engagement into employee retention?

In this article, we’ll explore the answers to those questions.

Why is employee retention important?

Before we take an in-depth look at employee engagement and retention strategies, let’s unpack a few key reasons why employee retention matters.

Many companies who are struggling with high turnover rates make the mistake of assuming that retention doesn’t matter because you can always hire someone else.

But while that’s technically true, it’s best to hire the right people from the outset and incentivise them to stay. Why? Well, for starters, studies show that 87% of HR experts consider employee retention to be one of the highest priorities in business.

This became especially important after employee retention hit an all-time low in 2020 and employee surveys indicated that most new employees leave a job within the first six months of starting, believing that they could easily find a job elsewhere.

This is a major cause for concern because high turnover rates are expensive. The amount of money you spend on recruitment, onboarding, and training really starts to add up after a while.

In fact, research by Oxford Economics and Unum puts the average cost of turnover per employee (earning £25K a year or more) at more than £30K.

By contrast, however, studies show that successful employee retention can ultimately maximise your company’s profits four times over.

So, if you had to choose between repeatedly recruiting, onboarding, and training a revolving door of new employees or paying to keep the ones you have, which sounds like a better deal?

Does employee engagement lead to employee retention?

Now that we’ve established the value of employee retention, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to keep your employees.

Employee engagement and employee retention actually go hand in hand. Here are three reasons why engaged employees are more likely to stick around:

1. Engaged employees feel valued

Unsatisfied employees are most likely to leave within the first six months of their employment.

Why? Whether it’s because they’re unhappy, looking for higher pay, or looking for a better fit, the end result is clear: they think they can find a better job elsewhere.

So, if you want your employees to stick with your company, it’s important to figure out what they want and how you can provide that. 

No one likes to work in an environment where they feel devalued or as though their skills aren’t being put to good use, so creating a positive company culture is key to employee retention.

Connecting with your employees by providing and asking for regular feedback is a great way to assess your work environment and your employees’ general level of satisfaction.

This is especially important for remote businesses like ours. We have monthly company-wide retros (meetings) where we discuss the operational things that affect everyone and what improvements could be made.

We use CharlieHR to send out weekly anonymous surveys to gauge employee sentiment. And organise regular ones-to-ones to check in with each team member individually.

On a side note, you can also tell if your work environment is positive if your employees appear: 

  • Motivated
  • Passionate
  • Inquisitive
  • Not just punctual but present
  • Eager to offer assistance to new team members
  • Keen to take on more leadership/responsibility within the company

Keep a close eye on these leading and lagging indicators too.

By engaging with your employees, you can learn what they value and whether your company is aligning with those values.

2. Engaged employees feel inspired

Another way to align a team is to share equity, that way they're inspired by (and literally invested) in the company's success.

By sharing equity on the condition that they achieve key milestones, based on how many years they stick around or performance-based goals, a share scheme becomes a long-term incentive - and a tool for retention.

One that could be more financially lucrative in the long run than a one-time bonus. Learn more about using equity as a way to attract and retain talent.

3. Engaged employees feel fulfilled in their role

Everybody’s loyal to something; just think about your favourite TV show, your favourite drink, or your favourite pizza order. You keep going back to those things for a reason and it’s usually because they make you feel good.

They offer you something positive that you want to hang onto. The same is true for loyalty to your employer. After all, if you like where you work, why would you want to leave?

So, what can you do to make your company a place people like to work? 

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the secret doesn’t lie in gadgets or gimmicks like nap pods or air hockey tables in the break room.

Today’s generation of employees is smart enough to recognise those things for what they are: tricks designed to make you spend more time at the office. Or an attempt to quiet any rumbles of discontent.

In fact, over the last two years, we've seen that quirky office perks are sinking in popularity. For more on that, check out our latest employee benefits report.

So, instead of relying on tricks like that, give your employees things that really matter that will motivate them to be engaged. For example, make a point of putting the right people in the right roles by giving them opportunities and job descriptions that play to their strengths. 

This ties in with refining the recruitment process so that the right people are hired for the right job and that they're given the flexibility, compassion, and the freedom to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

And if you're serious about employee benefits, build an employee benefits package that they'll actually want to use. 

In short, invest in your employees. Treat them like valuable assets that you can’t afford to lose. Get to know them as human beings and implement policies and practices that make them feel valued and heard. 

These steps will help your employees to feel engaged, plugged in, and passionate and this, in turn, will inspire loyalty.

Terms like ‘employee engagement' and ‘employee retention’ can sound daunting on the surface, but in practice, it’s so simple: give your employees a reason to like working with you and they’ll want to stay