14 retention strategies when you have disengaged workers

Disengaged employees don’t have to be lost causes. Here are some tips to reengage and retain them.
Workerburnout Panel

For the first time in more than a decade, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021, according to polling data from Gallup. Just over one-third of employees (34%) were engaged, and 16% were actively disengaged in their work and workplace, based on a random sample of 57,022 full- and part-time employees throughout the year. This compares with 36% engaged and 14% actively disengaged in 2020, a year with unprecedented highs and lows.

Gallup notes that employee engagement in the U.S., even amid the pandemic-driven disruptions of 2020, continues to pace upward, reinforcing a decade-long steady improvement pattern that led to record highs. However, one-third of employees rating themselves as engaged is hardly a benchmark companies should be striving to reach, especially when one in six still considers themselves actively disengaged at work.

Those disengaged workers aren’t all lost causes though. There is still a lot that employers can and should do to reengage their disengaged employees and ensure they retain these professionals who have been contributors in the past.

If you sense your business is at risk of losing top talent to burnout or malaise, you need to move fast to shore up your employee retention strategies. Here are 14 areas where deliberate action can help boost employees’ job satisfaction and increase your ability to hold onto valued workers:

1. Onboarding and orientation — Every new hire should be set up for success from the start. Your onboarding process should teach new staff not only about the job but also the company culture and how they can contribute to and thrive in it. Don’t skimp on this critical first step. The training and support you provide from day one, whether in person or virtually, can set the tone for the employee’s entire tenure at your firm.

2. Mentorship programs — Pairing a new employee with a mentor is a great component to add to your extended onboarding process, especially in a remote work environment. Mentors can welcome newcomers into the company, offer guidance, and be a sounding board. It’s a win-win: New team members learn the ropes from experienced employees and, in return, they offer a fresh viewpoint to their mentors.

But don’t limit mentorship opportunities to new employees. Your existing staff — and your overall employee retention outlook and team’s job satisfaction — can greatly benefit from mentor-mentee relationships.

3. Employee compensation — It’s essential for companies to pay their employees competitive compensation, which means they need to evaluate and adjust salaries regularly. Even if your business isn’t able to increase pay right now, consider whether you could provide other forms of compensation, like bonuses and paid time off. Don’t forget about health benefits and retirement plans too. Improving those valued offerings can help raise employees’ job satisfaction.

4. Perks — Perks can make your workplace stand out to potential new hires and reengage current staff, all while boosting employee morale — but be sure to read the room. Since the pandemic, flexible schedules and remote work options have become expectations, not perks, for many professionals. But benefits like paid parental leave or paid volunteer time are still not as ubiquitous and the kinds of perks that let employees know their employer cares about them more than just when they’re on the clock.

5. Wellness offerings — Keeping employees fit — mentally, physically, and financially — is just good business. However, the pandemic prompted many leading employers to expand and improve their wellness offerings so that employees feel supported and prioritize their well-being. Stress management programs, retirement planning services, and reimbursement for virtual fitness classes are just some examples of what your business might consider providing to employees.

6. Communication — The pandemic has helped underscore the importance of good workplace communication. Your direct reports should feel they can come to you with ideas, questions, and concerns at any time. As a leader, you need to make sure you’re doing your part to help promote timely, constructive, and positive communication across the entire team, including on-site and remote employees. Make sure you proactively connect with each staff member on a regular basis too to get a sense of their workload and job satisfaction.

7. Continuous feedback on performance — Many employers are abandoning the annual performance review in favor of more frequent meetings with team members. In these one-on-one meetings, talk with your employees about their short- and long-term professional goals and help them visualize their future with the company. While you should never make promises you can’t keep, talk through potential career advancement scenarios together and lay out a realistic plan for reaching those goals.

8. Training and development — As part of providing continuous feedback on performance, you can help employees identify areas for professional growth, such as the need to learn new skills. Upskilling is especially important today as technology continues to change how we work. When people upskill, they’re gaining new abilities and competencies as business requirements continue to evolve.

Make it a priority to invest in your workers’ professional development. Give them time to attend virtual conferences, provide tuition reimbursement, or pay for continuing education. Also, don’t forget about succession planning, which can be a highly effective method for advancing professional development and building leadership skills.

9. Recognition and rewards systems — Every person wants to feel appreciated for the work they do, and in today’s “anywhere workforce” an employer’s gratitude can make an especially big impact. Be sure to thank your direct reports who go the extra mile and explain how their hard work helps the organization. Some companies set up formal rewards systems to incentivize great ideas and innovation, but you can institute compelling recognition programs even if you have a small team or limited budget.

10. Work-life balance — What message is your time management sending to employees? Do you expect staff to be available around the clock? A healthy work-life balance is essential to job satisfaction. People need to know their managers understand they have lives outside of work — and recognize that maintaining balance can be even more challenging when working from home. Encourage staff to set boundaries and take their vacation time, and if late nights are necessary to wrap up a project, consider giving team members extra time off to compensate.

And if your workplace has a cap on how much PTO an employee can earn, consider an automated notification system for when they’re near or at their maximum so they can use some of their accrued PTO balance and make the most of their benefit, instead of letting hours go unearned.

11. Flexible work arrangements — Many companies have already embraced the fact that some of their employees want to work remotely, at least part time, moving forward. In fact, surveys have shown as much as one-third of employees would look for a new job if they were required to return to the office full time.

What can you offer staff if remote work on a permanent basis isn’t an option? A compressed workweek? Flextime? Or maybe a partial telecommuting option? All of the above can help relieve stress for your staff and boost employee retention.

12. Effective change management — Beyond the disruption of something like the pandemic, every workplace must deal with change, good and bad. Staff looks to leadership for insight and reassurance during these times, so if your organization is going through a big shift, keeping your staff as informed as possible helps ease anxieties and manage the rumor mill. Make big announcements either individually or in a group call or meeting, and allow time for questions.

13. An emphasis on teamwork — You should encourage all your staff members, not just star players, to contribute ideas and solutions. Promote teamwork by creating opportunities for collaboration, accommodating individuals’ work styles, and giving employees the latitude to make decisions and course corrections, if needed.

14. Acknowledgement of milestones, big and small — A final tip for promoting employee retention is to shine a light on notable achievements. Whether your team finishes ahead of the deadline on a major project or a staff member reaches a five-year work anniversary, seize the chance to mark the milestone together. Even if you need to celebrate virtually, it can be a meaningful and memorable moment for everyone.

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