Does Employee Engagement Matter to Organizations with High Turnover?

Recently, we have had several organizations come to us with the same basic question: “What can we do to improve employee engagement if 90% of our employees stay less than 6 months?” It’s important to note that these organizations are not fundamentally flawed and somehow hemorrhaging talent. It’s that their business models lend themselves to high employee turnover. Their industries range from janitorial services, to fast food, to call centers, to agricultural workers, etc. Employee retention equates to millions of dollars a year.

It might be tempting to think that employee engagement simply doesn’t matter in these types of scenarios where employee turnover is high and retention is low. This might be the case if you view employee engagement as primarily a survey activity. Why would you take the time to survey an employee who has been with the organization less than three months, and, in all likelihood, will be gone within the next two?

Employee engagement, however, is much more than a survey. It’s a broader approach that considers a variety of factors and calls upon other business disciplines for assistance, such as strategy, talent management, recruitment, leadership development, and succession planning. So, while it might not make sense to survey all your employees if your workforce is transient, you can still do a lot to help those core employees that manage, direct, and support that segment of your workforce that is constantly coming and going.

Employee Engagement Case Study

Let’s consider a simple case study. ACME Cleaning Services, Inc., employs 2,100 employees in a three-state area. ACME is focused on government buildings and corporate campuses. Most of its workforce consists of part-time janitorial workers that make at or just above minimum wage. These folks don’t have a company-issued computer, and many aren’t even provided a company e-mail address. The average employee tenure is 5.5 months. The vast majority of these positions are filled by students or those needing employment while they continue to look for something that might provide better growth potential. ACME would love to retain its people longer, but its margins are thin, and it can’t afford to pay the labor costs that would be needed to keep people around for a longer period of time. So, ACME does the best it can, and it has become very good at quickly on-boarding and training people.

Nonetheless, ACME is missing many of the benefits it might otherwise realize from an increase in employee engagement. Particularly, it has not focused on that core of key leaders who handle the constant migration of new employees. Thus, the question on the table is whether ACME could improve its bottom line and overall employee experience were it to undertake some efforts to build employee engagement within its workforce?

An Employee Engagement Road map

Here is a suggested roadmap on how ACME might improve its employee engagement efforts across the board:

First, ACME needs to clearly bifurcate its efforts and treat its two distinct employee segments differently. For the segment of employees who are likely to come and go within a year, ACME’s efforts should be life-cycle based. The onboarding process should be simple and easy. Trainings should be standardized, and it might even be a good idea to create a simple knowledge base where employees are able to look up simple questions. Simple-to-use portals would be a key. Finally, termination and exit need to be straightforward and easy to handle. But, surveying these employees, except in an onboarding or exit capacity, probably does not make sense.

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On the other hand, for those employees that ACME needs in order to manage its transient workforce, a strong employee engagement effort will yield real ROI. These core employees need to be empowered with specific skills on how they can inspire, lead, and engage their direct reports. To retain these employees, they need to be given a clear growth path. ACME also needs to understand its employee brand and the value proposition it is giving this employee segment. Additionally, in this instance, surveying this sub-population will show that ACME is willing to listen and address issues that might come up during an employee engagement survey. Lastly, these are the employees that need an ACME employee experience that provides healthy doses of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection.

Why Build Employee Engagement?

But, does ACME really need to do all of this?  Its margins are thin anyway. Will a focus on employee engagement really make a difference in employee retention?  The answer is unequivocally yes. Even if the only factor you take into consideration is the cost of replacing employees at the manager level. But, there are benefits that are real (monetarily so), which cannot be readily quantified. We all know that a workforce with the right culture/employee experience is far more formidable than one mired in mediocrity and dissent.

More Than The Survey

Employee engagement is far more than survey analytics, which typically only tell us “what,” “where,” and “when.” Survey analytics are limited because they cannot tell us the “who” and, most importantly, the “how.” That’s where DecisionWise helps companies move beyond the survey to build employee engagement capability and then turn that capability into a true competitive advantage within their marketplace.

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