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Seven Strategies to Attract and Retain Engaged Employees

By Gerald Walsh ©

Many companies already know that compensation, while important to employees, is not sufficient on its own to attract and retain the best workers.

So what do the top candidates look for when they are thinking of joining your company? What will keep your best employees excited about their work and not looking for another job?

Those were the two questions I wanted to answer a couple of years ago when I began to research those organizations who were particularly effective at getting and keeping engaged employees. In the course of this work, I discovered there are seven strategies companies follow to achieve their targets, and I have created an acronym, RESPECT, to use as a framework for understanding and remembering them:

R– Recognition of employees
E– Engaging work
S– Social responsibility
P– Personal well-being
E– Education, learning and advancement
C– Community
T– Total compensation

Let me explain each one in more detail:

1. RECOGNITION OF EMPLOYEES

Companies that are the best in attracting and retaining people have a culture of recognizing their employees for a job well-done. Unfortunately, in many workplaces, “no news is good news” is the only form of feedback employees receive.

Employee recognition programs don’t have to be formal or structured. Nor do they need to cost a lot of money. A simple “thank you” to an employee, an extra day vacation, or a pair of movie tickets, goes a long way.

If you do prefer a more formal approach to employee recognition, ensure that your plan rewards the outcomes you want for your business. A good system is simple, immediate and reinforcing.

2. ENGAGING WORK

It has been my experience that there is serious under-employment in the workplace. By this, I mean that many workers simply don’t use their education, skills and experience fully on the job. They feel over-qualified and under-challenged. After two or three years of doing the same job, they become bored, disinterested and disengaged, and begin to look for work somewhere else.

The challenge for managers is how to design jobs so your employees’ skills are put to better use. For your top employees, consider asking them to chair an employee committee or volunteer on a community board of directors. Or, offer them stretch assignments or lateral transfers where they’ll build new skills, and more importantly, be stimulated intellectually on the job.

3. SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Most Canadian companies engage in socially responsible practices, from donating money and products to charitable groups to recycling in the office. However, very few of those same companies publicize their practices consciously to attract and retain employees. Nowadays, almost every individual wants to work for a company that cares for their community and the environment. This is particularly so among younger workers.

Consider developing a CSR policy in your workplace and posting it on your website or including it in your recruitment materials. Prospective employees will conclude that if you care that much about the community, you will care for them the same way.

4. PERSONAL WELL-BEING

There is mounting evidence that healthier workers have higher levels of job satisfaction, lower absenteeism and turnover, and better overall job performance. Yet many workers continue to suffer ill health caused by their work. Whether it is long working hours causing problems at home, poor eating habits at work triggering high blood pressure, or conflicts with co-workers producing stress, the workplace can cause health problems.

Companies that do show respect for their employees’ health and well-being are viewed as better employees to work for. So, ditch the donuts and serve fruit and vegetables at staff events. Reimburse employees for health club memberships. Start a walking club at lunchtime. There are many things you can do to demonstrate interest in your employees’ health. You will see the benefit too.

5. EDUCATION, LEARNING AND ADVANCEMENT

Investing in your employees’ development is a clear signal that you value them and that their new-found skills will lead to more challenging, meaningful positions within the company. These employees will see a future with your company and will make longer-term commitments to their workplace.

Ironically, some employers are still reluctant to provide training because they fear their employees will become more marketable and leave. While there is some risk of this happening, the alternative (ie. having an untrained staff) does not seem too wise.

6. COMMUNITY

Employees consistently and overwhelmingly rank the personal aspects of work ahead of economic aspects when evaluating an employer for a new job. And nowhere is this more important than among younger workers.

What this means is that job candidates look for a workplace that is friendly, supportive and respectful. They want to work with a company that is guided by a clear sense of values and goals, and work for leaders they trust. Ultimately most people these days are looking for a “sense of family” and want to be proud of their company.

7. TOTAL COMPENSATION

Most companies still spend enormous amounts of time on compensation and bonus systems to reward and retain top employees. Yet employees rarely decide to join or leave an employer for money alone. The vast majority of employees simply want to feel their pay is fair and competitive.

So rather than worrying about salary levels (assuming they are fair and competitive) focus on benefits and perks. And for those of you who run smaller companies where cash is tight, consider rewarding your employees with non-cash forms of pay. An extra week’s vacation rather than a few more dollars will be valued by many employees who want greater flexibility in their lives.

I would like to receive your comments and questions about this topic. Please email me at walsh@geraldwalsh.com and I will respond to you.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn