Employees are your most valuable resource, whether you’re building a new startup, growing a mid-sized company, or staffing an established retail giant. But with historically low unemployment rates, retaining the employees you’ve recruited can be a real challenge. Understanding critical moments in your employees’ lives and careers can help you reconnect with them and strengthen employee engagement.
Recent research from LinkedIn reported industries with the top turnover rates, showing software companies at 13%, retail companies at 13%, and entertainment companies tied with professional services at 11%. What’s more, the top categories on this list closely match popular suggestions for entrepreneur-led businesses.
Taken together, these statistics highlight the difficulty that businesses have in hiring the right employees and keeping them engaged. And many companies find it difficult to recover the cost of turnover, which can range from 50% to 250% of an employee’s salary.
Find out how much employee turnover costs your own organization with this cost of employee turnover calculator.
With so much on the line, it’s crucial to show your employees how much you value them—both for their contributions to your organization and as people with needs and dreams. And as with most communication, the timing is just as important as the message you send.
Discovering the epiphany moment
Employees have what I call epiphany moments: moments tied to events or specific dates that cause them to reexamine their life choices. Leaders everywhere would love to know exactly what their employees are thinking and feeling, but, as with other aspects of employee engagement, it can be hard to quantify. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from trying.
CEB, a Washington-based best-practice insight and technology company, worked with several large firms to identify signals that indicated employees were looking for new employment. They monitored when employees opened career site emails, checked LinkedIn, or badged in and out of the parking garage for an interview-sized time block.
The research found correlations between certain dates and these job-hunting activities. Here’s how it increased:
- 6% increase on the hire-date anniversary
- 9% increase on the anniversary of a promotion
- 12% before birthdays
- 16% after a social gathering like a high school reunion
Again, these statistics can only provide a glimpse into the moment when employees reach a turning point and decide to seek another job. Big-Brother-style data collection can only go so far, thankfully. But the limitations in the research mean that these findings likely understate the impact that self-reflection during these epiphany moments has on engagement and turnover.
Epiphany moments don’t line up with an annual review schedule, and they don’t give employers a chance to react. This is likely one of the reasons counteroffers are mostly ineffective—it’s difficult to resolve the complicated causes of disengagement and poor job fit with a higher salary offer alone.
Authentic employee engagement through authentic recognition
What are your employees looking for in your organization before they engage?
- 57% of younger Americans said that they wanted to be part of something that was enjoyable or made a difference in society.
- Less than a third of employees with no friends at work are highly engaged, while 69% of employees with friends at work are highly engaged. This pattern repeats in a Gallup study which showed women who have a best friend at work are twice as likely to be engaged (63%) as otherwise (29%.
- In a study where employees were given complete control over their work/life balance and schedule, the autonomous employees nearly doubled the hours they worked at home. They also reported less tension between their work expectations and their family responsibilities.
- A regression analysis of three million employee surveys found professional development as the second-most significant driver of employee engagement.
Meaning, friendship, balance, growth—each of these aspects play a part in every employee’s sense of purpose. When your organization’s culture aligns with your employees’ sense of purpose, it becomes powerful motivation for performance and loyalty.
For employees to recognize that their employers value work relationships, work-life balance, and development, the employer has to consistently show it. Employee recognition strategies throughout the year help build the case, setting a firm foundation for when your employees experience epiphany moments.
Preparing for epiphany moments
Let’s look at some employee engagement strategies to help turn epiphany moments from engagement dangers to engagement drivers:
Birthdays are some of the best days to show the strength of an interpersonal relationship. Remembering a birthday and sending a personalized message says that you recognize a person’s value; putting a sheet cake in the break room and asking, “did we miss anyone?” before a half-hearted rendition of Happy Birthday sends a... more impersonal message.
Managers and teammates are in a stronger position to provide personal recognition on an employee’s birthday, so one option is to give them the latitude to celebrate birthday employees with a lunch at their favorite restaurant.
It’s also important to make sure that your company recognizes each employee, even when you’ve grown too large for everyone to know the CEO personally. Giving each employee an automated birthday award is a simple and scalable way to show how much they matter to the company as a whole. Teammates can then add personalized comments to the award, sharing anecdotes about coworkers and emphasizing the importance of interpersonal relationships.
Or your company can help the employee celebrate their strongest relationships (with family and friends) by giving them their birthday off. Spending a birthday mini-golfing sends a much different message than spending a birthday at a desk.
Adding some or all of these birthday ideas to your recognition strategy helps show your employees that they matter at every level.
The hiring anniversary
When employees reach the anniversary of their hire date, it gives them a chance to reflect on the previous year. Celebrating highlights of their best performance from that year helps show that your team recognizes their contributions. Many things change during a year, and showing your employees that you’re paying attention helps relieve anxieties about performance while reinforcing what your company values from their work.
When employees reach their anniversary, you can also present them with an automated anniversary award. It can be a great way to celebrate an individual’s successes during their tenure and give the rest of your team the opportunity to join in on appreciation.
While you can anticipate birthdays and employment anniversaries, you never know when an employee will trudge into work after a high school reunion asking, “what am I doing with my life?” At moments like these, the employee’s recent experiences are more likely to stand out, especially if they’re in the process of catastrophizing their experience.
Setting a pattern of check-ins between managers and employees helps stop this process before it snowballs into a resignation letter. These meetings are opportunities to learn about important events an employee's life, like buying a house, so that those can be acknowledged and celebrated, while also building trust. They’re also times where individuals should feel recognized for their efforts.
Check-ins should to be both regular and meaningful to be effective. Waiting six months or a year to give feedback at a performance review leaves a lot of time for employees to question whether their performance is adequate or appreciated.
Here’s a personal example of how not to handle performance: two years after my last official performance review, a vice president pulled me into the office and said “Hey, it’s been a while since your last comp increase, so...we’re going to go ahead and do that.” I pictured him blowing the dust off my employee file and wondered how much dust I was gathering.
Effective check-ins should be mutual opportunities for clarification and appreciation. The HBR Guide to Performance Management recommends two simple questions for managers to ask: “What are you going to get done this month?” and “What do you need from me?” Pair these questions with responses to your employees’ key performance management expectations, and your employees will have solid proof that their managers both recognize employee victories and are ready to help with employee difficulties.
An epiphany of engagement
You can’t prevent epiphany moments from happening or predict what will spark an employee’s decision. But with regular, thoughtful recognition, you can prove that your organization understands and values every part of the employee experience. Then, as employees reflect on their experience with your company, they will celebrate your contribution to their purposeful lives.
Learn more ways to improve your company culture below: