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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

How To Increase Employee Engagement & Retention In 2023

Below is a full transcript of episode 56 of the popular employee engagement and workplace culture podcast, Sticky From The Inside, hosted by Andy Goram.

In this special episode, Andy looks back at the comments, advice and experiences his guests shared during the 2022 season; looks ahead to 2023 and shares 7 tips for increasing employee engagement and retention in 2023.

You can listen to this or any of the other episodes here.

Man recording a podcast episode on employee engagement
Andy Goram takes a look at how to increase employee engagement and retention in 2023

00:00:00 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:10 Andy Goram

Hello everyone and welcome to this special episode just before Christmas.

It’s a much shorter show than usual today, as I just wanted to take a quick look back at the last year, give you a heads up to what’s coming to Sticky From The Inside next year and share my 7 tips for better engagement and retention in 2023.

I also wanted to say a genuine thank you to all of you who have listened, subscribed, reviewed, or commented on any of the shows or associated content this year. I can’t thank you enough. It’s great to know you are out there and getting something from the conversations I have with my guests about employee engagement, workplace culture and leadership, or any of the other topics we wander off into, like communication, business psychology, personal development, or what’s going on in the world.

And that’s the great thing about having and hosting a podcast like this, you never really know where the conversation is going to go. I do always make an effort to meet my guests before we record our chats, so we both have a view of where the topic may lead us – but, as soon as that recording light goes on, anything can happen. You just don’t know, especially the way my brain works, but that’s what I always wanted, for this show to feel like a series of conversations and exchanges, not a scripted interview. And I hope that’s what you’re enjoying.

Don’t forget that you can join in the conversations yourself by following the show on social media by searching for Sticky From The Inside. On Twitter just look for @stickyfrom, on Instagram it’s sticky_from_the_inside_podcast, and on LinkedIn just follow me, Andy Goram to get all the updates.

If you’ve never followed those pages, or dropped the show a rating or review wherever you’re listening, please do. It’s cliché to say, but it really does help me grow the audience, as does sharing the show with friends and colleagues. So thanks very much for doing that.

Anyway, looking back at last year and the 25 shows I recorded, the after-effects of the Pandemic dominated many of the conversations.

I think it is safe to say that we are still getting to grips with many of the changes to our ways of working a year or two on. And I think that’ll still be the case as we go forward for a while longer. The challenges of employee engagement still remain.

The prevalence of issues like Quiet Quitting illustrates there is still much work to do. But I think we’ve always had that in the background. Presenteeism isn’t a new thing – with people being at work, but not necessarily engaged with what they’re doing, who they’re doing it with, and for. I guess people just have a new badge to put to it, and perhaps a more determined mindset to not willingly go above and beyond. To me, that just accentuates today’s engagement challenge.

But we’ve seen some other strong themes emerge over the year. Even in these financially stretching times, it isn’t all about pay, though many businesses have increased pay as a method of retention. But is that sustainable for most businesses?

Look, I’ve said this many times on this show, if you aren’t paying a competitive, fair wage for the work you expect, why are you surprised that people go elsewhere? But it’s what you do on top of that that sets you apart and gives you a greater shot at retaining your talent and getting the best from it. It’s not all about money.

There’s been a lot of focus on pay though, recently. But if everyone is doing that, and just that, where’s the standout for your organisation? Where’s the discernible reason to choose you?

If you just use money without anything else to act as a bond between the employee and the organisation, all you get in the end is increased cost.

Another strong theme has been the need for businesses to think seriously about flexibility. Whether it be working hours, office days, or working conditions, it is clear that as we figure out our new ways of working, organisations dictating this stuff probably isn’t the right way to build sustainable loyalty and engagement today.

Like it or not, this is going to take a more collaborative approach with listening, understanding and pragmatism required from all parties. The world has changed and it is going to take some time to figure out the right way to reset for each organisation. We’ve seen plenty of examples recently where that approach hasn’t been taken, and the results have been dramatic

and continuous loss and movement of people and talent.

But I’m confident we’ll get there in the end though.

Many organisations have also struggled with the loss of identity and culture. Whilst technology has evolved the way in which we work, where we work, and how teams can function, we’ve also seen employees feeling isolated and losing any sense of belonging to a team with the increase in remote and hybrid working. This, combined with other external factors is causing other issues with stress and overall employee wellness.

If you don’t believe in this wellness thing, and think it’s all a bunch of woke rubbish, and you don’t have an employee wellness strategy, I suspect you’re in for a rude awakening in the future. Later in the new year, the show is going to dig into a new report commissioned by Engage For Success, the UK’s leading voice on employee engagement, that’s looked at the effect on employee engagement pre, during, and post the Pandemic, in the UK. And the findings are quite stark.

Engagement dropped everywhere during the Pandemic. Perhaps no surprise there, but by around 11% though, and it is still around 8% lower now than before the Pandemic. But it’s when it comes to Wellness that some of the starkest results were seen.

Employees that had access to a full range of services, including anonymous online feedback, counselling, virtual downtime activities, virtual fitness, or any other wellbeing session, like financial management help, had engagement levels that dropped just 1% vs pre-Pandemic levels.

When you compare that to a 13% drop for those that had none, and an 11% drop for those that had minimal access, it suggests that taking this stuff seriously can pay back huge dividends, while a half-hearted or temporary approach to this doesn’t really benefit anyone.

When you look at engagement and culture fortification there’s still no one size fits all approach that works for everyone. You’ve got to do what works for your organisation and the people that make it work. Frankly, that’s what makes employee engagement and culture both fascinating and tough, but so rewarding when you get it right.

So listening to all my guests and aligning their advice with what I see in my work every day, I want to share 7 tips with you on how to increase employee engagement and retention in 2023.

Some of the items here are the old faithfuls, and some have emerged from our new world. Committing to any of these things will help improve your levels of engagement and help grow, maintain and fortify your culture. But doing them all will take you to another level.

So in no particular order here are my tips for increasing engagement and retention in 2023 are:

# 1: Match the cultural promise to the reality.

What does it really feel like to work in your business? Do the values on your wall mural truly represent what’s going on? If not, you’ve got problems.

New employees are often a great judge of this. They have none of the same baggage, or institutional blindness that many of your existing employees may have. It’s still important to speak to and listen to all your employees, but put energy and focus on these things as part of your onboarding programme too, and really listen to what these new employees are saying about how the promise matches up to reality. You might just learn something that helps you.

# 2: Provide personal learning opportunities.

Don’t under-estimate how many of your employees want the opportunity to personally grow and develop.

There’s often an excuse for not focusing on this stuff, because some people will say “not everybody wants to be engaged or developed, some just want to turn up, take a pay-check and go home” – maybe that’s true, but why should that stop you offering opportunities for those that do want to grow?

You can’t force people to take responsibility for their own development who don’t want to, but by offering those opportunities to those that do, you can retain and grow your very best talent and increase the capabilities of the organisation too.

But it doesn’t all have to be work-related either. Giving people opportunities to grow other skills that will benefit their lives, such as learning a language, can pay dividends in terms of loyalty and productivity too.

# 3: Focus on building trust.

Take a leaf out of Professor Paul Zak’s work on Trust, and start intentionally managing trust in your business. His work identified 8 ways to actively manage for greater trust.

The two lowest scoring actions in the businesses he measured, were things that I don’t think should be too difficult to adopt in any business.

First was to recognise excellence. That’s not a well done for turning up, but really showing appreciation for a job well done. And contrary to belief, this isn’t always about money and gifts. An unexpected, genuine and personal thank you can be incredibly powerful.

And second on that list was sharing information more broadly. Uncertainty is something we humans don’t deal with very well, couple that with feeling outside “the clique” and you’ve got a recipe for problems and mistrust. The simple act of sharing information or data more widely with people can have a huge influence on feeling trusted.

Trust forms the most basic of foundations of high-performing teams and enabling cultures. Focusing on these two simple things can go a long way to establishing stronger feelings of trust and encouraging more effective teamwork.

#4. Have a Wellbeing strategy.

I’ve mentioned it before, but Wellbeing support going forward will be important. Far from being woke or fluffy, there are direct benefits emerging between those businesses that take a wide and genuine focus on their employees health and wellbeing and those who don’t.

This isn’t about hand massages and duvet days. This is about listening to and understanding the issues your people are dealing with and supporting them with ways of working and other mechanics that help them stay healthy, physically and mentally. Everybody benefits from that.

#5. Find ways to listen more.

Whilst the annual survey, done properly, is a very useful tool for gauging sentiment and satisfaction, it should not be the sum total of your employee listening strategy. A once or twice-a-year onslaught of questions to be answered is not a two-way conversation.

At the core of human behaviour, people, in general, want to be seen, heard, known and feel validated and valued. These are some of the most basic needs. How are you engaging in regular, meaningful conversations with the employees in your organisation? How are you supporting and equipping your managers and leaders to feel confident in doing that? What mechanics are you using, what forums are you running, and how do you continually invite and encourage the free-flow of feedback?

But not just that. Some of the answers to your most difficult challenges may be sitting in the minds of your people waiting to be liberated.

Remember the story of the £5 fan, back in episode 47 with Kevin Campbell from Qualtrics?

When employees found the solution to a major distribution problem, with empty packages being shipped from the line, that was going to cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement a solution plan with a bunch of industry consultants with a $5 fan instead.

Any empty box approaching the dispatch end of the line would simply be blown off the line by the £5 fan. No need for automation development, or a new set of robotics to be installed to make checks at some astronomical cost. Just a $5 fan.

Imagine the pride and validation that bought to those employees who shared their idea.

What do you think happened to their levels of engagement as a result? Listening is good for everybody. So find ways to listen more.

#6. Intentionally create collisions.

The new working world and the increased prevalence of hybrid and remote working means we’ve lost a lot of the spontaneous, water cooler conversations, or the ear-wigging over desks that used to happen, listening to what other people are doing and working on, which may help others to try new things or find alternative solutions to issues they are working through.

But also these unplanned “collisions” as Disney call them, are where many relationships are forged and built. And we know how important employee relationships are when it comes to engagement and retention.

When Disney & Pixar were building their offices they intentionally increased the width of corridors and meeting spaces, and canteens to fit more people into those spaces, so that more “collisions” took place, where people would literally bump into each other and end up chatting, because they knew that this would create more relationships, encourage more collaboration and increase innovation.

We can’t all widen our corridors, and they don’t exist remotely, but what are you doing to encourage those casual meetings, conversations, or opportunities to shoot the breeze which can create new, or strengthen existing relationships?

And finally #7. Offer flexibility and certainty with working practices.

I’ve mentioned it earlier, but we have to remember people’s lives have changed over the past few years. They’ve had to adapt to a lot of change in their personal lives, be that working from home, or finding new ways to balance the needs of the family with the needs of work.

The threat of that changing can be a scary thing for people, and is starting to become a clear reason for people jumping ship, to another business that can be more flexible with its working practices, so it doesn’t negatively impact their home life.

Rather than rolling over, businesses that are engaging with their employees to understand how to do this, how to balance the needs of the business and the needs of the employees when it comes to working practices, as opposed to dictating terms, seem to be fairing better, in terms of retention and loyalty.

But I know this will be unpopular for many businesses, who just want to get people back into the office or building, and get back to “normal”. But what is normal? I’m not sure anyone knows, other than it’s not quite the same as before, and it probably won’t ever go back fully to how it was. But as we figure it all out, one of the best ways to retain your talent today is to have consulted, understood and then given certainty around the topic of flexibility, and certainty is what we’re all after.

So that’s my 7 tips for better employee engagement and retention in 2023. It’s not an exhaustive list, but working purposefully on these things will certainly help keep hold of your people and attract good people to you.

And that’s it from Sticky From The Inside this year.

I’ll be back in the new year and the guest line-up is looking great, with some fantastic people from all over the globe, from many different backgrounds, ready to share their experiences and advice with you on the topics of culture, leadership, retention, development and employee engagement – and probably a whole lot more besides.

So have a great Christmas and I’ll speak to you on the other side.

00:20:00 Andy Goram

That concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.

If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside podcast. until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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