22/04/2015

By Linda Levesque, HR Director, at Unum


Any successful business depends on delivering a great service or product, and doing that requires talented and motivated staff. Competition for the best people is fierce and staff turnover is costly - both to recruit a replacement but also in terms of lower productivity and lost relationships in the interim.

So what can firms do to retain and engage staff at all levels? Many companies are now in a position, post-recession, to offer more attractive salaries and pay rises. However, while employees will always welcome a cash reward for their hard work, the impact of a financial benefit has a short-term effect when it comes to employee engagement. Savvy employers should instead look at the role other benefits, which contribute directly to employee wellbeing, can play in keeping someone within the company for longer.

1. Creating a caring culture

Over the past 30 years, the demands placed upon employees in the workplace have increased dramatically. Technology has driven us to become more effective and efficient, bringing with it a set of new strains and pressures that didn’t exist two or three decades ago. As a result, staff today need and expect much more from their employer when it comes to workplace wellbeing.

In fact, our research found that almost a third (30%)* of employees said they would consider leaving their job if they didn’t feel cared for by their employer. A further 26% of workers said poor workplace wellbeing would make them less likely to stay with an employer long-term. To address this, businesses need to create a caring culture that makes staff feel valued and looked after, whether that’s by being mindful of employees’ stress levels or by making sure staff feel comfortable to raise issues with managers.

2. Assessing the impact of technology

Each minute, 200 million emails, 277,000 tweets and 2.46 million Facebook posts are circulated around the world, and so it’s becoming more and more important to help workers deal with the relentless progression of technology and connectivity, which can negatively impact motivation and engagement at work.

Employers need to create not only a caring culture, but also a mindful workplace, in which modern-day stresses and strains are recognised and workers are encouraged to recharge mentally to achieve balance in their hyper-connected, digital lifestyles.

As part of this, employers can introduce “tech-free timeouts” to encourage employees to switch off, as well as simpler, more intuitive work systems that use employee data to provide a bespoke offering dependent on specific needs and working habits. Both will protect workers against the sheer number of tasks and volume of communication they are expected to deal with throughout the day.

3. Leadership and line management

It is widely acknowledged that effective leadership is key when it comes to motivating employees, at all levels in an organisation, but junior members of staff can often feel disconnected with senior managers and directors, especially in larger organisations.

Employers need to understand that this problem will not be simply resolved with better pay, but that it is also necessary to focus on creating a business which recognises employees at all levels as individuals with individual needs. But perhaps even more important is the way in which a business listens to these needs. Employees want their voice to be heard and their views to be responded to in a timely and thorough manner, which requires much more than the odd staff survey. Through bolstering the role of line managers and strengthening the relationship between line managers and employees, businesses can ensure the concerns and opinions of each worker can be expressed and heard.

Not only are line managers the vital link between more junior staff and senior management, but they are also instrumental in engaging employees by demonstrating that development and progression is taken seriously. They are also on the front line when it comes to tackling issues like stress and illness should they develop.

In fact, a huge 79% of employees say that having a strong relationship with their line manager is particularly important to them. Businesses should give line managers the support and training needed to empower them to perform their role effectively, ultimately keeping the workforce engaged and motivated.

4. Evolving working practices

An ageing workforce means companies need to adapt their working practices to account for an increasingly diverse set of employees, often spanning several generations. Our ‘Future Workplace Report’ highlighted the importance of an ageless working environment which allows ‘returnment’ - encouraging older workers to remain or return to the workplace instead of retiring, and sees people motivated to work until a later age because they want to, not because they have to.

Not only does an ‘ageless’ workplace support the needs of older employees, but it offers a golden opportunity for business leaders to capitalise on the experience and knowledge of these employees. This might be through designing mentoring programmes to help train and advise junior workers or by building on the knowledge of seasoned employees, encouraging them to impart their wisdom throughout the workforce.

5. Employee benefits

A flexible and comprehensive benefits package can be another vital tool in recruitment and retention, and firms should review their current offering to ensure it meets the needs and expectations of the workforce today.

An effective benefits package needs to support employees in three areas. Firstly, there should be preventative wellbeing strategies in place to build a healthy and happy workforce to help stop any issues from developing in the first place. Secondly, a company should have an efficient intervention process, such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), so they can pick up and deal with any issues before they become more serious. Finally, having protection in place for employees should they need to take time off from work due to ill health, through something like Income Protection, means that staff are supported financially during long periods of absence and during their rehabilitation back into the workplace.

In the future, smart companies will increasingly need to have a comprehensive wellbeing strategy in place that incorporates all of these factors. When staff feel cared for they are more engaged, more productive and more likely to stay; business leaders need to take this on board in order to ensure they can compete for the best talent, both now and in the future.