By Marije Gould, Vice President EMEA, Verint

As 2015 approaches, many people who have become disillusioned with their current job will make it a New Year’s Resolution to find themselves a new one. However, with recent research putting the cost of replacing an outgoing member of staff at more than £30,000 in lost revenue, recruitment and retraining (totalling over £4bn a year for British businesses), it is in every organisation’s best interests to keep staff happy and turnover low. The most effective way to do this is through engaging employees in ongoing dialogue that not only makes them feel valued, but ensures any potential issues are detected and rectified long before staff start heading for the exit.

Employee engagement starts the moment a prospective new member of staff walks through the door and should be ingrained in everything an organisation does. Not only do engaged employees create a more positive working culture, but they also deliver higher levels of satisfaction amongst customers and can unearth invaluable insights that would otherwise go unnoticed. However, despite its obvious importance, there are still surprisingly few organisations which have formal employee engagement personnel. While this is expected to change over time, there are a number of steps that organisations should already be following to ensure they are building and engaging their workforce as effectively as possible.

Make sure you’re recruiting the right people for your organisation

It sounds obvious but recruiting efficiently is paramount to developing a positive workplace environment. Assessing candidates for cultural fit is as important as qualifications and your interview process should include ways to accurately evaluate how a candidate would integrate with the wider organisation. Google famously assesses all potential employees for ‘Googliness’; described as a mixture of passion and drive, along with a desire to make the world a better place through technology.

However, remember that this door swings both ways. It’s equally important that organisations present a true reflection of their culture to prospective candidates rather than painting a fake picture of what they want it to be like, only for candidates to find out later that the perception and reality are in fact very different.

Take the time to set out an effective engagement strategy

Effective employee engagement strategies don’t just fall from the sky; they must be carefully developed and cultivated over time. The best strategies are often built around an organisation’s core values and have buy-in from employees at all levels. When implemented effectively they foster a sense of inclusion and encourage internal collaboration, helping to break down internal silos that can otherwise develop.

Listen to your employees…

Even the most basic engagement programmes must include mechanisms that give employees from every level the chance to provide feedback on successes and areas for improvement within the organisation. Voice of the Employee initiatives give management a chance to ‘check the pulse’ of their workforce and watch for warning signs before bigger problems develop. Not only this, but employees on the front line of customer service can shine the light on important customer insights and trends that can help shape future business strategy. Segmenting employees based on attributes such as demographics, department or location, and asking the same set of questions at different levels of the organisation can also yield very interesting differences in perception, often invaluable when identifying problems early.

…and act upon what they say

While most organisations now have some form of employee feedback mechanism in place, far too many go through the motions of garnering employee feedback but then fail to do anything meaningful with the information they uncover. The most common recurring topics from staff surveys are typically related to career progression, pay and flexible working policies, but not everything requires major effort to show employees you are listening. Something as small as overhauling the cafeteria soft drink selection can make a big difference to employee morale. Remember, just as with customers, being perceived to be hearing but not listening to employees can be just as damaging as not asking for their feedback in the first place.

Make sure engagement is fair for all

An effective engagement strategy should be fair and even handed across the business to avoid feelings of bias within the workforce. For instance, many organisations will reward their most effective sales executives each year, but fail to recognise the importance of other areas like marketing and customer service in the same manner. Making annual awards peer voted will also help to allay issues of favouritism and ensure all employees feel included in the process.

Empower employees to self-satisfy

Not all employee engagement activity needs to be implemented from the top down. Many strategies work best when they empower employees to fix issues themselves if they aren’t happy with them. Consider internal ‘taskforces’ at different levels of the organisation with the tools to operate independently, without the need to seek authorisation for everything they wish to address. If monitored correctly, empowering employees in this manner not only means lower level issues can be resolved much more swiftly, but it also conveys a greater sense of trust throughout the organisation.

Adapt to fit your employees

Workforces are dynamic entities which don’t always fit into a rigid, hierarchical structure. While employees naturally view promotion as a good indicator of career progression, promoting them into roles they aren’t suited to/don’t want, can be akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole and will often have adverse effects. Organisations should talk to employees about where they want their career to go and if possible, adapt roles or even create new ones which help take them there. Simply expecting employees to adapt to the will of the business can soon leave an organisation with a £30,000 hole to fill if they aren’t careful!

Any organisation, no matter how successful, is only as strong as its employees. This article outlines a number of key areas for consideration when devising a suitable engagement strategy that, if applied effectively, will not only boost employee morale but also have a positive impact on customer service as a result of happier staff. When devising your own strategy, make sure it addresses the challenges unique to your organisation, not those faced by others. Above all, remember that hearing your workforce and listening to them are two very different things.