Conventional wisdom notes that it’s more expensive to recruit and onboard new employees  than to retain existing high-performing employees. Costs of employee turnover can range from 16% of employees’ salaries at the low end of hourly staff, to 213% at the higher-end executive level. We also know that 87% of employees, according to Gallup, are not actively engaged in their work. The average employee stays 3 to 5 years at their current job; just over half are looking for a new job at any given time.

Author Dan Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, lists three factors that motivate employees:

1) Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed and not micro-managed either by supervisors or systems; they want engagement over compliance.

2) Mastery: The urge to obtain better skills and to have the resources (tools, time, training) to accomplish their work appropriately.

3) Purpose: The desire to engage in work that is meaningful and to feel that one’s effort has an impact.

Organizations should aim to have have a framework that encourages these three factors among their current employees to increase their satisfaction and performance as well as their retention.

Misconceptions That Hinder Engagement

Work today overflows with deeply flawed systems, processes, tools, and assumptions that undermine the ability to express what is unique about each of us in our everyday work. Moreover, these systems and processes intensify the organization’s control over its employees.

In Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall uncover some big lies that permeate our organizational lives, including:

1) People care about the organization they work for. The truth is that employees don’t care about the organization. They care about culture, leadership, and their work, and how these qualities manifest in the team. People care about what team they’re on because that’s where work gets done.

2) The best organizations cascade meaning. Rather than cascading goals and instructions for action, organizations should cascade meaning and purpose. People don’t need to be told what to do, they need to be told why.

3) The best people are well-rounded. We have specific, signature strengths: activities that make us feel strong and become the “master lever” for high performance. The best team leaders focus on this and concentrate on outcomes, not methods. They fit the work to the person, not the other way around, and they use the diverse strengths among the team to accomplish the intended outcomes.

4) People need feedback. We don’t look for feedback. We want an audience. We thrive on safe and nonjudgmental attention and our performance skyrockets when we get it.

5) Followership is critical to effective leadership and is, therefore, a great way to measure leadership. We should measure employees’ feelings about the person who leads us, rather than measuring abstract qualities about a leader’s effectiveness.

Three Questions All Employers Should Ask

When high-performing employees feel connected, listened to, and enabled in their development, they become a magnet for other top-level talent. To retain and recruit high performing employees, organizations need to ask themselves three critical questions:

1) How can we retain our high-performing employees in order to enhance productivity and reduce recruiting costs?

2) How well do we know our employees’ strengths and do we make an effort to play to their strengths? In other words, how much are we focusing on engagement over compliance?

3) What policies can we implement or remove, to favor retention over recruitment?


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It’s powerful to know what your employees think. You can identify problems like poor leadership, communication breakdown, and mounting plans to leave your company before expensive turnover affects your business. Use this checklist for a quick read on your employee engagement.

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