Businesses are prioritising the development of a strong onboarding process to derive full value from new hires. But are they starting to overlook the needs of their long term employees?
Workers are more engaged than ever before. In fact, research by Analytics firm Gallup suggests the employee engagement rate in the United States hit an all-time high last year, with more than one-third feeling enthusiastic about what they do. This is certainly good news, with the organisation highlighting strong links between engagement and lead generation, retention, and overall outcomes.
But before we get too excited, we need to question if businesses are doing enough to engage long term employees, or whether they’re simply piling all their efforts into creating positive experiences only for new recruits.
The problem, it seems, is despite total engagement levels rising, there’s still a negative correlation between experience and engagement. The ‘seven-year itch’ may be a term primarily used to describe marital issues, but it’s one which can easily be applied to today’s workforce, too.
Long term employees have been through the motions; they’ve journeyed through learning, through development, and through expertise. The novelty wears off, resulting in new journeys through apathy, boredom, and disconnect.
And this is your problem. Not theirs.
A static employee is an unengaged employee. In relation to the long term workforce, there is a need to be constantly moving, constantly on the go, constantly adapting, and constantly evolving in order to keep generating interest. And the way to do this is by always ensuring movement in the employee experience.
How to engage long term employees
There is a strong need to focus on the employee experience to engage long term employees and ensure you’re deriving as much value from them as you are from your new hires who are knee-deep in the onboarding process. So what are some effective ways to engage your most experienced talent?
Blanket rules are a tricky area to navigate in business, and they’re a bit of a controversial topic, too. But the truth is, in order to engage long term employees, it’s necessary to extend beyond the boundaries of equality.
From a business perspective, it’s not realistic to expect tenured staff to follow the same rules as new hires. They’ve already proven themselves to be effective members of the team, so this is the time to forget about minutes spent sitting at the desk and instead focus on the quality of work and deadlines met.
Engagement rates can be heightened by introducing flexibility and new ways of working. Rather than tracking hours, it may be more effective to track individual goals instead. Through focusing on improved performance management, you can give your long term employees the flexibility and the creative license needed to empower themselves and turn their ideas into action.
This can be achieved by creating a performance record and evaluating overall performance rather than desk minutes or working hours.
Connect with employees
Over time, it’s easy to lose touch with your long term workforce. Sitting in the same chair, at the same time, day in day out for years, it’s remarkably easy to take top talent for granted. To engage long term employees means reconnecting with them and getting an update on what they need and what they expect from the company they work for.
By not only hearing but actively listening, you can show employees you’ve got their backs, value their input, and care about their future within the organisation. Some businesses are using the old tried and tested methods of employee surveys, but a number of forward-thinking organisations are beginning to take alternative approaches.
According to global research advisory Gartner, around half of all businesses today are using non-traditional monitoring techniques, up from 30% in 2015. Voice-of-the-employee (VoE) technologies collect and analyse employee thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, giving greater insight into the employee experience.
Create new opportunities
Every role has a ceiling, and if your employees have hit this ceiling, it can be difficult for them to enjoy their tasks, take pride in their work, and feel engaged with their duties and with the organisation itself.
To engage your long term employees who have taken everything they can from a position, it’s important to take measures to build an impactful growth and development-focused work environment. This doesn’t necessarily mean investing in training. Instead, it can be about identifying new opportunities.
For employees with no clear or linear pathway up the career ladder, a lateral move within the company can provide a much-needed change of scenery, reigniting the lost spark. Similarly, a reorganisation of company structure can be used to switch up existing teams and match long term employees with those who can help to continue and elongate their learning journey.
Alternatively, new tasks can be introduced to current workplace roles, such as turning long term employees into mentors for new team members.
“Engagement is an outcome of experience; it doesn’t necessarily signal the expectations employees give for their work experience, or help you to identify their priorities” – Gartner Director Caroline Walsh.
Invest in your employees
As long term employees almost become a part of the furniture, we tend to assume they know it all. But it’s not always the case. While it certainly differs by sector, many business leaders will be amongst the first to admit their industry is a lot different now than it was ten years ago.
Disruptive change has been taking place on a worldwide scale, which means, in some cases, new hires may be more in tune with the latest developments taking place than established staff who have been here years.
Now is the time to invest in your team, offering training courses, relevant workshops, and refresher training to engage long term employees, stimulate the mind, and introduce new ideas, new ways of working, and new techniques and methods. But tread lightly.
It’s vital these investments are communicated as an opportunity for tenured staff to build upon their existing core knowledge, evolve their abilities, and grow their expertise, rather than as a reflection of their workplace performance.
Investing in your team doesn’t necessarily mean investing in training. Instead, it can mean investing in improved employee recognition. If you increase recognition at work, you’re taking steps to build high performance, high engagement environments which truly deliver.
With the cost of recruiting new hires being substantial, it can often be a more cost-effective move for businesses to introduce financial incentives for existing workers in the form of performance-related pay raises, bonuses, and rewards.
However, recognising your long term employees certainly doesn’t have to be a costly action. Believe it or not, there are plenty of completely free ways to make employees feel valued by the company.
These include acknowledging and highlighting good ideas, providing social recognition through corporate networks, writing messages of recognition on sticky notes, and even saying hello in the mornings! As we’ve already touched upon, it’s easy to take talent for granted when it’s been around for so long.
Lead by example
Do as you say, not as you do. If you want to engage long term employees, lead by example. What many businesses overlook is this: Good leadership is about more than managing employees and meeting deadlines and targets.
Good leadership is about creating a company-wide vision which motivates employees. According to employee engagement surveys undertaken by Gallup, 70% of the variation witnessed in employee engagement ratings can be directly attributed to the team leader or manager.
And this is telling. It shows how significant managerial style can be on how employees feel about their jobs. While everyone has good days and bad days, it’s important to maintain a level of enthusiasm about your role as a leader, and about the company as a whole.
It’s vital to be consistent in approaches and to ensure all team members understand their role, their responsibilities, and where they fit into the organisational hierarchy and company structure. Engagement isn’t an isolated aspect; it’s contagious.
For a large portion of long term workers, part of the problem is forgetting why they’re here. Onboarding processes work to integrate new workers through highlighting their unique involvement within the organisation, and this is something which can become lost over time.
Conducting the same tasks every day for years, it’s not unusual for some long term employees to lose sight of what it is they bring to the table, how their efforts contribute to business success, and what value they bring to the core business.
Where possible, long term employees should be encouraged to get involved in tasks outside of their official duties; an act which enables them to see how their skills and talents can be utilised on a company-wide scale.
For example, employees can use their knowledge to contribute to the onboarding process of new hires, or they can create niche content for both marketing departments and HR teams; anything which demonstrates purpose and shows how individuals contribute to the bigger picture.
How to measure employee engagement
If you’re taking measures to implement the seven tips above, you’ll probably want to see some evidence of your efforts working. So what is the best way to measure and track employee engagement?
While feedback forms are commonly used, we must consider the accuracy of engagement data, and how responses can be affected by aspects outside of our control, including personal life and current projects. Engagement is not a number or figure; it’s best reflected in work outcomes and timely deliverables.
But let’s be realistic here for a moment. Despite best efforts, some people will naturally outgrow their positions. And it’s OK. Some long term employees will reach a point where they feel they’ve derived all they can from the company, moving on to top managerial positions or even starting their own companies.
This isn’t a time to look at your efforts as failures. Instead, it’s a time to consider the new opportunities which could arise from maintaining strong relationships and developing new business-client partnerships in the future. If you’re going to have staff turnover, this is certainly the best kind to have!
There’s a common saying: Don’t overlook the little guy. We think it’s time this saying was flipped on its head. We say don’t overlook the big guy; the established long term worker who continues to perform day in, day out, even though they may be feeling undervalued and underappreciated at a time when all the focus is in on creating positive onboarding experiences for new hires.
Sure, with turnover rates on the rise, it’s normal and indeed sensible for businesses to prioritise onboarding in a bid to minimise turnover and reduce recruitment costs, but don’t forget to engage long term employees, too.
After all, they’re your secret weapon.
About the Author
Chloe’s why is people; she gets her kicks from intensifying the purpose and exploring the potential of those around her. She works as Head of People & Culture at Deputy, a robust scheduling software that can be used to manage your workforce in a wide variety of different industries. Chloe sees her work as an extension of her lifestyle and is constantly working on revolutionizing the people and culture space.