December 15, 2022

Employee Retention and Engagement

By Simone Putnam, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Partner-in-Charge, Managed Human Resources Services

Employee Retention and Engagement Nonprofit & Social Sector

As 2022 draws to a close, many workforces have settled into a new normal. Some organizations chose to operate virtually for the long term, some adopted a hybrid structure in which employees work from the office a certain number of days per week, and others required employees to return to the office on their pre-pandemic work schedules. Regardless of the location of the workforce, organizations across the board are facing a common challenge: employee retention and engagement.

What drives employee retention and engagement?

The short answer is job satisfaction, which is influenced by a variety of factors driven by an organization’s culture. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Culture at almost every organization was impacted by the shift to remote work during the height of the pandemic, and again during the “great reshuffle” as many employees changed jobs over the past two years. Now organizations are redefining their culture as they settle into their new normal.

Which elements of culture generally influence job satisfaction?

Our experience working with nonprofit organizations over the past 20-plus years suggests the following elements of culture influence job satisfaction:

  • The employee/supervisor relationship;
  • Work-life balance;
  • Relationship with co-workers;
  • Career potential and development;
  • Flexible work options and a hybrid or fully remote work environment;
  • Clarity of job responsibilities, and
  • Understanding how an employee’s position fits into the organization’s mission.

While the cultural elements affecting job satisfaction have been relatively stable for many years, remote and hybrid work arrangements bring additional challenges to elements such as establishing strong employee/supervisor relationships, bonding with co-workers, and supporting employees’ career growth and development.

How do leaders know which cultural elements resonate most with their employees?

The short answer is, “Ask your employees.” You can conduct an employee climate survey with your team to understand the common elements of job satisfaction across your organization. You can also conduct “stay interviews,” which include a series of questions geared toward discovering what keeps employees at your organization. For example, you might ask questions such as:

  • What do you value most about working for the organization?
  • What would cause you to look for a job outside of the organization?
  • What suggestions do you have for making the organization an even more rewarding place to work?

You can also refer to exit interviews conducted over the past year. When structuring exit interview questions, focus on obtaining feedback that will reveal how departing employees perceive the culture of your organization. You should also ensure leadership reviews exit interview information and uses it to inform employee retention strategies.

In addition to stay and exit interviews, you can also engage in small group discussions around culture and ask your supervisors to gather this information during regular touch-base meetings with their employees.

We recommend leaders strive to understand what drives individual employees’ job satisfaction and create a workplace culture that satisfies the most common elements for most employees. Then, they should seek to satisfy as many uncommon elements as possible, recognizing that sometimes the conflicting nature of needs will come into play. Strategize with your leadership team about how to create space for employees and teams to connect in a way that isn’t always strictly about business.

Leaders will need to do more planning and strategizing as they work toward a workplace culture that drives employee retention and engagement. Culture that supports employees’ job satisfaction results in optimal employee engagement, which in turn creates high-impact organizations.