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Let’s Get Engaged

Employees on a scale of engagement

Psst. Have you heard? We’re in the midst of a workforce crisis. You can’t drive a block without seeing “We’re Hiring” signs, turn on the radio without hearing recruitment ads, or check your email without spammy solicitations. 

In January, Iowa’s unemployment rate dipped down to 3.2 percent. While that’s higher than pandemic levels, it is still well below the national average of 3.7 percent. There’s a big focus on hiring. Workforce development is a top 2024 legislative priority for the Iowa Business Council, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry

Iowa isn’t the only state experiencing hiring issues. There’s a massive focus on recruitment and hiring across the nation — and dollars follow. Companies’ budgets get diverted to recruitment, often at the expense of programs and investments that actually retain the employees they already have. When budgets get lean, staff development and engagement programs are often the first to go. That’s a critical mistake.

A recent report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that the average “hard cost” per new hire is $4,700. But this article points out that the true cost to replace an employee could be as much as three to four times that individual’s salary. That’s because of the “soft costs” — the capacity that other colleagues must dedicate to making up the missing individual’s work, the time it takes to screen and interview new hires, and even the team morale that can take precipitous dips with chronic turnover. 

If it seems like a vicious cycle, it is. But it doesn’t have to be. Imagine if the money it takes to hire a new person was invested into existing team members to keep them engaged and happy. According to a study by Deloitte, only 34 percent of employees are happy with their organization’s investment in their professional development — even though 74 percent say developing these skills is critical to their organization’s strategy. 

Why is it so hard to get employee engagement right? In my experience, it boils down to three key things: 

  1. Mindset. If your workplace development efforts are not grounded in a growth mindset model, you’re wasting not only an opportunity, but real time and money. My January blog digs into why mindset matters and how to incorporate it into everything you do. 
  2. Companies and leaders don’t actually know what employees want. They might think they do. But they rarely do. Instead, they scramble to dole out new benefits or one-time bonuses, they add perks, or worse, they implement “forced fun” or team-building that teams actually dread… and then they’re shocked when it doesn’t stanch the turnover tide.
  3. The third trend I see when it comes to misguided employee engagement strategies is leaders who fail to “mind the gap” — the generational gap, that is. In 2024, Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) will overtake Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) for the first time as the dominant generation in the full-time workforce, according to a report from Glassdoor. One of the authors of the report predicted “pretty sweeping implications for what employers prioritize,” according to CNBC. Younger workers are more diverse, more likely to want their opinion heard, more open to remote work, and place more value on flexibility and work-life balance than their Boomer colleagues. They want robust and full lives outside of their jobs.

Boomers, on the other hand, equate “authority with experience” and consider a job a defining component of their identity, this Indeed guide reports. They prefer structure and visibility in the office, with defined hours and a consistent office environment. A 9-to-5 desk job suits them just fine.

(Of course there are exceptions to any rule, including generational stereotypes. I’m sure you know a Boomer who embraces remote work and self-expression in the workplace, or a Zoomer who loves to sit in their cubicle for eight-hour days. But the data — and my own experience with my clients — hews remarkably close to the generational classifications.) 

This can leave employers in a quandary. You want to keep the employees you have, but you don’t know what they want. How do you motivate and engage employees with completely different values and reward levers? I have two pieces of good news for you: 

  1. There are certain things that all employees want — and the data backs this up. Almost 90 percent of employees say generational diversity in the workplace is a good thing and welcome the opportunity to learn from one another, according to a LiveCareer study. All generations want respect and recognition. All generations want shared purpose. All generations want honest communication and mutual trust.
  2. Leaders don’t have to guess what their employees want. Employee engagement is not rocket science, but it is behavioral science. Engagement and professional development efforts often fail to achieve their mark because they are not based in behavioral science. Models like the Predictive Index help businesses utilize assessments and data to align their people with their business strategy. How? They give leaders practical tools to understand what their teams want and how to communicate with them. The Predictive Index can actually diagnose engagement and employee culture problems before they result in resentment, toxicity, underperformance, and turnover — a brutal cycle that’s hard to stop once it starts. PI works for employers of all sizes and types — from global Subway stores to local salons. My own PI clients have seen remarkable success in uniting diverse teams and delivering laser-focused engagement strategies. It can be as comprehensive as a workplace coaching program or as subtle as changing how you communicate in a team meeting. PI is not just a one-time training; its hands-on tools, tune-ups, and tweaks can be hardwired into every facet of your company culture.

That means companies can shift from frantic hiring and fixed mindsets to authentic teambuilding, engaged teams, and growth. Learn more about the solutions that will get — and keep — your teams engaged. 


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