Engaging with employees protects a company's most important asset.
With industry pundits hinting the job market will heat up across the board this year, employers need to seriously consider the levels of employee engagement they have - to increase staff loyalty.
Janet Tuck of the Career Clinic says there are plenty of people looking to change jobs, a trend that's particularly apparent among those who have stayed put for longer than they'd like while riding out the economic downturn.
"If employers want to keep their high performing staff then they need to pay attention to how they are feeling in their work, and whether they are loyal to the firm," Tuck says.
"They are likely to lose them if they don't pay attention, this is the main reason firms need to increase engagement and develop increased loyalty."
Building loyalty is a two-way process though, Tuck says, with give and take expected by both parties.
"Employers need to do things for their staff to raise the level of engagement," she says. "But I also think that once they do those things the loyalty that goes back the other way - from the staff to the employer - can often be amazing."
Day-to-day, Tuck says, firms wanting to increase loyalty need to communicate frequently with their staff, and tell them where the company is going - "staff need to be confident in the company, and understand its values".
"It's also key that every member of staff understands where they fit within the company," she says. "That includes where they are now, and where they could be in the future. This could come about by aspirational conversations with staff about their career goals - in fact, that is one of the big drivers for employee engagement. A conversation with your staff will engender that sense of loyalty, because it conveys that, as an employer, you are interested in your people in a wider context than just what they can do for you today."
Truth is, Tuck says, staff leave bosses, not companies. It means the relationship between staff and their immediate boss is important for staff loyalty and retention. Bosses, she says, need to be good leaders.
In short, people are loyal to other people - not companies. A bad boss will drive good staff away - no matter how great the company may be.
"I have seen people work for pitiful wages, but because the manager is good to them, and respects them, they stick it out," Tuck says. "And then you find people earning the big bucks are unhappy and looking to move. So workplace culture and staff engagement are reflected in the loyalty shown by employees.
"A good boss will delegate and empower staff to perform at their best, convey company culture, and have good two-way communication."
Helping build a good relationship with staff can include incentives, which does not necessarily have to mean more money.
"Companies can let their staff know when they are doing a good job with positive feedback, meaningful work, and providing a safe and healthy environment," Tuck says.
"When it comes to the services and products a company offers, staff need to have faith in them. An employee will often work above and beyond if they know their employer is trying to help them, for example, in letting a member of staff go early to pick up their child from school."
One way staff can show they are engaged and loyal to their firm is to put their hands up for extra assignments and training, Tuck says. One survey suggests training opportunities will increase this year.
Recruitment firm Robert Walters says companies will be looking to hire learning and development specialists to implement employee training schemes. Its Global Salary survey also says that learning and development managers can expect a salary increase, reflecting the increased demand for training.
"Staff should always put themselves forward for training opportunities, otherwise the employer may not know the opportunities are of interest to them," Tuck says. "Putting your hand up tells the company you are committed to the company."
However, staff loyalty looks pretty thin on the ground.
"Some workplace surveys appear to show that around 70 per cent of people are looking for a new job, so one could interpret that as showing low levels of employee loyalty across the country," Tuck says.
"Employee confidence appears to be quite high, so there may well be opportunities for people to change jobs. Employers should be concerned if they have staff they are worried about losing."
Five ways to increase loyalty
1. Ask about their career goals
2. Provide training and career development
4. Establish defined career paths
5. Empower staff to make decisions.
Steve Hart is a freelance writer at www.SteveHart.co.nz