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Matt Tenney, Contributor

Poor leadership has been cited as one of the main drivers of the turnover we’ve seen with The Great Resignation. 

It’s not surprising considering a 25-year study by Gallup, which revealed that about 50-70% of an employee’s perception of their work environment is linked to the actions and behaviors of management. Because of this, leadership has a profound impact on employee engagement and retention. 

Yet many managers fail to create the necessary conditions for employees to engage with their work and do it to the best of their potential. 

Whether you are a seasoned leader or have just moved into a management role, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever strategies you use to engage and retain employees should be focused on enabling and empowering employees to perform well and constantly grow in their roles.

The skill every leader should have is the skill to inspire and motivate employees to do exceptional work. Leaders develop this skill through compassionate and caring leadership that fosters a positive work environment, values employee contributions, develops their talent, and supports their well-being. 

Compassionate leaders do this by giving regular constructive feedback, including frequent recognition of achievements, coaching and mentoring for improvement, clarifying performance expectations, clearly communicating culture, offering flexibility, and providing learning and career development opportunities that help team members grow.

Feedback

Lack of regular feedback ranks high on the list of reasons employees are leaving their jobs these days.

Employees need feedback on a regular basis to excel in their jobs and build the kind of engagement needed for retention. It provides not only job clarity, but also helps employees course correct when needed, develop an improvement mindset, and build confidence in their work.

The goal of this feedback is to help employees to do their best work, do it well, and better serve their co-workers. When done correctly, it should also boost employees’ level of job satisfaction and overall well-being.

But, to be most effective, it needs to be a two-way street, with leadership being open to feedback from employees. This gives employees a voice and helps them to build trust with leadership, which increases employee loyalty.  

Leaders set the tone for a culture of feedback by being approachable and through active listening. Listening is the most important part of the process. 

To build trust, leaders need to really listen to their employees and respond to what they are saying in the moment to get the most out of the feedback they receive from team members and to give helpful feedback to team members. 

Andrew Freedman, consultant and author of Thrive: The Leader’s Guide to Building a High-Performance Culture, outlines the best ways to deliver feedback:

Recognition

A Gallup study revealed that only one in three workers in the US and Germany strongly agreed that they received praise or recognition in the past seven days for their performance. 

The workers who disagreed were twice as likely to say they’d quit over the course of the next year.

Recognition should always be part of the feedback leaders provide to employees because it meets a core human need for both the employee and the manager. 

Recognizing employees for their accomplishments shows them not only that leadership is paying attention, but that they also value the work employees do.

For recognition to be most effective, it should be given often, and it should be specific so employees know the work they do in their roles is seen and appreciated. 

Acknowledging the impact of employees’ work through frequent recognition can be a highly effective way to motivate them to keep doing great work. 

Coaching/Mentoring

Part of a good system of feedback includes coaching and mentoring employees through regular 1-to-1 meetings to help them do their best work and live their best lives.

Coaching can improve employees’ current job performance by helping them identify obstacles that may be preventing them from doing their best work. It also helps leaders develop their self-awareness and build trust with employees.

Coaching and mentoring employees not only helps them to improve, but also helps them to develop an improvement mindset and encourages them to grow. Leaders can provide actionable steps that help employees have a more satisfying work experience, maintain a good work/life balance, improve their well-being, and grow professionally. 

Mentoring employees can help them develop and grow in their careers and set goals to work toward. This can be a great way for leaders to build succession pipelines.

Again, active listening and genuine, specific feedback are essential here. You can schedule regular meetings, coaching sessions, and one-to-one meetings every day, but, if you aren’t actively listening to your employees, these tools will not help them connect to their work. 

Clarifying Expectations

Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations provides the clarity all employees need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence. 

Lack of clarity about job duties and expectations can negatively impact engagement, morale, performance, productivity, and retention, especially in difficult times, when job responsibilities and duties may shift regularly.

Shanda Miller, author of From Supervisor to Super Leader,explains that this critical component of feedback is often missing from our communications with employees: 

When employees are unsure about what is expected of them in their roles, it creates a situation where they experience conflict on a daily basis about their duties and responsibilities. 

Clearly Communicating Culture

Glassdoor found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying. Good organizational cultures are intentional, and good leaders are intentional about communicating organizational culture to their teams. 

Additionally, research by McKinsey & Company revealed that 70% of employees feel their sense of purpose is defined by their work. 

Part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s values to build consensus around a shared vision and inspire their teams to be guided by these values as they work to achieve this shared vision. 

Communicating culture provides clarity for team members about the organization’s expectations of them, both in their daily interactions and the broader scheme of things, and it is crucial to helping employees both see deeper meaning in their work and do exceptional work consistently. 

We recently sat down with Dave Gordon, author of TIP: A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success, and discussed the impact leaders can have when they communicate culture and demonstrate values for their teams. 

Flexibility

Workers are looking for more flexibility in their jobs. A recent survey of HR managers found that 70% of respondents cited flexibility as a driver of resignations, the most cited cause in the survey.

According to a Joblist survey, 94% of job seekers in the US are looking for jobs that offer a four-day workweek. The survey also showed that 51% say they can fully do their jobs in 40 hours or fewer per week. 

Surprisingly, 28% of full-time employees say they would accept a cut in pay in exchange for a four-day workweek.

Unfortunately, many businesses do not want to forever leave behind the kind of micromanaging that characterized the “old normal” when it comes to flexibility and independence for their employees.

For many workers who worked remotely during the pandemic, this is the kind of flexibility they’d like to retain going forward. Offering remote and hybrid work options where feasible is a great way to meet an employee’s psychological need for independence.

Robert Yuen, the co-founder and CEO of Monograph, says employees need more time, so his company now operates on a four-day workweek schedule. The company launched the four-day workweek in 2019, and, Yuen says, since then, employee satisfaction has reached an all-time high.

Yuen says, “A four-day workweek gives employees the space to take care of themselves, providing them space for personal development.” 

This schedule can provide more structure around work, enhance focus, increase productivity, and improve well-being and work/life balance because employees have an extra weekday to handle personal life matters, which can reduce burnout due to stress. 

Employees also crave flexibility in the form of more autonomy. The goal of giving employees autonomy is that it meets an employee’s need to work in more self-directed ways when it’s possible. 

By giving workers the tools they need to work with greater autonomy, you are forging strong, trust-based relationships with your employees and, at the same time, encouraging employees to be accountable and take ownership of their roles, laying the groundwork for top performance. 

Workers’ growing need for flexibility and autonomy has transformed the way we think about work and the value of work/life balance. Finding ways to integrate the two in a way that leads to better performance and employee well-being is the key to retaining engaged employees who do great work.

Development

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. The survey also found that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has more opportunities for advancement.

Employees need to feel that they are growing professionally and growing increasingly competent in the work they do to fully engage with it. They need to feel that they are not only building experience, but new skills and knowledge as well. 

If you expect to keep your employees committed enough to the organization to stay, you have to demonstrate that you are committed enough to them to invest in them. 

Development opportunities shouldn’t just be for leaders; everyone within the organization should have the opportunity to develop professionally and advance in their field. 

To keep talented employees, you have to let them know they have a future in the organization and that leadership is invested in them. Employees who feel they are continually growing in their roles are more likely to be engaged in their work and more likely to stay.

Creating a clear path to growth, development, and advancement for employees shows employees that you want them to succeed. When they feel that you care about and encourage their growth and give them the means to grow, it builds trust and loyalty.  

Leaders should work with employees to help them grow by fostering a culture of learning within their organizations. Learning can motivate employees, but it has many other benefits for employees and employers. 

Research compiled by LinkedIn has shown that employees who spend time learning on the job are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more able to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.

Offering learning opportunities, whether it’s in the form of online classes, live training, or tuition reimbursement, as well as a path to advance, can help organizations not only retain employees but build strong leadership pipelines for the future. 

Another way to facilitate employee development is by providing opportunities for workers to cross-train within the organization. Cross-training is the practice of training your team members to work in different roles or on tasks that fall outside the range of their normal responsibilities.

It not only improves collaboration, but it can also improve understanding between departments, facilitating better performance and productivity and creating more harmonious working environments.

Career-pathing can help employees chart a clear path to management positions, which can significantly boost employee engagement, leading to better retention.

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Matt Tenney is an active CEO who aspires to create the best workplace culture in the world.  Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence.  Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings.  His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.