How to boost morale and retain talent

Written by
Brian Kropp

11 Jan 2016

11 Jan 2016 • by Brian Kropp

The after-effects of holiday hype can often be felt in the workplace, and employers need to beware low morale and productivity as staff struggle to return to the usual routine and mourn absence of exciting things to do and look forward to after their holidays.

Our research shows that the UK already has a problem with disengaged employees, which will only be exacerbated by January blues. While workers are choosing to stay put in their jobs, they are mentally checking out of their day-to-day work. 

Around 70% of workers are frustrated by the lack of future career and development opportunities with their employer. Rather than taking proactive steps to look for a new job – including applying for roles online, phoning recruiters and sending out their CVs – they are lapsing into downward spiral of discontent and disengagement from their work.

So why are people choosing to stay put if they are frustrated about their career opportunities?

With cool perceptions of the jobs market, only 19% of UK employees are actively job-seeking, which is down 11 percentage points compared to the previous year and indicates that a higher proportion of the workforce is opting for the stability and security of their current employer. Almost one in four (39%) of UK workers report a strong intent to stay with their current employers, falling behind other markets such as Germany (45%) and the US (48%).

However this does not mean that people are content with staying in their current roles, far from it.

The data shows that levels of discretionary effort continue to drop; with just 16 percent of employees prepared to go above and beyond to help their colleagues and find new more effective ways of working, many workers are ‘quitting in seat’ – choosing to show up for work knowing that they have mentally checked out from their jobs rather than leaving to find a job elsewhere.

Falling by 7% over the last year, UK discretionary effort levels are significantly behind countries such as the US and Australia where the percentage of workers displaying high levels is around 24% and 20%, respectively. 

As more employees are coming into work, going through the motions, but detaching themselves from work, this worrying trend signals that workforce engagement is in decline and could lead to potentially vast costs in lost productivity and underperformance. Rather than “write off” those people who are disengaged, leaders need to help workers feel good about returning to work in January.

To prevent disengagement, improve employee productivity and get the workforce excited about the opportunities in the year ahead, organisations should focus on:

Improving access to career opportunities. 
Employees are dissatisfied with their future career opportunities, yet there isn't much room for upward movement in today's flatter organisational structures. Companies should work to enable other types of employee movement across the organisation and to provide new experiences.
Communicating about development.
Managers should regularly talk with employees about how their current role is making them more marketable as they build the skills and capabilities they need to advance in their careers both within the company and beyond it. 

Setting clear expectations. 
Some attrition is a good thing, especially as it opens up opportunity for movement across the organisation. Managers should set clear expectations with employees and let them decide whether or not they want to commit with the organisation.

HR should encourage business leaders to take this opportunity to have open conversations about their direct reports’ aspirations and expectations about career progress early in 2016. In these 1:1 discussions they should explain how employees can contribute to the future business strategy, the kinds of new skills and experiences they will have exposure to and – crucially – how these skills will make them more employable in the future.