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Why Employee Engagement Starts Before You Think It Does

Why Employee Engagement Starts Before You Think It Does

Most business leaders and hiring authorities understand the importance of employee engagement. What many don't realize is that engagement starts before you hire a new employee. This always has been true, but it is especially relevant in the current talent market. Candidates have the upper hand — there is a great deal of temptation to change jobs altogether. The "Great Resignation" is not just a buzz term, but a real phenomenon.

Engagement Is Broken

Almost four million people quit their jobs in April 2021, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the numbers were similar in May 2021. The "quit rate" is 24% higher than any previous month in the 20 years the Bureau has been tracking this information. One fact at play is workers' confidence that they will be able to find new and better jobs. Several recent studies indicate that over half of employees will consider new work, with one study finding that 100% of respondents are open to making a change.

Why We Need To Fix It

Businesses must embed engagement and retention in their recruitment efforts, onboarding strategy and company culture. Here are some reasons why:

  1. SHRM found that, globally, executives consider employee engagement one of their top five strategies, as it enhances "customer satisfaction, company reputation and overall stakeholder value." 

  2. A 2017 Aon report found a direct link between increases in employee engagement and increases in revenue growth. 

  3. Research from Gartner suggests that a more human approach to employee engagement can increase performance as well as employee well-being.

You can embed engagement into your recruiting process in two ways. First, be proactive about engaging candidates from the very beginning by personalizing the candidate experience. Second, screen for "engageability." Engagement is a back-and-forth. Find out if the candidate will respond to what you’re offering.

Personalize The Candidate Experience

Trends in human resources of late tend to emphasize automation, so my recommendation here may make some people cringe, but hear me out: It's no longer enough to have an employment brand or employment value proposition — you must refine each individual search.

Create a profile of the ideal candidate for each search and use that to understand what is important to people who match that profile. Now craft a message that will appeal to those candidates. Let's imagine you are recruiting for a software architect to lead the development of a whole new product platform. The concept is great, and the products will be game-changers. However, getting from start to finish will involve overcoming some significant challenges. The profile you create likely will tell you that the ideal candidate enjoys innovation to the extent of taking risks.

Use specifics and be mindful of the language you use. A message like "Come work for an industry leader with great benefits" simply falls flat. Not only does it fail to resonate on a personal level, but it also won’t differentiate your company from other industry leaders with great benefits. Instead, use something like, "At Company X, the status quo exists only to be shattered."

That will get the attention of the right people. Once your recruiters are interacting directly with candidates, they should find out what matters to each individual and share how your company can help that individual fulfill those wants and needs. This personalized approach will create a stronger, more thoughtful connection that will increase the likelihood that the candidate will invest in the process. In addition, proactively engaging candidates during recruitment will lay the foundation for strong employee engagement throughout the candidate's career with your company.

Screening For 'Engageability'

"Engageability" refers to the extent to which a candidate has both the skills and the motivation to start contributing on day one. That doesn't necessarily mean walking in the door with years of experience or being fully trained on day one. Rather, a candidate with high engageability has not only the basic skills but also the motivation to jump in and start contributing right away. They are keen to learn the ropes quickly, hit their stride and continue growing and learning.

One way to assess candidates for engageability is to use your top performers as models. Find out what makes them stand out. You might even ask them to take a personality assessment, like DiSC or CliftonStrengths. With the top performer's profile in mind, craft behavior-based questions to discover whether candidates share those characteristics.

Behavior-based questions compel candidates to demonstrate that they have the characteristics in question by using examples from actual experience. If your top people demonstrate strong initiative, ask candidates to describe a recent situation that illustrates how they took initiative and, as a result, added value for the company. If the job requires independent problem-solving, ask for a real example. Push further by asking about the biggest challenges they overcame or what resources they used.

Lay The Foundation For Ongoing Engagement

When you focus on candidates with high engageability and take a proactive approach to engage them on a personal level before they’re even employees, you lay the foundation for an engagement strategy that will extend through their entire employment lifecycle. To understand the key elements of engagement, take a look at the book RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want by Jack Wiley and Brenda Kowske. Based on years of research, they determined that what is most important to candidates is RESPECT: recognition, exciting work, security, pay, education, conditions and truth.

Your company recruitment, onboarding and culture should account for every one of the RESPECT drivers at each stage in the employment experience lifecycle, including rewards and recognition, ongoing professional development and more. But, it all starts in the recruitment process, at the very first contact.

Now more than ever, HR leaders should be evaluating their employee engagement and retention efforts to ensure company success.


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