Retention and engagement have a strange relationship: Engagement with the work someone does may increase his or her retention as an employee. But, at the same time, retention can be quite apathetic to engagement. The reason is the many external factors that may prompt an employee’s separation from an employer.
Those factors may have nothing to do with how engaged that employee was or how much effort the employer put into ensuring that engagement in the first place.
The big goodbye
Case in point: I had a highly engaged employee move on to another job. There was no dramatic build-up to her leaving; she simply found a good opportunity to turn a new page in her life in a new location and took it -- we’ve all been there. But she gave three weeks’ notice, and made sure all of her loose ends were tied up and no projects were left hanging.
She may have been leaving, but she never stopped being engaged with her work. You probably know the employees in your organization who you can count on to give three weeks’ notice. You also know the ones who could be expected to quit without notice or clean out their vacation days before departing.
Stay a little longer
The key here is not to misinterpret employee commitment to mean that if they like a workplace, they will automatically stay. Commitment and engagement, while powerful, are fleeting, and the winds can change at any moment. That’s why we emphasize daily engagement, daily interactions.
The idea is to use and encourage engaged employees' commitment to the maximum effect while you have them. Because, if an employee is giving three weeks’ notice, there’s probably little, if anything, you can do to retain him or her. On the flip side, such people are more likely to stay around as long as they can, to help ease the transition.
Good karma returns to you, given enough time, and those employees whom you’ve given deference to when they needed it the most generally end up keeping a strong connection with their former employers. Three weeks’ notice can turn into a fruitful future freelance relationship or a “boomerang” re-hire down the road.
We’ve even had incredibly talented employees at our company move on to start their own businesses, only to become valued partners later on. An employee giving notice doesn’t always mean the end. Sometimes, it’s just the beginning.
While keeping employees engaged can greatly mitigate and reduce turnover, it can’t eradicate it. There will always be people who leave because their fate is calling, and nobody can stop that.
So, the smart thing to do is behave as if any of your employees could leave at any moment, and to try your best to make their time with your organization productive through daily engagement and emotional intelligence.