Small Business: Keeping workers engaged

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Experts say to retain workers, especially younger ones,

Experts say to retain workers, especially younger ones, keep them engaged by effective communication and a direct relationship with managers. Photo Credit: iStock

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Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

It's not always easy keeping employees engaged and happy, but doing so can have a positive effect on your company's bottom line.

"Actively disengaged" workers cost the United States $450 billion to $550 billion a year in lost productivity, Gallup estimates.

Plus, costs incurred if unhappy staff members decide to leave and you have to replace them range from 50 percent to 150 percent of the employee's salary depending upon the position, say experts.

"Only about 29 percent of the workforce around the world is fully engaged," says Michael Crom, executive vice president at Dale Carnegie Training in Hauppauge.

Almost half -- 45 percent -- are partially engaged, says Crom, citing a recent Dale Carnegie white paper on employee engagement done with MSW Research. These folks are doing their job, but not putting forth their best effort, he notes.

Staff categories. Ellen Cooperperson, CEO of Corporate Performance Consultants, a Hauppauge organizational and leadership development firm, puts workers in these categories:

Devoted: Fully engaged; will do whatever it takes;

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Plugged in: Cooperative but no longer have that burning passion for the job;

Cruise control: Just coasting along; and

Checked out: The fully disengaged employee.

Workers can start out devoted and end up checked out if employers aren't careful, Cooperperson notes.

Disengagement shows. Know the signs of an unhappy employee: A worker who becomes more lethargic, dispassionate, negative or critical; starts missing deadlines or taking more sick time; gossips more; says 'no' more often and doesn't go the extra mile, says Crom.


These employees need to be dealt with immediately, and that starts with creating an open dialogue. "See if you can get to the root of the issue," says Crom.

Communication is key to engagement, as is the employee's direct relationship with his or her manager, says Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications at Michael C. Fina, a Long Island City-based provider of employee recognition and incentive programs. "If the manager is not having regular conversations with employees . . . then that's a bigger problem," he notes.

Different generations are motivated by different drivers, says Himelstein. Baby boomers generally like to be patted on the back and recognized when projects are completed, while Gen Yers typically need constant reinforcement and want to know they made a difference each day, says Himelstein, whose company offers more on motivating a multigenerational workforce at

It helps to take a step back and look at the person and the job, says Cooperperson. Re-evaluate the position and the employee's career path to see if maybe his or her goals have changed, she suggests. Provide mentoring and training.

A mentor can "provide meaningful feedback," says Cooperperson, who offers a survey to measure employee engagement.

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You can't save everyone. Of course, even with providing this type of support, not every employee will respond to re-engagement attempts and may be better off leaving the company.

For the most part, you can tell if the employee is willing to make an effort, says Crom. "You begin to know by trying to have a conversation and see if they open up or not." Are they willing to cooperate and work with you, or are they resistant to your efforts?

Have frequent conversations. That's what John Robertson, owner of The Sexy Salad Catering Co. in Hauppauge, is trying to do with his 17 employees. He recently started weekly meetings with employees to discuss any issues, ideas or concerns.

He also tries to create engagement by getting their input on matters. "We really try to involve employees," he says.

Praise works

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20 percent

Amount by which employee engagement increases by 20 percent if managers recognize their employees weekly instead of monthly, and another 35 percent if they recognize them daily.

Source: Employee engagement infographic by Michael C. Fina

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