The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the national unemployment rate on a monthly basis. We’re now seeing jobless rates in America that haven’t been this low in decades. But what does that mean for your employee engagement efforts? As an employer, should employee engagement have a higher or lower priority as the unemployment rate drops?

The answer, naturally, depends on your industry and staffing needs. However, low unemployment equates to greater job mobility. Employers can’t fulfill positions as easily when everyone already has a job. If you’re not already running an employee engagement program at your company, focusing on employee engagement can set you apart in a crowded job market.

Why low unemployment drives the need for employee engagement programs

Generally, a low unemployment rate means a need for greater competition among employers. Since most people are already employed, team growth requires attracting people from less desirable jobs into more desirable ones.

Job change rates and salary stagnation

While the overall job change rate has been declining in recent years [PDF], overall wage growth has also stagnated. Additionally, employees who stay in the same job for more than two years make significantly less than those who change jobs more frequently.

More demanding hiring needs in high-growth sectors

While the general trends may give you a false sense of comfort regarding retention risks, the opposite can be true when positions require significant education or training. In high-growth industries with highly educated employees, such as technology and healthcare, this is a recipe for employee attrition. Additionally, the younger your employees, the more likely they are to change jobs.

How can employers stand out in competitive industries?

Focusing on employee engagement and company culture is the best way to stand out in a crowded employment market. Additionally, ensure that you are giving people the right opportunities and the right compensation to remain competitive in your industry.

Focus on employee engagement

Increasing your employee engagement efforts is one way for your company to become more desirable in highly competitive job markets. Employee engagement is the level of emotional connection and commitment an employee has to your company. Highly engaged workers are 87% less likely to leave their companies than disengaged workers.

Promote your company's purpose

Previously, I’ve covered the importance of treating recruiting like a marketing program. A solid recruiting program should have the same rigor you would apply to any other external-facing effort. Consistent branding, language, and visuals are a good first step. Beyond that good first impression, your recruiting program will need clear and simple processes that give every job candidate a consistently great applicant experience.

I’ve also described the importance of making job ads stand out from the crowd by stating your company’s purpose. Purpose-filled job ads are more likely to attract top talent, who generally want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Additionally, understanding a company’s purpose helps potential and existing employees frame their decisions in terms of what the company values most.

Offer new opportunities to existing team members

Employees with high job mobility want to work at a company where they have the ability to advance professionally. Therefore, promoting from within is a powerful employee engagement and retention tool. As an employer, internal promotions are attractive because existing employees already understand the company culture and know what the job entails. As an employee, internal promotions are opportunities for greater compensation, a greater impact on fulfilling the company’s purpose, more professional development, and greater recognition.

Ensure pay and benefits are competitive in your market

Dan Pink’s book on employee motivation, Drive, makes the case for focusing on higher-level motivators—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose—but prefaces that with a requirement to meet basic needs such as compensation. Pink’s recommendation is to take the issue of money off the table by compensating people well.

In addition to competitive pay, research the full suite of benefits offered by other employers in your industry. Do you offer competitive—or superior—healthcare, retirement plans, and time off? Having a competitive compensation package will alleviate employees’ base concerns of survivability and sustainability, leaving them free to focus on higher-level concerns of job performance and engagement.

Starting an employee engagement program

Regardless of unemployment numbers or the current job market, the best time to start an employee engagement is now. The benefits of highly engaged employees are far-reaching, from an increase in team retention to a strongly-correlated increase in company revenue.

Check your assumptions about employee engagement

Begin your employee engagement initiative by defining employee engagement. There are countless definitions floating around, so it’s important to define exactly what employee engagement means for your organization. Insight, our employee engagement platform, defines employee engagement as one’s emotional connection and commitment to their organization.

Also ensure your leadership team understands common misconceptions about employee engagement. Review 12 common myths about employee engagement with your team to ensure no one conflates employee engagement with other concepts such as job satisfaction or performance. This alignment of goals and expectations for your employee engagement program is necessary to ensure everyone knows what to expect in return for their employee engagement efforts.

Designate an employee engagement program manager

Like any other effort in your organization, there should be one person designated as in charge. Selecting an appropriate employee engagement program manager is critical to the success of your nascent effort. You need a single person you can depend upon to facilitate higher levels of employee engagement. They need the authority to institute employee engagement metrics and leadership training programs they believe are necessary to make the program successful.

Without a designated employee engagement program manager, your program will become an afterthought. Similarly, if your program manager is not allocated time to focus on employee engagement, you do not really have a program manager. You have a scapegoat. Remember that your program manager is an employee, too, and you need to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful (time, money, tools, people, etc.).

Measure your team's current level of employee engagement

When companies start their employee engagement journey, one of the most common mistakes they make is inconsistently measuring employee engagement. The most common method of measuring engagement is to issue a quarterly or annual employee engagement survey. If the questions on these surveys change every time, you will not be able to consistently measure engagement. The numbers will only be meaningful in isolation, and you won’t have a clue whether engagement is trending up or down in your organization.

Spend time establishing the specific metrics you hope to track over time, and research the most appropriate questions to ask before issuing your first survey. Insight takes care of this for you, providing an employee engagement survey template that consistently measures your team’s level of employee engagement.

This is not to say you can never add, remove, or change questions in your survey. However, it is important to recognize that even a simple change in wording can give you very different responses to a question.

Solicit feedback from your team on what they care about most

In addition to quantitative metrics, send your team some open-ended questions. No survey will capture everything that every employee cares about, so giving them a way to express their most valued opinions about work is important.

Analyze employee feedback for trends and actionable ideas

Once you have consistent measurements in place, you can analyze the data for trends and ideas. Ideally, you have a way to drill down into specific groups of people to see engagement trends within each supervisor’s team. This can give you insights into which leaders and teams are most highly engaged, giving leaders a starting point for where to go to improve their mastery at facilitating engagement. Leaders whose teams struggle can learn from leaders whose teams thrive.

Train leaders on how to increase employee engagement

Beyond anecdotal experiences company leaders can share with one another, having a consistent leadership training program will give all leaders some strong fundamental knowledge and skills for facilitating employee engagement.

Insight gives company leaders individualized action plans for each person on their team, complete with specific, guided actions they can take to increase engagement. This is a critical component to better engaging employees in ways that they value most. Pairing this individualized approach with a more traditional leadership training program will give leaders better context and more ideas for increasing employee engagement on their teams.

Create a leadership culture of accountability for employee engagement

It’s not enough to provide the tools and metrics for facilitating employee engagement. Leaders must also be accountable to their teams’ levels of engagement. Consider having leaders report on their engagement trends and efforts as part of your standing management meeting. This will require leaders to review and consider their engagement efforts on a regular basis. Regular reporting in a meeting will also give them opportunities to share engagement ideas with other leaders. Additionally, instituting a dedicated time for discussing employee engagement will allow leaders to ask for help from their peers if they encounter problems with employee engagement on their teams.

Focus your investment on the right employees

We’ve developed the Employee Engagement Quadrant (EEQ) to identify where to focus your employee engagement efforts in your company. The EEQ helps leaders identify who is most engaged, who is least engaged, and—most importantly—who is seeking engagement. Engagement seekers are employees who value engagement factors (e.g., someone seeking more Autonomy at work) but do not see the company demonstrating those engagement factors (e.g., offering employees control over what they work on).

Continue measuring and iterating on your employee engagement efforts

Once you start seeing positive results from your employee engagement program, remember that there is always room for improvement. Employee engagement is a continuous effort—an ongoing relationship between a company and its employees—that requires continuous nurturing. Consider having a quarterly employee engagement review, where your employee engagement program manager can report on trends, past engagement efforts, and feedback from your team on employee engagement initiatives. Analyze what went well and what went poorly in the last quarter, and use those lessons to better plan your company’s future employee engagement efforts.

Use Insight to manage your employee engagement program

Book a demo today to get started with Insight, our employee engagement platform. Insight is the first employee engagement platform to offer personalized, concrete, guided action plans for each person on your team. Leaders will see engagement ideas that positively influence engagement on an individual level, making them more effective and confident in their approach to employee engagement.