Employee retention depends (not) only on managers

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From: Linda Coldewey

The Engagement Index, which has been compiled by the consultancy firm Gallup since 2001, provides information on the emotional attachment of employees to their employer in Germany. According to this, only 15% of employees are strongly connected with their employer. The same proportion is accounted for those employees who have already resigned internally. 70% of the employees are slightly committed (Gallup, 2016).

On the basis of the survey, Gallup assumes an overall economic loss of more than 100 billion euros in Germany due to a lack of commitment and “work to rule”. A not inconsiderable value, which can occasionally be explained by poor leadership (Gallup, 2016).

What do companies and managers have to do to improve employee retention in the long term? And what are potential demands on employees?

Leadership and Positive Psychology in the Organizational Context

In addition to the Gallup survey on engagement, the concept of work engagement has gained attention in science. It is a concept from positive psychology, which is worth considering.

But what exactly is positive psychology? It a complementing part of psychology which, contrary to classical psychology, is not focused on healing illnesses. Rather, it tries to build on existing positive properties and strengthen them (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). It is therefore aimed at broadening our understanding of mental health and the factors that promote well-being (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008).

Similar to classical psychology, research in the organizational context has mostly dealt with topics such as burn-out, stress or violence at work. Work engagement, on the other hand, is described as a positive, fulfilling and work-related state of mind that is characterized by vitality, devotion and absorption, which means the dissolution in an activity (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). At times, it has already been possible to gain some insight into employees and their performance. Employees with a high level of work engagement better develop their potential, which in turn has direct impact on the quality of their work (Bakker & Leiter, 2010). In addition to the positive effects for work-related tasks, positive behavioral patterns at the psychological and social level can also be observed (Christian et al., 2011). Employees act in an organizational context in a way that is beneficial to collaboration and has a positive impact on individuals.

What are the possible courses of action for managers?

Research in the field of work engagement has shown that autonomy, social support from managers and colleagues as well as a variety of tasks contribute to motivating employees, which in turn leads to work engagement. Nevertheless, there are also prerequisites which employees should bring along: Optimism, self-efficacy, i.e. a person’s conviction to be able to cope with difficult situations, resilience and self-esteem are some of the characteristics relevant to the formation of work engagement (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008). This means that expectations are not only placed on managers but also on employees.

What implications can these findings have for leadership in organizations, managers and employees?

First of all, there is no leadership style that can be used universally for all organizations. Over time, a variety of leadership approaches have been developed. Although some concepts seem outdated and have been refuted by recent research, some components can still be used today in certain contexts. Depending on the organization, culture, manager or employee, they make a valuable contribution.

Leadership should therefore be adapted to situational factors such as the organizational context, employees and their tasks, teams and other framework factors. In principle, however, there is a need for more trust in employees, their skills and abilities, because they probably know best what is good for them and what is not. Employees should therefore be involved in structuring their workplace and tasks.

Self-reflection is an important characteristic for questioning and adapting one’s own leadership style. It is important to take a close look at the strengths of employees and how they can be used profitably. And if this is a challenge, why not just ask the employee: What do you need? It is the first step towards sustainable employee retention and higher performance.

Employees, on the other hand, should fit the organization, be qualified for the position and be able to identify with the leadership culture. This is the only way for managers and employees to work together successfully.

Hence, more attention should be paid to scientific knowledge in the field of positive psychology. Always with the aim of improving employee well-being, their loyalty to the company, and thus increasing the organizational performance. Ultimately, there are many measures that can be taken for the benefit of employees, but they must always serve the company’s objectives and should therefore be well chosen by those responsible.