Australian businesses are built on the efforts of their workers, and employee retention has an undeniable impact on an organisation's success. Maintaining a level of employee engagement is challenging, but when it comes to long-term workers, keeping them excited and productive can be more difficult with each passing year.
This phenomenon is known as the "sophomore slump", according to HC Online, and essentially refers to a dip in output and productivity amongst workers who remain with an organisation over a long tenure. Gallup research, interpreted by the Harvard Business Review, shows that engagement amongst people in their position for 10 years or more is significantly lower than those just starting out, while the percentage of employees who feel actively disengaged increases along the same timeline.
Maintaining a suitable level of employee engagement is never easy.
The benefits of long tenure workers
Engaged and experienced workers on your team can be a terrific resource, and leveraging their years of involvement with the business can present a number of opportunities. Society for Human Resource Management contributor Kathryn Tyler notes that seasoned staff members have the ingrained knowledge to assist with mentoring during the employee onboarding process and strategic planning, while their time with the business makes them a prime candidate for cross-training.
When implementing strategies to prevent the "sophomore slump", providing variety in a worker's role can be critical. After all, a workday built on repetition and routine may become tiresome for even the most enthusiastic employees.
"Realistically, we can't go 100 mph every day of the year. At some point we all have a temporary slowdown, but it should be just that – temporary," writes Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network.
"If nothing is changed about employees' responsibilities, you can't expect them to get better."
Engaging the long-term workers of tomorrow
Building a culture of engagement starts with employee onboarding – setting the framework in place to support and develop workers throughout their time with your business. According to the 2014 State of Talent Acquisition Study by Brandon Hall Group, organisations that spend the necessary time and resources to optimise their onboarding processes experience improved engagement. 54 per cent of high-performing businesses report gains across a number of metrics, including employee retention, absenteeism, productivity and satisfaction.
Building a culture of engagement starts with employee onboarding.
Whether working on engagement strategies for a new worker, or looking to rejuvenate the enthusiasm of an office veteran, Tim Gimbel notes that a back-to-basics approach is often the most effective.
"Sometimes going back to what once worked can fix the problem. If there was a process that the employee steered away from over the year that used to produce results, go back to it," he writes.
"The effort you've made to identify the slump and reach out to the employee can, in itself, help correct the problem. It signals not only an appreciation of their previous hard work, but your belief in their ability to do better, setting high expectations for their continued success."
Presenting an even greater challenge for businesses nowadays, however, is engaging the new generation of employees so you actually have a tenured workforce in the future. Research from Gallup in the U.S. has found that millennials are more likely to switch jobs than any other generation, with 60 per cent of those surveyed open to new opportunities. Compounding this issue is the finding that less than a third of millennial workers are engaged in their current role.
The principles of your employee onboarding system should continue to engage, providing both long-term workers and new recruits with a satisfying, rewarding environment for as long as they choose to stay.