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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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How to keep your ‘passives’ engaged


With the economy on the up and a dynamic recruitment marketplace in position, employees soon realise they can be more selective about who pays their salary. Gary Cattermole offers his advice on how to avoid losing the staff you’d like to keep.

Normally we’re always talking about retaining top talent, but with the recruitment market - especially in London - heating up, it’s your ‘passives’ HR Directors are needing to watch. The top talent in such a moving marketplace can take their pick of opportunities and if they want to jump ship there’s not much you can do to stop them. However, no boat can sail without its team workers, so now is the time to pay close attention to the employees who ‘man the sails’ from 9-5 and keep the place afloat. 

When a member of staff leaves your business, it can be a real blow. Not just in terms of lost skills and knowledge but also continuity, which has the potential for lost revenue. There is also the unavoidable cost and time implications of finding a replacement, then training them for the role. If staff feel valued and are recognised and rewarded for their efforts, they will feel more loyal to their employer. As a result they are less likely to look elsewhere but even with those factors in place employers can ill afford to rest on their laurels. Many other factors need to be addressed, which require ongoing attention. 

Keep your ear to the ground

It is imperative that you are aware of the salaries and benefits that your competitors are offering. You need to be able to keep pace or preferably offer something extra. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a higher basic salary, although that undoubtedly helps. Instead, consider offering benefits that are relatively low cost to your business but high value to employees – interest-free season ticket loans, discounted gym memberships, secondments to other offices, superb training opportunities and ongoing professional development – not to mention the opportunity for career advancement.

It’s all about give and take

Make sure hard work and effort are recognised. Praise is a very valuable tool – everyone appreciates being told they are doing a good job and it helps to reinforce job satisfaction and loyalty. Share business successes at every opportunity to engender a sense of pride and engagement within the company. 

Promote from within

Be sure to look at your existing talent before looking elsewhere when recruiting for a position within your business. If you are in touch with your staff and their skills and motivations, you should know whether you have someone in-house who could perform the role. 

Engage with your staff

Make sure your managers are visible to all your staff. Those in positions of authority should be accessible to those they manage – by being engaged with staff in this way, it engenders familiarity, builds rapport and promotes loyalty. People like to feel they matter – whatever their position in the business - so make sure they know their value.  

Training and development

Offer a great training programme from the word go. Talented staff are far more likely to stay put if they know they can develop within a business and achieve their career goals without moving. Of course, you also need to be sure you can pay them what they’re worth when they gain new skills and take on more responsibility. If you don’t, they’ll move on and another business will benefit from your input. 

Be clear about your internal policies

It can be very unsettling if processes or procedures change without any prior warning or consultation. Organisational change can be the catalyst for resignations. Where possible, involve your staff in important decisions that will affect their roles and keep the lines of communication open. Also be sure to provide a detailed, up-to-date employee handbook that clearly communicates any changes made. 

Be consistent

If you say you will deliver something make sure you do. This could be something as simple as a water fountain for the office or outdoor seating for lunch breaks. If you fail to deliver on your promises, be they big or small, you will lose the trust of your employees and they’ll look elsewhere when given the chance. By failing to deliver, you will also convey a message to staff that they are not valued. 

Listen to your employees’ concerns and desires

This relates to employee engagement. Effective engagement demands two-way communication. If a valued member of staff feels unhappy due to childcare pressures, try suggesting flexible working. Similarly, if the journey to work is a huge source of stress, if you can, consider offering a secondment to an office that is closer to their home. Be open-minded about the solutions you can offer but be mindful that in order to offer appropriate solutions, you’ll need to know your staff and that requires great employee engagement.

Take pride in your surroundings

Human beings are visual creatures. We like to occupy attractive surroundings and that is no different when at work. Make sure your offices are clean and tidy, well equipped and serviced. If space allows, provide areas for relaxation and make sure that frustrations are kept to a minimum with the space you have – if you lack meeting rooms for instance, make sure you have an easy to use, fair booking policy, provide ‘quiet’ spaces for less formal meetings or make staff aware that they can step outside the office to chat over a coffee. 

Encourage time-out

It won’t cost your business an undue amount to finish early on the last Friday of every month, in order to get staff together for drinks and snacks but an early finish will be perceived by staff as a valuable bonus. Also, consider offering weekends away or some extra annual leave for those who perform well – be sure to be transparent and fair about how performance is measured though. Also, company away days can be a great bonding exercise, increasing team-spirit and fostering a sense of belonging. 

Weed out poor performance

You need to ensure you have a clear and robust grievance policy. Not just in terms of unacceptable behaviour/gross misconduct but also in terms of poor performance. Staff that perform well will only be prepared to ‘carry’ staff who are not pulling their weight for so long before resentment kicks in. Once that happens, the likelihood is you’ll lose the valued employee rather than the one you probably wouldn’t miss. This doesn’t mean you should rule with an iron fist, as that will be counterproductive but make sure you have fair and well understood procedures in place to help underperformers develop and if that doesn’t work, to help move them on.

Gary Cattermole has managed numerous employee research projects for a variety of organisations. He is a partner at The Survey Initiative and specialises in employee engagement, internal communication, employee consultation. He has been responsible for the company's rapid growth and has won numerous awards for his efforts. For further information about staff retention, staff surveys and employee engagement, visit

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Gary Cattermole


Read more from Gary Cattermole

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