Employees have premium buying power in the job market today. At the end of 2019, the Department of Labor reported more than 7 million job openings in the U.S., but less than one available worker per opening. Employers are in a full-on battle to not only attract new talent but also to keep the talent they have from walking out the door. What’s more, they need to retain that talent while keeping them engaged and motivated to deliver quality work to satisfy customer demands. But how?

Thank a Millennial. Companies have to acknowledge that the nature of the workplace has shifted dramatically in recent years.

What top talent needs to stay engaged at a company looks different today than it did 20 years ago. Employees today are looking for more than a paycheck. While compensation is still a critical component of the total package, employees are looking for work with purpose in an environment that values them for who they are, not just what they do, while providing continuous growth opportunities. Millennials have gotten a bad rap as they’ve come into the workforce, with complaints ranging from entitlement to compulsive job-hopping. But what Millennials are really looking for is a place of work that will continue to challenge them to be better humans while delivering better products and services to the world around them. They are looking for a job that enhances not just their bank accounts and 401k’s, but their life as a whole. Bringing a more authentic, human aspect to the workplace is one of the greatest things to happen to work in the last 20 years. And for that, Millennials should be thanked. Human beings spend more than half their lives at work. So shouldn’t we all strive to find a job that allows us to be the best version of ourselves and empowers us to solve problems with other awesome humans who share our goals?

Prioritize experience first. Once companies have acknowledged that retention of top talent takes more than money alone, they need to understand what aspects of their organizations are – or are not – meeting the demands of today’s workforce. Companies spend millions of dollars each year to administer employee engagement surveys and keep a pulse on how employees are feeling. An annual survey is a great tool, but it cannot be the only one in the toolbox. As employees continue to demand more from their organizations, those organizations must get better at understanding and meeting their needs. Employees have become consumers of the workplace, and as such, want to be treated the same as consumers of the products your company sells. Experience matters – and good experiences lend themselves to engagement.

"When you have a two-way conversation, you know how to best meet the needs of your employees. An ongoing dialogue establishes trust in the organization by helping employees feel seen and heard, which ultimately builds engagement"

Fix the feedback loop. At Allegion, we are obsessed with our customers. We want to know as much as we can about them so we can deliver the product or solution that is going to best meet or exceed their needs and expectations. We continuously ask them for feedback – formally and informally – on how we are doing. When our customers tell us that things are not going well, we pivot our approach to meet their needs better.

We are equally obsessed with our employees and are striving to meet their expectations. In our 2018 employee engagement survey, our employees let us know they didn’t feel heard. We were asking them questions and seeking feedback throughout the year and working hard to make improvements based on the feedback, but we were not great at letting them know what we did with their input. Our feedback loop was broken. In 2019, we doubled down on our communication efforts to ensure that we were giving feedback to our employees throughout the year, on all fronts.

It takes more than a corporate communications team to make a difference. We reached out through corporate and local publications, and channels and Allegion leaders began sharing feedback in myriad ways – town halls, email, webinars, Yammer, and even hand-written cards, in some instances. While some of our leaders embraced this communication strategy whole-heartedly, some asked for help to share the right information at the right time to the right audience. So, we educated them. Through a two-day intensive workshop, leaders learned how to package and deliver feedback tailored to the individuals on their teams – the right message at the right time. Team engagement for participants of these workshops more than doubled, over the rest of the organization! And because we’re an organization of high achievers, we added one more communication element to the mix. In 2019, we introduced the Allegion Listening Tour, and a short, two-question survey posted each month on our intranet and Yammer. Anyone can participate in the surveys, and we share the results with everyone when the poll closes. This Virtual Listening Tour is a way for our employees to give us feedback on a variety of topics throughout the year- -everything from recognition to company values to greatest accomplishments. Managers can use the survey results to have meaningful discussions with their teams that help build engagement throughout the year. The Listening Tour is a continuous conversation that reinforces to Allegion employees that their opinions count and that we want to hear from them more than once a year. And it’s working. In 2019, we saw a significant increase in our engagement score, with particular progress in areas related to communication and employee value.

If you are trying to raise the engagement of employees at your organization, consider these three elements. Do you understand and embrace the shifting nature of the workplace and recognize what employees need to be engaged in 2020? Is your engagement program more than an annual survey? Is your feedback loop broken? When you have a two-way conversation, you know how to meet the needs of your employees best. Ongoing dialogue establishes trust in the organization by helping employees feel seen and heard, which ultimately builds engagement.