How to improve employee engagement: 5 strategies for attracting + retaining talent in today’s competitive labor market

Charles Cornwell | Jun 23, 2021 Charles Cornwell 06/23/21

Residual economic effects of the pandemic continue to impact industries across the board, with the U.S. Labor Department reporting around 4 million people quit their jobs in April—a record high over the past two decades. As a result, there are now 9.3 million job openings, shifting the upper hand to workers who now have more options and can be more selective with their employment choices.

Though some economists say this increase in employee churn is a sign of a healthy labor market, it’s creating big challenges for brands, especially those in the service industry. Research shows higher employee engagement equates to better performance with customers—meaning a surge in turnover and decreased engagement will be felt by customers and impact their experience and loyalty.

This dual threat on employee engagement and customer satisfaction means organizations have a lot to consider. SMG recently hosted a roundtable among restaurant + retail leaders to discuss what tactics top brands are using to navigate these challenges. Here are 5 strategies the group identified:


1. Evaluate your differentiators to ensure they’re of real value to employees

Closed every Sunday. Casual dress code. Team appreciation week. These are just a few ways companies are “sweetening the pot” and enhancing their employee engagement efforts. Little extras set you apart from other brands vying to find the best candidates to fill their own job openings. In such a competitive market, you must clearly define and communicate reasons why working for your company is better than working for another.

But remember these perks don’t add up to much if you’re not delivering on what really impacts employees’ livelihood (i.e., pay + benefits). Organizations are taking a good look at their benefit packages and creating more attractive options for employees. Some are beefing up their paternity and maternity leave policies, implementing sabbatical options, providing paycheck loans and tenure bonuses, and improving health insurance coverage. These enhanced offerings are not just attracting new candidates but helping promote longer employee lifecycles.


2. Provide employees with rewarding + purposeful work

Though they’re important, perks and benefits don’t entirely define a job—employees need to feel valued in the work they do. From day 1, ensure your employees are supported by evaluating the onboarding process and uncovering areas for improvement.

It’s also important to not let that support wane after onboarding. To keep on top of the evolving needs and goals of your employees, implement pulse surveys for a quick read on important issues and implement changes based on that feedback. With this agile and insightful tool, you’re helping employees continuously learn and develop—creating an environment of autonomy and giving employees a sense of purpose.


3. Prioritize digital touchpoints to align customer + employee needs

Technology isn’t just changing the way consumers interact with your brand—it’s also affecting the role your employees play in those interactions. The pandemic only exacerbated the emphasis on digital needs, with soaring increases in customer usage of food delivery, online shopping, and self-checkout—and our research shows these trends aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

Ensure your employees are set up to successfully serve customers by uncovering gaps across touchpoints. Are customers frustrated over issues with self-checkout? Modify employee training to focus on providing better assistance at the self-serve kiosks. Long lines at the drive-thru? Consider implementing a QR code linking to your menu to help expedite the ordering process. Customers waiting too long for curbside pick-up? Reallocate labor to accommodate for increased traffic and alleviate the stress on front-line employees.


4. Make it easier for potential employees to find job listings + apply

Consumers aren’t the only ones interacting with your brand digitally. So are potential employees. And if you’re not posting openings in the right places, you’re losing valuable candidates—and likely to your competitors.

Use social media to attract job seekers and make the application process swift and simple. Consider providing a QR code that applicants can scan and submit an application in one seamless step. Optimize your mobile app and website by making job listings easy to find and apply to.

Remember, the best way to uncover kinks in the process is to experience it yourself. Go through the application steps and fix any glitches or unnecessary challenges you uncover. Because if prospects have a tough time filing their application, they have a dozen other opportunities at their fingertips.


5. Continuously refresh your diversity, equity, + inclusion (DEI) initiatives

Employees can see a difference when their organization is all in on promoting DEI. With the heightened and necessary focus on ending social injustice and systemic racism, employers must embrace change and step up to the plate.

Over the last couple of years, the number of jobs solely devoted to promoting and leading DEI efforts at organizations has increased 30% in the US. But there is still work to be done. The needs of employees aren’t static. They’re constantly shifting and evolving, and the onus is on organizations to promote the continued dialogue—and follow-through—necessary to keep prioritizing DEI initiatives and ensure employees are heard and supported.


Putting the employee experience first pays off

The recent rise in job vacancies means organizations have to work even harder to provide appealing opportunities that not only draw in candidates but promote loyalty and long-term employment. With a comprehensive employee experience (EX) program—one that listens across multiple touchpoints and ties results back to business outcomes—organizations can truly move the needle on engagement and identify the best actions to attract, develop, and retain employees.

To learn more about how organizations that prioritize the employee experience are rewarded—not just with more engaged employees but with more loyal customers—download the best practice guide: Why customer-centric organizations prioritize the employee experience.


Charles Cornwell | VP + GM, Employee Engagement

Customer Experience Update