How to retain your staff and keep them engaged

Skills shortage is a real issue so you need to do everything you can to hold on to your talent.

According to the Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2019 guide, the majority of accountancy and finance employers continue to find it a challenge when trying to attract and retain the right candidates.

What’s even more worrying, the survey shows that 52% of accountants are planning to move jobs over the next 12 months.

Employees quit their jobs for many reasons. Some want better pay, some change careers or go self-employed. Others follow their partners and relocate to another part of the country, or decide to stay at home with the children.

Many, however, look for a new opportunity elsewhere because they don’t feel connected with and committed to their job, team and organisation. In other words, they are disengaged.

You cannot do much (if anything) when someone’s decision to quit is driven by a life event. But there’s a lot you can do to bring disengaged employees back into the fold.

What causes disengagement?

People want to work where they are trusted, respected and valued, says Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder of HR consultancy 10Eighty.

She adds: “They also need to have confidence in the leadership, they want a boss or manager who empowers them and who shows commitment to their personal development. They need to have a voice too, they need to feel they are listened to and that their opinions count and make a difference.”

Increasingly, they are also looking for more autonomy, more responsibility, and more opportunities to learn new skills and grow.

When these ingredients are lacking, their motivation and commitment go out of the door, and they soon follow suit.

Tell-tale signs

Often, you simply feel something isn’t right.

“The brain is a social organ so we know immediately when someone is unhappy,” says Kate Lanz, neuro-psychologist and chief executive at business consultancy Mindbridge.

Lanz explains: “Neuroscience has shown us that we feel before we think rationally. The brain works from the bottom up, with the limbic system (at the centre of the brain, it controls our emotional responses) activates three times faster than our rational brain. So trust your intuition, you will be able to tell if someone is disengaged.”

But there are also obvious warning signs that you mustn’t ignore:

Drop in quality of work

Mistakes, overlooked priorities and missed deadlines could mean your employee is being overloaded with too much work, but if it isn’t the case and you’re hearing a lot of feeble excuses, this could be the writing on the wall.

Perhaps they don’t deliver because they are doing other things when they should be working? “Frequent use of working time to browse the internet, talk on the phone or shop online is a clear sign of disengagement,” says Alan Price, Group Operations director and HR expert at business consultancy Peninsula.

Lack of interest and participation

Price points out that engaged employees usually show curiosity and enthusiasm for company and sector developments, because these could affect their employer’s growth and, therefore, their role. “Lack of curiosity is a sign that the employee may not care about their future with the company.”

If they are avoiding company events, team-building or social activities, this hints at disengagement too, especially if they participated in such events regularly in the past.


“When people aren’t collegiate and stop sharing information, they are effectively taking a stance against teamwork,” says Sebag-Montefiore. Others are bound to grow resentful and frustrated, and the potential for these rising tensions to escalate to conflict is very high.


Have you noticed higher rates of frequent or unplanned leave, or an increase in sickness or lateness? These may be signs that the employee is giving up on you.

“Also, when someone keeps going to doctor’s or dental appointments, this may indicate they are already interviewing,” Sebag-Montefiore says.null

Lack of discretionary effort

“Disengaged employees typically do the bare minimum and resist taking on extra projects,” says Sebag-Montefiore. They are also unlikely to want to try new ways of doing things.

Apathy and negativity

“Watch out for people who have gone very quiet when once they would’ve eagerly contributed in company meetings,” says Price.

Also, has someone turned very negative, all of a sudden? “Particularly if they used to be ‘the glass is half full’ type of person,” says Sebag-Montefiore.

How to re-engage your staff

Of course, disengagement can be a by-product of personal issues and other external factors, says Steve Preston, managing director at Heat Recruitment. “Your staff member could be having a bad time at home or they could be facing money problems. It’s crucial that you handle these situations sensitively.”

But handle them you must, especially if you cannot afford to lose them. Also, you don’t want the rest of your staff affected. “A negative nelly in the office can drag others down,” says Preston.

Finding out why the employee is disengaged is a potentially difficult conversation, so Lanz suggests that you follow the four Cs model™:

  • Connect Asking someone what they did at the weekend isn’t just small talk, it makes them feel noticed and valued and creates an important emotional and relational connection.
  • Compassion Put your small judgements to one side and accept people for who they are.
  • Curiosity Ask questions and get them to share their views.
  • Control Give people control of their airtime by not interrupting.

Only by asking questions will you find out what could re-ignite their commitment.

Are they bored because they aren’t being stretched? Do they want more responsibility? Giving them more senior duties and more complex projects is easy enough, but they’re likely to need additional training or mentoring, too.

Are they unhappy with you or the way you run your business? Not everyone would be brave enough to give you negative feedback face-to-face, so James Brent, business director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, suggests getting your staff to contribute to an anonymous survey or “questions box”.

Then you must act on their concerns. “Maintaining engagement is a two-way street,” says Brent. “You need to work hard to engage your staff so that they can then decide how engaged they will be in return. If one side fails to back the other, engagement can deteriorate rapidly.”

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

Related articles