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Having happy employees does not always translate to high retention

November 2, 2015

By Kristin Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Do you know what your employees are really thinking?  That’s the magic question that managers and HR professionals would love to know the answer to, in order to engage and retain their employees. 

In 2015, Mercer surveyed over 3,000 US employees and 1,000 Canadian employees regarding their thoughts and perceptions related to critical employment issues, such as engagement, culture, performance, pay, leadership, and the like.  The goal of the survey was to shed light on what employees truly value from their employers and to determine if that varied based on employee demographics.  The results were recently published in Mercer’s September, 2015, survey, Inside Employees’ Minds – The Transforming Employment Experience.  

One of the biggest findings coming out of the survey is that 37% of employees are seriously thinking  about leaving their jobs today.  But what was surprising regarding the Mercer results was that of the 37% who are interested in leaving, a significant number of them are very happy with their jobs.  Specifically:

  • 45% are very satisfied with their organization
  • 42% are very satisfied with their jobs
  • 45% consider their benefit packages very good
  • 46% strongly agree that they have sufficient opportunity for growth and development in their organization
  • 48% strongly agree that their organization as a whole is well managed
  • 48% strongly agree that they are paid fairly given their performance and contribution to their organization

Historically employers have believed that happy employees are engaged employees, and engaged employees are more likely to have higher retention rates.  Mercer’s survey results are in sharp contrast to that belief.  It has created what they have coined the “engagement paradox,” whereby satisfaction does not equate with staying. 

Other key trends that emerged from the survey include what is called the “seniority split.”   While 37% of all employees are considering leaving their employer, that number rises to a whopping 63% among senior managers.  Again, what is interesting when those senior managers were polled:

  • 94% are satisfied or very satisfied with their organizations
  • 93% are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs

This creates another paradox. While the senior managers are the most satisfied employees in an organization, they are also the most at risk for leaving.  This is an alarming fact for employers who devote a significant amount of time and energy to develop their top management.

The third trend reflected in the survey is a generational divide between the satisfaction of older workers (those over 50) and that of the millennial generation.  Though millennials are more positive about their work than the average results of all employees, 44% are still seriously considering leaving their organization. Conversely, older workers (age 50+) are much less positive about their work and yet are more inclined to stay. 

Pay ranked as highest in importance among all age groups; next most important factors among older workers  are the type of work they do, working for a respectable organization and a retirement savings/pension plan.  Coming as no surprise, millennials are most concerned with flexible work schedules and career advancement.  With millennials making up a larger portion of the workforce and many boomers still many years from retirement, trying to meet the unique needs of each generation will be a growing challenge for employers.

So what does all this mean?  Contrary to popular belief, employers need to be aware that satisfaction with the organization, job, pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities may not be enough to convince your employees to stay. Employers have to be concerned about losing their top talent, especially their top managers, and the drain this can have on productivity and morale.  Employers should consider surveying their employee population to determine where they might be at risk and develop a plan to address the needs of the various employee generations.

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