There’s a lot of talk around employee engagement and how it’s key to retaining staff and building a strong, committed and happy workforce (it is).

That sounds all well and good, but in practice, staff retention is not an easy thing to get right – heck, in a guest post for, Les McKeown says that not even Google and Amazon are pulling it off 100%. Who would ever leave a job at Google, you might boggle. Google! But they do. Often. Because it’s not just about bottomless donuts or stock options (or even legendary death benefits).

Your employees need to feel good, and happy, about coming in to work every day. They need to relish what they do and feel fulfilled by it, and that’s a tougher nut to crack than satisfying their dietary whims.

To paraphrase McKeown, money can’t buy your employees’ happiness – so it’s not really about throwing the coolest perks at them. What does count are factors quite aside from the benefits and the annual paycheck (though you know you won’t attract the best talent by offering well under industry standard).

Okay, so what’s really going to get your employees to stick around? To be engaged and excited about their jobs so they produce their best work? Here’s what researchers have found.

Having a work bestie

Look around the office. You’ll probably notice that the most engaged employees are those who have a close friend at work. This at least according to research-based consulting company Gallup. Zooming out on this points to cultural fit: employers who care about their staff’s happiness put emphasis on matching not only skills but personality types during the hiring process. This means choosing people who’re likely to have a great rapport with the rest of the team (on top of not being crappy at their jobs).

At Magnetic, we’ve build an awesome, skilled-up team who gel with each other and get on well, both at work and outside of it. It’s a huge part of why our business works and why we can solve problems fast and keep our clients happy.

Having a boss they respect

Ever heard the saying ‘People leave bosses, not companies?’ Here’s how to avoid that: Keep your word. Be available. Don’t micromanage (see below). Be someone who deserves respect. Being a good boss takes just as much work – probably more – than being a good subordinate, so don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’re owning it just because you’ve got the good chair (actually, all your employees should have good chairs).

Says McKeown, “Be consistent in your dealings with people. Employees notice inconsistencies precisely the same way anyone else does in any other walk of life. Many a great employee has left solely because of an eventual collapse of trust caused by the cumulative, drip, drip, drip effect of an unending litany of inconsistencies.

Being (occasionally) praised publicly and always chided privately

Not every person likes to be praised in public, and not every compliment needs to be delivered in front of an audience. But, if you’re singling someone out in a crowd, make sure it’s for something positive. (Pro tip: the less gushing your praise, the more sincere it will seem).

And it should go without saying that if you need to level some (constructive) criticism, do it in private.

Feeling that you have their back

Particularly in an agency setting, there may be times when you team comes under attack – either from clients or senior management (often under pressure by clients). Whether or not the criticism is fair (and even if it is, it’s seldom delivered rationally), you’re there to be a buffer. Nothing makes staff feel more undervalued than being thrown under the bus while their boss looks the other way. It can be tricky to confront senior management about the way your team is treated, so you’ll need to tread lightly, but it’s a conversation you need to have.

Not being micromanaged

I challenge you to find a single person who enjoys having their every action monitored, analysed and critiqued. You’ve hired people you trust to do the job, so let them. Unless you can see a glaring issue (or others have consistently voiced concerns about a particular problem or individual), give your staff the freedom to do their jobs to the best of their ability. If you’ve hired the right people, you’ll find that the more free rein you give them (within reason), the more they’ll step up and the more accountable they’ll be.

If you want a badass team, you’ve got to be one of the good guys. It’s as simple and challenging as that.

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