Picture the scene: you introduce a new initiative to your employees, one that will, you hope, drive customer sales or improve customer satisfaction or speed up an internal process.
Most of your team are excited by this new approach and eagerly sign up for training or share their thoughts on the best way to implement the change.
But there’s a small group of people who don’t seem as enthused. They’re rolling their eyes and keeping shtum. And they continue to work the same way they always have.
And, you realise, this little cabal of refuseniks is made up of some of your longer-serving employees.
Why are they so disengaged? And what can you do to get them back on side?
It’s a concern shared by many of those who responded to my recent survey.
Often a seemingly intractable problem, it’s one organisations really need to solve or risk losing those people with the most knowledge and experience of their business.
Here are my tips to re-engaging your longer-serving employees.
What’s the problem?
First off, you need to explore whether this is a wider issue than just some grumpy old-timers. Is this an organisation-wide malaise or does it just affect one team or a few individuals?
Is a bad apple manager affecting a team’s morale? Or perhaps there are some basic environmental factors that are making life uncomfortable for people.
Or, is it you? Are you taking loyal employees for granted? Ask yourself:
Do you spend as much time with your longer-serving employees as you do with your newbies?
Clearly when people are new to the business, they require more support and hand-holding. The more experience they have, the more autonomy you can afford them. But that doesn’t mean you should stop checking in with longer-serving employees, making sure they have what they need and that they feel encouraged and recognised. Regular informal 1-2-1s with all members of the team should be a high priority for any manager.
Do longer-serving employees have access to opportunities for development, new challenges or increased responsibility?
When opportunities come along, we are more likely to give them to newer employees. We tend to assume that longer-serving workers will put themselves forward. But this isn’t always the case. They may lack confidence in their abilities or resent having to shout about their value to the business.
Would you be surprised if one of your longest-serving employees handed in their notice tomorrow?
If it comes as a shock to you when someone who’s been with you a while decides to leave, then you’re not as in tune with your people as you might think. There will have been signs that all was not well. You need to retune your antenna to pick up on the subtle signs of discontent and act fast.
How to motivate long-serving employees
If it’s not a systemic or hygiene issue, then it could simply be down to motivation. For a long-serving employee, the newness of their role and the organisation has long-since worn off and now it all feels a bit same-old, same-old. Your fresh-faced enthusiastic newbie has turned into a world-weary, seen-it-all-before cynic.
So, how can you put the sparkle back?
Different things motivate different people. Some might want public recognition of their efforts, others might be excited by more responsibility and others might get their satisfaction from engaging with the team around them.
To get your longer-serving employees sparkling again, you need to find out what floats their boat.
Here are some of the key factors that drive us:
- Challenge: For many, being challenged in their work is motivating – perhaps having targets to chase. Or they may enjoy learning new skills, aiding their personal growth. How might you give them opportunities to stretch themselves?
- Connection: Some people are motivated by building good relationships with their customers. Could you use feedback from customers to reinforce behaviours you want to see?
- Esteem: For some, motivation comes from how they feel they are perceived. Things like status and authority. This might mean an upgrade to their job title, for instance, to reflect their experience and skills.
- Recognition: Most people need to feel recognised for their work. And not necessarily financially. Money is not a key motivating factor so assuming the salary is right for the job (it’s well worth benchmarking pay against your competitors so you can rule it out as a factor), what other ways could you recognise employees for their efforts e.g. a formal thank you, vouchers, public praise etc?
- Responsibility: Giving longer-serving employees more responsibility can reinforce self-esteem. Perhaps a special project or additional authority. You do need to be careful though – some people might feel that you’re just adding to their workload.
- Security: Some people need a level of certainty to thrive. Clearly this can be difficult to instil but it hangs on communication and being transparent. Could you involve them in contributing to business successes or tackling failures?
- Autonomy: How much latitude do they like to have? What level of decision making do they enjoy? How much autonomy can you give them? Do you need to get out of their way? Or, conversely, are they left too much to their own devices and feel unsupported?
- Social: Your connection with others forms a big part of your self-esteem. Many people go to work because of the social relationships they have with their workmates. But you don’t have to leave the social aspect to chance – you can structure things to encourage positive working relationships.
The easiest way to find out what motivates your people is to ask them but sometimes people don’t know. We don’t always possess the self-awareness we need to identify our own drives. There are a number of motivation questionnaires on the market that will help you pin this down or alternatively by offering a variety of opportunities for recognition, social activity, autonomy and responsibility in the workplace, you can make sure you keep everybody happy.