· 2 min read · Features

Cary Cooper: Engaging with employees will keep your competitive edge


The battle for graduate talent is increasingly fierce, but it takes more than lucrative reward packages to turn heads. Be an enterprising, innovative and forward-thinking business, and candidates will follow, says Cary Cooper.

The news that wage rises are making a comeback is promising for business and employees alike. But that doesn’t mean firms can take their eyes off the ball when it comes to engagement and retention. 

There are areas – the public sector in particular – where increases will be slower to materialise. And as people’s heads are turned by bonuses, those who aren’t seeing any improvement in their pay get itchy feet. Now is the time for managers to consider the long game of retention and productivity.

More than ever, it is vital businesses hit the mark with the basics of employer brand awareness. Not every business has an immediate caché. Sectors like charities and the arts have historically been competitive for talent without the promise of big pay packets. But, whatever your business, providing the chance to get involved with innovative and new projects is a conclusive driver of job satisfaction for graduates. They are demanding backing and chances to be enterprising and develop their careers. 

So, how do we make this culture of opportunity and personal development become the mainstream? 

From recruitment to one-to-one coaching and more formal aspects of training, there are plenty of opportunities to provide this and shout about it. This trend will only intensify. Look at recent research into the primary career motivators for Generation Y, which suggests that those potential employees born between 1980 and 2000 are less interested in monetary wealth and more concerned with job fulfilment. 

Businesses can look to organisations with a healthy, happy workforce as a good indicator of what even an SME can emulate too. Investors in People (IIP), conducted a nationwide survey of over 3,000 full-time staff, and found that 80% felt more positive toward their employer if they were offered better wellbeing options. 

It’s common sense that an unhappy employee will be much more likely to suffer from job dissatisfaction and either disengage, or look to pay as the only compensation for enduring the status quo. In some cases, there’s likely to be a bad match between person and role, but elsewhere, adding support can make big difference.

We can also think about the traditional non-salary benefits that some of the giants offer,
whether that’s free lunch at Google or the opportunity to take a three to six month sabbatical at Deloitte. 
The great example of John Lewis and their ‘partners’ rather than employees, is also entirely relevant in terms of developing ways to empower a workforce, to assimilate employee value both collectively and on an individual level. 

Of course, it isn’t feasible to think every business can afford these perks, or rewrite
their corporate history, but it shows the necessity of identifying methods of workforce engagement at all levels. For smaller businesses, it’s entirely possible to create this kind of job satisfaction from real and authentic involvement, as well as genuine care for 
employees’ values.

Employers must not underestimate the power of doing the simple things right: building personal relationships and developing opportunities for progression, embedding greater flexibility for employees and higher levels of control. It might not be the Hollywood stuff of  golden handcuffs and expensive perks – but it certainly counts.

Cary Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School and co-author of The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE.