Addressing the Reality Slump: How to Best Keep New Employees Engaged

Sarah Kidawa
Sarah Kidawa

Today’s HR leader is navigating a minefield of buzzwords for retention and recruitment. Terms like “employee experience,” “employee engagement,” (and the difference between the two), “employee life cycle,” “onboarding strategy” and “employee value proposition” may have your head spinning as you reach for your weathered college dictionary. And, once you’ve gathered your baseline understanding of the right lingo to use at your next networking event, the hard work begins. Like many, you may believe the only way to be victorious in the ongoing talent war is to overhaul every piece of your current employee engagement blueprint. Words like “overhaul” is a sleepless night waiting to happen.

But rest easy because the following ideas will help you filter your game plan’s focus. And congratulations! Your continued reading of this post indicates you’re recognizing an arsenal of ideas may just be the help you need to move to the frontlines.

Rightsizing Retention During Employee Disruption

Forty-two million workers will leave their jobs this year. And with an average unemployment rate of 3.6%, we’ve heard how professionals like you are nervous. With good reason. Many companies list their competitive advantage as their people—the best and brightest minds that work inside and out of the office each day. Every time an employee leaves, recruitment resources are devoured and key hours it takes to effectively train dissolve. The disruption felt with an employee change not only affects productivity but morale as well. Rightsizing retention can start in many parts of the employee lifecycle but trends show onboarding is a popular place to begin.

Open With Onboarding & Continue Throughout the Employee Journey

Companies are dialed in to the onboarding conversation, amplifying strategies quickly to fill empty desks with the consummate mixture of hard work, culture fit and moxie—and then thoroughly training them to succeed. These onboarding investments seem to be working as employee pride and self-esteem levels peak in their first year of employment. With such strong results, we see organizations high-fiving the success of their onboarding campaign as they wait for their service award program to take over in year five. But that celebration is a bit premature as many companies start off strong on day one but support drops off rapidly from there.

Stressed, disengaged new employee working at his desk

Employee Disengagement Hits Fast & Hard: The Reality Slump

Radio silence between years one and five is a fatal flaw. A four-year gap in your employee strategy may seem routine but top performing companies acknowledge employees need ongoing onboarding. Recent research demands a focus on employees who have been with your company at least a year but less than three years—a time in tenure that’s been dubbed the “reality slump.” The reality slump is defined as the time in employment years one and two when engagement, satisfaction and advocacy levels fall, and the job search fires up again. The reality slump matters to your employee strategy because:

  • It takes somewhere after the 10 year mark to recover from pre-reality slump (year one) satisfaction levels.
  • A sharp uptick in employee’s unlikeliness to recommend the organization as a place to work—a key metric in engagement.
  • Generally, engagement levels recover after year two—new employees first need to make it to this milestone.
  • Employers will pay of $600B in turnover costs in perpetuity (and that’s in the United States alone) until the reality slump is addressed.

Extinguish the reality slump by extending your onboarding plan with targeted strategies specific to years one and two.

Group of happy, engaged employees giving each other high fives

Amplify Employee Attention to Improve Retention

As you expand your attention through year two, infuse both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators and a variety of events, incentives and recognition strategies. Here are nine ideas to get you going:

  1. Show Appreciation: 66% of employees stated they would work harder and stay at an organization if they were simply thanked by their leader. Drop a handwritten note on their desk, send a recognition email or issue recognition through your existing program, buy them a cup of coffee, surprise with celebrating a “National Day of ___.” The small things make a big difference.
  2. Create a Community: Tap into the “belonging” intrinsic motivator as you encourage employees to volunteer for their favorite non-profit, coordinate a team event outside of the office or host an on-site networking event to build friendships across departments.  These events have staying power: employees with friends at work are 7x more likely to be engaged in their jobs. There is a tangible impact when personal connections to fellow team members, the individual impact employees can have and your company’s larger mission are made.
  3. Celebrate Year One’s Work Anniversary—Workiversary: It’s important to build loyalty with employees earlier, more often and in different ways. Service award programs can quickly be forgotten about. That’s why your program needs to be creatively designed and effectively (and frequently) communicated to keep your employees excited and engaged. Why not start your Service Awards at year one?
  4. Exclusive Invitation: Invite newbies to participate in a committee, special project, or to mentor newbies on navigating their first year. A fresh opportunity will reignite that newness feeling and give the impression of an elite experience just a handful were asked to help with.
  5. Encourage Job Shadowing and Mentoring: Encourage exposure to areas outside of their day-to-day environment to show support of promoting within and fostering personal development. If someone makes the switch permanent, shout out your support and share the success with others.
  6. Add to Your Hierarchy: Stereotypically, Millennials and Gen Z expect a promotion after one year. Tap into their intrinsic need to show proficiency and advancement by creating a hierarchy within your hierarchy. Adding layers is a surefire way to signal progress (Project Manager I, Project Manager II, Project Manager III, etc.).
  7. Face Time with the C-Suite: Literally or figuratively, face-to-face interactions with executives elevates the feeling of status and connection. Offering an on-site group lunch or virtual Q+A sessions for remote employees during this critical time period will subconsciously cue employees they are seen, heard from and matter to all levels of the organization. 
  8. Recognize the Integration Between Work and Life: Your halls are bursting with achievers devoted to propel your business forward. With hard work comes late nights, business travel, weekend work and other family sacrifices, some of which may be a surprise to employees (and their families) in year one. Acknowledge the impact a supportive significant other plays in your business by hosting a family event and publicly recognizing families there. This extra layer of social contact between employer and family will only strengthen the support for role and company received at home, and transfer to how your team shows up each day.  
  9. Establish Expertise: After the initial wave of onboarding training calms, kick off a certification program to encourage expertise. Moving an employee closer to subject matter will encourage mastery and confidence while focusing them on where their passions lie.

Looking for more ideas to help you wage the war on talent? Check out the eBook Improve Retention and Engagement by Enhancing the Employee Experience.

When's the last time you really considered the value of your employee experience? Download our ebook.

Sarah Kidawa

Sarah Kidawa

Sarah has a penchant for driving curated strategies that fuel employee happiness and energize workplace cultures. She thrives when helping clients realize the hard results driven by executing these “soft” initiatives—and when her suitcase is packed and ready for her next travel adventure.