Employee Engagement and Retention

Employee engagement is the level of commitment and energy that employees bring to work Employees who are engaged are more productive, content and more likely to be loyal to an organization.

When organizations put sound HR practices in place, they are more likely to discover that employees feel satisfied, safe and will work to their full potential – and that means they are more likely to stay put.

Recent studies all indicate that in today’s changing work environment it is flexibility and creativity that draw and keep employees.

HR Responsibility

How it relates to employee engagement

Strategic HR Planning
  • People are the main resource that organizations have for delivering services.
  • Strategic HR planning links HR management directly to an organization's strategic plan and that means that staff will have meaningful roles tied to the strategic direction of the organization.
  • Strategically planning how your organization will meet its current and future HR needs and how people will be supported and nurtured within your organization is critical for success.
Operational HR Planning
  • At an operational level, organizations put in place HR management practices to support management and staff in achieving their day-to-day goals.
  • Whether it's determining how many employees are needed to deliver services over the next year or how performance will be monitored, the HR management practices and activities need to be planned to answer the question: "Where is our organization going and how will it get there?"
  • An operational plan ensures that employees are properly supported.
Compensation and Benefits
  • Though usually not ranked the most important, compensation is an important factor in job satisfaction.
  • An employee who feels adequately compensated monetarily is more likely to stay with your organization.
Developing HR Policies
  • Policies and procedures both communicate the values of your organization and provide everyone with a consistent process to follow.
  • Policies and procedures provide your employees with a process to follow and that knowledge can help them confidently approach situations, particularly difficult situations.
Employment Legislation and Standards
  • Provincial/territorial and federal governments outline the minimum requirements to ensure a safe and equitable work environment for employees.
Job Descriptions
  • Job descriptions are basic HR management tools that can help to increase individual and organizational effectiveness.
  • A well-written job description sets an employee up for success by outlining their responsibilities and the parameters of their position.
  • Job descriptions also show how an employee's position contributes to the mission, goals and objectives of the organization.
Performance Management
  • Performance management is an ongoing process where the manager/supervisor and employee work together to plan, monitor and review an employee's work objectives or goals and overall contribution to the organization.
  • Motivates employees to do their best.
  • Establishes clear communication between the manager and the employee about what she or he is expected to accomplish.
  • Provides on-going, constructive feedback on performance.
  • Establishes plans for improving performance, as necessary.
  • Identifies the skills and abilities of each employee so that work assignments build on and reflect an employee's strengths.
  • Identifies individual employees for more challenging work.
  • Assists and supports staff in achieving their work and career goals by identifying training needs and development opportunities.
  • Contributes to the succession management plan so that employee skills are developed and employers develop the skills they need to fill a potential HR gap in the future.
Learning, Training and Development
  • Investing in training programs helps employees develop personally and professionally.
Workplace Diversity
  • Creating an environment where people feel welcome and safe from harassment and discrimination motives staff to perform.
  • Absenteeism and performance problems decrease while productivity, morale and employee retention increase.
Work teams and Group Dynamics
  • When you develop and support effective teams, you enhance the power and feeling of satisfaction of individuals working on the team.
  • When a team works well, it means that staff trust one another and that leads to better sharing of knowledge and understanding.
Conflict Resolution
  • In a healthy workplace, there will be conflict.
  • Having a conflict resolution policy and a process will mean that conflict is constructive and not destructive.
Workplace Wellness Initiatives
  • A healthy workplace means more than just warding off colds and the flu.
  • It is more holistic and takes into consideration the physical, spiritual, environmental, intellectual, emotional, occupational and mental health of employees.
  • Wellness promotion doesn't just benefit the employee — an organization filled with healthy, balanced and fulfilled employees is a productive workplace that retains its employees.
Employee Recognition
  • Giving them a sense of shared values and purpose by creating a relationship with them is important.
  • When you thank employees you value them and that, in turn, is motivating.
  • Updating staff on organizational issues through internal communications like e-mail updates and newsletters builds the sense of team and their value to the team.
Staff-Volunteer Relations
  • Develop a sense of team with staff and volunteers contributing to the organization's mission.


From a benefits perspective, being creative and considering ways to improve the access or quality of your benefits, could look like:
  • Allowing employees to access their benefits as of their hire date
  • Being able to accumulate sick days to bridge to disability coverage
  • Being able to use some sick days as “personal health days” to allow employees to have a break without using all their holidays or pretending to be sick
  • Receiving your birthday off with pay
  • Eliminating the probationary period language from contracts/offer letters
  • Seeking insurance providers with vision care benefits at reasonable costs
  • Allowing for some increased flexibility in personalizing benefit options (e.g., health spending accounts, vision care versus dental, and more paramedical coverage)

Although these options have a cost associated with them, the cost is significantly less than the benefit an organization can reap in return. If your insurance provider does not allow you the freedom to make some adjustments to your plan, then it might be time to research what else is available.

Other perspectives

Many articles have been written highlighting the keys to creating the best organization and to finding and keeping the best employees. In recent studies, the following were identified as key factors:


Paying employees fairly, both with respect to market conditions as well as ensuring internal equity, was still the number one factor considered. Providing clear information on the organization’s compensation structure and consistent processes was critical to an employee’s sense of commitment.


For many people, especially the younger generations, the ability to develop both personally and professionally was highly valued and a key consideration when deciding where to work.

  • Access to training and development on the job and through courses or conferences were listed as important in a study done by the Conference Board of Canada.
  • Another variation was receiving reimbursement for courses taken on the employee’s own time. Most commonly reimbursed were courses that aligned with a professional designation in the employee’s current role.


Employees who were surveyed and asked what kept them in their current role indicated that having a culture that recognized the importance of connecting performance to rewards were key to their satisfaction.

Performance management was one component that influenced the culture. Having clearly defined expectations, being able to identify goals to work towards and having their evaluation align with those agreed-to goals contributed to higher satisfaction levels.

Receiving effective and realistic feedback, both positive and constructive, increased a continuous learning environment and increased commitment to the organization because performance, both good and bad, is recognized.

Succession planning when operating within an organization brings a sense of purpose and sustainability to employees. Those who had been identified for a succession plan consistently reported confidence in the future of the organization and their role in its future. Organizations should consider ways to develop younger staff with great potential by identifying them as potential successors to long-term employees. The younger employees win by learning new and critical skills while feeling rewarded for their hard work. The more senior employees feel rewarded for years of service and identified as key contributors. The organization wins by ensuring that intellectual capital is not lost, but transitioned from one employee to another.

Trust demonstrated as part of the culture of an organization is highly valued by all generations of employees. In Steven Covey’s book, Moving at the Speed of Trust, leaders are challenged to evaluate whether their organization’s culture is one of trust or mistrust. Employees who feel trusted and respected will strive harder to maintain that trust and are less likely to do something that will result in a loss of trust.

Workplace flexibility

Alternative work arrangements are effective ways to meet the needs of the organization while also providing employees with what they need to balance their home and work environments. Some employers, particularly small ones, may have limited opportunity to offer staff alternative work arrangements, but that does not mean that opportunities should not be explored.

Finding out what your organization would value can start this process. The key is to ensure that any alternative arrangements considered do not hinder the organization’s ability to ensure that core work is being completed in the time and manner required to maintain sustainability.

A clear, shared understanding about the terms and conditions of the alternative work arrangement by both the organization and the employee can prevent ineffective or damaging outcomes.

Ideas for alternative work arrangements include:

Compressed work week

An employee works her or his full number of hours in fewer days. For example, an employees core hours are 40 hours per week. The employee works four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. See sample policy on working a Compressed Work Week

Job sharing

Two qualified employees share the duties and tasks of one position. For example, both employees work 2.5 days or alternative between three days one week and two the next. The advantage of job sharing is having two people who both know the role. The downside can be having a communication gap between individuals performing the role. Consider having an employee who is contemplating retirement job share with a more junior employee with high potential to enable the transition of knowledge, skills and commitment. See sample policy on Job Sharing

Regular part-time work

Many people today are looking for meaningful work but on a part-time basis. A desire to balance work and life priorities has increased exponentially over the past decade and employers who recognize the contribution part-time employees can make, are leading their organizations forward.

Educational partnership

Many employees are looking for opportunities to balance academic pursuits with employment opportunities. Structuring a role for a person in the final stages of her or his education could result in an increased pool of potential employees, and employees who will be loyal to an organization that provided them with practical experience and the ability to create a flexible schedule.

Regardless of whether you are developing an alternative work arrangement or increasing the flexibility of your benefit program, it is important to understand what motivates employees and what culture you are building in your organization. The better able you are to align the two, the more success you will have.

Tools and Resources:

Recruitment and Retention Challenges and Strategies provides background on the ECEC retention challenge as well as specific suggestions to improve retention.

The Road to Retention provides youth perspectives on transforming organizations into choice employers.

Employee Survey can give employers a sense of their employees needs in terms of flexible work arrangements. 

High Performance Workplaces Canadian Printing Industries Sector Council

Generational Differences in the Workplace

To keep good employees, you must meet their needs and expectations, and understand what keeps them inspired. Employee needs and expectations vary from one person to the next. They also vary depending on a variety of factors, including the generation of the workers. In workplaces today, there are several different generations – all with different worldviews, expectations and needs – in our workplaces.

In this Section:

Young employees

Attracting the next generation of employees

If organizations want to survive they will have to learn how to attract and keep the next generation of employees. Research from the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector tells us that younger workers value the opportunity to be connected with the impact of the work that they were involved in. Even if they worked in an office and didn't have regular contact with outcomes, when they were given a chance to see the impact it often left a lasting and meaningful impression.

Make sure to create opportunities for young people to feel this kind of connection to the impact of their work.

Young people also valued the opportunity to work with a diversity of people, of cultures, ideas, perspectives, backgrounds and identities. They enjoyed the chance to experience human connections across difference in the organizations they worked with.

Work to create organizations that are inclusive and open to diversity. Create an environment that encourages and promotes difference and healthy opportunities to build meaningful connections across difference. Steer away from prescribing a certain way of acting or "doing business."

Most challenging experiences

According to the same research from the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector, when asked about the not-so-positive aspects of their experiences, younger workers are frustrated by:
  • Organizations showed a lack of human resources structure and good people management skills.
  • Many organizations had a "chaotic" environment with a lack of structure that created confusion and didn't support the work that needed to get done.

Mid-career employees

Good retention practices

Employees who have been with an organization for more than four or five years may become bored or entrenched in their beliefs. In order to retain good employees, enable them to become even better, and to ensure the health of your organization and maintain its ability to change:
  • Ensure that mid-range employees are involved in setting the direction and strategic plan for your organization.
  • Ensure that their jobs are based on the plans of the organization and that employees can see the results of their work.
  • Ensure that employees get a good performance review at least every six months and that you listen to – and act on – their ideas, suggestions and concerns.
  • Ensure that they are continually learning and enhancing their skills.
  • Encourage experienced employees to mentor newer staff, volunteers, or, if appropriate, board members.

Older employees

Good retention practices

In addition to the retention practices outlined for mid-career employees, your organization may need to ensure that the following options are available for all staff:
  • Flexible work (flexi-time or flexible work location)
  • Good pension or retirement plans
  • A healthy environment that meets their occupational needs
  • Additional training on new technologies

Gender Equity

The overwhelming majority – 96% – of child care workers in the regulated child care sector are female. Since the ECEC sector is female-dominated, gender equity is not about strategies for encouraging more equal representation of women. It's not even focused on increasing representation of women in managerial ranks.

However, the high percentage of women in the ECEC sector's workforce and managerial ranks means that employers need to be very aware of how best to support and retain their female employees. In addition, the lower level of wages in a female-dominated sector is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Practical and supportive practices

To understand how to best support female employees means understanding what female employees value and expect in a workplace. The Canadian Policy Research Network's (CPRN) research on human resources in the nonprofit sector indicates that the following practices are important:

Work-life balance

Almost 20% of all paid employees in the nonprofit sector are women with at least one child under 12 years of age at home (compared to 14.2% in the for-profit sector). The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict study determined that women are more likely to feel stressed by the combined demands of work and family responsibilities. Therefore, offering a flexible and family-friendly workplace is important and workplace policies need to reflect the needs of female employees.

Support advancement

Women in the nonprofit sector are far less likely than those in the for-profit sector to say that they have received a promotion (26% and 39% respectively). Therefore, creating professional development plans and mentoring female employees are important strategies.

Links and Resources:

Motivations at the Margins: Gender Issues in the Canadian Voluntary Sector

Women's Executive Network