Improving the Performance of Long-Term Employees

HR professionals talk a lot about what it takes to recruit and retain new employees, but what’s discussed less, is how to keep the long-term stalwarts of our companies engaged beyond the 2, 5, and 10 year mark. Focusing on newbie recruits alone can create a workplace where managers rarely acknowledge long-term employees who, in turn, are at risk of becoming woefully unengaged.  

Recent research from Gallup found that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged in their work. That creates a host of people who show up but don’t get much done — undead employees, as an article in CEOWORLD Magazine aptly puts it. The undead syndrome is particularly likely to strike in long-term employees, and your company will suffer if you discount what these tenured team members can bring to the table.

Long-term employees are the ones who have the most to offer a company. They have the professional experience of years working in an industry, they know your business and have the ability to effectively navigate relationships with managers and other coworkers. At the same time, a lack of engagement from these employees can have a devastating effect on the productivity of your company.

Actively disengaged employees whose skills don’t match their jobs, and who hold a tenure of between 2 and 10 years will perform 17% more poorly than the average employee. Low performance equates with low productivity, and that has an impact on your bottom line. Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace study found that the poor performance of disengaged employees can cost companies between $480 to $600 billion a year, so keeping your long term employees isn’t only about job satisfaction, it’s also about your bottom line.

Find the Perfect Talent-Job Match

Luckily, workplace trends show there is a solution to the disengagement of long-term employees. Both long and short-term team members will be more engaged if they’re doing something they love and are good at.

In fact, the highest performing employees have reached a trifecta that combines tenure, engagement, and talent — in other words, the most job satisfaction comes from a long-term employee who has remained engaged because their work allows them to apply the specialty skills they possess. Unfortunately, this is a difficult balance to strike. The Harvard Business Review found that just 5% of employees say all three elements have been met in their current job. That’s a dismally low number, especially given that employees in this margin perform 18% better than the average employee, raking in extra value for your company.

As an HR professional, it’s your job to help employees feel satisfied in these three areas. To accomplish satisfaction of tenure, long-term contracts or full-time positions should be offered when possible, with job security reassuring an employee that their job is there to stay. Engagement and talent then go hand-in-hand, and managers should be constantly assessing whether employees feel as though they’re being challenged and are having their talents appropriately put to use. The majority of employees want to bring their best selves to the table, and assigning them work based on a job-talent match will enable this to happen. This can be done through consistent coaching and feedback and an open-door policy where employees, particularly long-term ones, can voice concerns and dissatisfactions.

Introduce a Performance Recognition Program

Loyalty programs aren’t just for your favorite coffee shop and airline, and an employee performance recognition program may be exactly what you need to persuade employees to improve their performance and stay with your company longer. As you read this, 51% of your millennial staff may be considering leaving their current job within the next two years and the numbers aren’t much better with older generations; 37% of Generation X employees and a quarter of Baby Boomers would consider a workplace departure, regardless of tenure.

An employee performance recognition program can battle these attitudes around retention. Ask your long-term employees to continuously set goals, and then provide an incentive when those goals are reached. This will shift the mindset of long-term employees away from apathy, to an attitude where they’re still thinking about how they can benefit the company. Incentivised education or certification programs can encourage this as well. Individual incentive programs for long-term employees also allow team members to reveal the areas in which they’d still like to be challenged. You should also minimize offering loyalty perks for time-based milestones, (i.e. a 10 year gift, or 15 year gift), as this isn’t a motivator for long-term staff to improve their performance, it’s just an excuse for them to stick around.

Another way to recognize long-term employees is simply to ask their opinion. Older long-term employees often have the experience of three team members combined, and asking their perspective on a problem will remind them they’re still valued, help prevent resentment, and ultimately improve their performance. Aim to treat long-term employees as partners, not subordinates.

Offer the Chance to Update Skills

A reason why the performance of long-term employees starts to lag is because they’ve plateaued and feel as though there is nothing new to learn. Depending on their years with the company, this may be true — that’s why managers and HR departments should ensure long-term team members have the opportunity to upgrade their skills and be challenged in a way that will both re-engage them in their work and boost their performance. On-the-job training has been shown to increase retention rates, and will serve as a competitive advantage as your company recruits new employees and strives to hold on to its long-term ones.

These tips are by no means the only ways to improve the performance of long-term employees, but they’re certainly a good place to start.

Author: Chris Lennon

Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. He is responsible for ensuring the BirdDogHR Talent Management System meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of our customers. He does this by working directly with customers and partners, identifying key market opportunities, developing product strategies and bringing exciting new products, features and partnerships to market.

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