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Why connection is the key to talent retention

By Michelle Sales


Think of the last time you had to deal with some kind of performance issue. Maybe an individual had stopped working cooperatively or seems less engaged in their work.

We think these individuals are being uncooperative or unreasonable, which leads to performance management to try and fix the issue.

This then spirals out of control: employee engagement continues to decline, performance issues become more challenging and the divide gets even larger, often leading to employee resignation or, worse, firing of potential talent.

The real issue here is not the individual themselves. It is the lack of connection that individual feels.

Studies show there is a connection deficit in workplaces today. For example, employee research completed by the Pew Research Center and the Ken Blanchard Companies reports 81% of people say their leaders don’t listen, and 36% rarely or never receive performance feedback, while 67% wish they did.

Most people, however, would rather leave a job than have a conversation to address a workplace issue. That’s a real shame – not to mention a real problem!

So what to do?


Digital detox

The ability to connect in our selfie-obsessed society has never been easier – at least online – so often organisations see the solution to strengthening connection as a technology issue.

Online tools like Yammer are implemented to try to make people converse and share more. Online conferences and ‘catch-up’ meetings are held across different time zones. Sure, many technology enablers are helping us to collaborate more effectively and connect differently.

In reality, though, these one-on-one meetings with people are really just a mechanism for managing work performance rather than getting to really know each other. For example, we prefer to use email to communicate rather than talking face-to-face or even by phone.

Technology is an enabler, but it is never the solution to a human issue. We must learn the art of cultivating real connections in our organisation to truly thrive.


Cultivate connection

Prolific author and researcher Brené Brown describes connection as ‘the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued – when they can give and receive without judgment’.

When we feel a real sense of connection we trigger neurochemicals that make us feel good. Dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins give us a sense of wellbeing; they make us want to engage and work with others; collaboration happens and performance thrives.

On the flipside, when we experience disconnection, the reaction is as real as physical pain. Cortisol and adrenaline increase in our body, triggering the ‘fight’ stress response. This makes us respond to our environment as if it is hostile, like we’re out of place – which results in the behaviours and impact previously mentioned.

It’s a fact that companies that are voted ‘best place to work’ or an ‘employer of choice’ value and foster connection among their teams and organisations. As Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, senior vice president of research at PageUp People, puts it, these companies are ‘meeting the more altruistic and basic human needs of feeling connected and being an important part in something bigger’.


Trust us

Hence, feeling connected and trusted to be and do our best is the ultimate human condition.

Employees are able to be their best possible self and feel valued and rewarded for this. They feel understood at an individual level and they are clear on the contribution they are making to the performance of the organisation. They love what they do and they connect to each other, their customers, leaders and the organisation in a very human way.

This is when you start to bring out the very best in people. This feeling of connection builds a critical foundation of trust in which your employees feel they can have a voice and can make a difference.

When employees are encouraged to connect, communicate and collaborate better, this leads to an increase in productivity, not to mention happiness. This, in turn, has a positive impact on performance, company loyalty, and of course, retention.

Michelle Sales is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer, coach and author who helps senior leaders and their teams to build confidence and maximise their leadership and performance by consciously connecting with others. She is the author of the new whitepaper The Connection Deficit: Why leaders must bring both head and heart to work to build trust, lift engagement and accelerate organisational results.


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