Things are looking up — and employees are starting to look around. “A quarter of employees are looking for a new job — the highest figure in two years,” says Claire McCartney, adviser on resourcing and talent planning at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

Its latest Employee Outlook surveys of employee attitudes, taken in Autumn 2013, also shows that while 36 per cent of employees were engaged, and just 4 per cent were disengaged, a huge 60 per cent were neither. “Organisations must focus on these people. If not, they risk these ‘neutrals’ leaving,” says McCartney.

Yet the CIPD/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning report 2013 shows that one in five employers were doing nothing at all to increase retention — despite the fact that four fifths of those surveyed said they faced retention difficulties.

“Employers have been complacent about disengagement, but now that must change, or they risk losing talent,” says McCartney.

So what can employers do?
“Our research shows that there are many things that employers can do to increase engagement and tackle retention problems,” says McCartney.

Increase staff development and career progression opportunities. “The market throughout the recession was rigid so younger workers in particular were lacking career development opportunities. Offering those could increase engagement,” says McCartney.

Make work meaningful. “Workers want to feel that their job has a positive effect on people’s lives. Employers, especially in the private sector, should explain to employees how their job makes a difference.

“Increasing retention by improving engagement, relationships with line managers and a sense of purpose will always be important”

Balance work more fairly between roles. Many people are doing the jobs of at least two people, while others are working part-time but want longer hours. Consider increasing hours for willing part-timers and spreading work loads more evenly. “Uneven work loads increase stress, which is linked to mental health problems, and our data shows these are rising among employees,” says McCartney.

Focus on building trust between employees and managers/leaders. These may have suffered during the downturn, but they can be repaired, says McCartney. “Focus on open, honest communication, increasing consultation and feedback, and killing corporate spin.”

What about pay?
“If employees have been subject to a pay freeze for long time, pay may be an issue,” says McCartney, “but increasing retention by improving engagement, relationships with line managers and a sense of purpose will always be important.”

So rather than introducing new ideas to boost employee engagement, organisations need to go back to basics. McCartney says: “Getting the basics of good people management right will really make a difference.”