How to Retain your Best-Performing Engineers?

Ravi Bhim
Ravi Bhim
August 19, 2019

How to retain your engineers

Balancing a successful company requires hiring the right people to do the best work possible, but administrators often forget about employee retention, which is equally important. With unemployment at an all-time low, employees are apt to seek other jobs if they are unhappy or feel undervalued in their current positions.

According to an article on Forbes, most organizations budget only about 3% for salary increases. This drives employees to look for other opportunities in order to boost their careers.

Other employees seek to move up in a company. Without channels or paths for promotion, they will seek a position that they can build on elsewhere. 

Employees are always considering their options, even if they are happy in their current jobs. Top performers will consider leaving if they know they can increase their salary by making the jump to work with another company.

Retaining High-Performing Engineers

The reality is that top performers are often happier than employees who aren’t performing as well. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in other jobs if better benefits or a path forward to a more successful career present themselves. 

Engineers are distinct from other professionals. An engineer holds a specific educational background and has training in a unique skill set.

More experienced engineers have attended school for six or more years, obtained certificates and accolades, and built on their education since beginning their careers.

With great credentials and experience, high-performing engineers tend to feel that their qualifications should come with better benefits. In order to retain them, companies should pay special attention to hiring top tier applicants, but also to developing a clear path for their current staff to earn higher pay and transition into leadership roles. 

There are several steps to retaining high performers. From onboarding to continuing education, companies need to think about the big picture for their best employees. Here are some effective ways to retain the engineers you want to keep most.

1. Have a great onboarding process. 

Nothing is more memorable for employees than their first few days and weeks on the job. The experiences they have during this time either be very positive or very negative. That makes the onboarding process incredibly important to employee satisfaction.

If employees experience a poor onboarding process, it creates a negative atmosphere moving forward. The employee may realize they don't want to stay for more than a year or two. 

The standard onboarding process can be overly confusing to someone who is new to the company. With meetings and trainings unorganized or unmapped, employees will feel less like they matter, and more like someone didn’t put forth time or effort to create a training schedule that had them in mind. 

Ways to create an excellent onboarding process include:

  • Mapping out the places and times where new employees should be. 
  • Making sure meetings with other departments such as Human Resources are clearly laid out and planned. 
  • Waiting to introduce the most complicated concepts until later. Allow new hires to acclimate to their setting in a new office with new people before diving into complicated procedures. 
  • Considering the practicality of scheduling so that the essentials can be covered at a comfortable pace.

One of the best ways to create a successful onboarding process is to be available. If you have a new employee starting, block off time on your calendar to spend with them. Whether it’s answering questions, explaining process flow, or just getting to know them, your new employees will appreciate your time and attention and will start off on the right foot at your company.

2. Create feedback opportunities. 

Engagement of employees largely depends on how things are going with them. This is relevant to more than just a general atmosphere or mood. Employees may have helpful feedback for policies and processes at your company that could help streamline communication or improve business.

A great way to retain your top performers is to create a system of feedback from employees. By developing a system in which management and engineers talk to one another in constructive ways, companies can make it clear that they value employee feedback.

Businesses that do this are also more likely to retain their workforce than those that discourage feedback. Workers want to know their opinions are not only being heard, but also considered for action.

Feedback is also a great way to learn where your company should focus its efforts in employee satisfaction. If a feedback system such as surveys or focus groups shows that 80% of workers think they are underpaid, the company may need to invest in salary raises in order to keep those employees on board. 

3. Devise compelling career paths. 

No great employee is happy without some kind of future growth plan in place for their own careers. That’s not to say everyone wants to move up in the company, but creating a path for those who do is a vital step in ensuring top performer retention.

Providing career development opportunities allows the company to nourish budding talent and allows top performers to excel, learn, and be challenged. 

Creating a career path that is both compelling and accessible can be a challenge. Set aside the time to meet with other administrators or managers to implement a promising path that workers can follow and will want to buy into.

Asking about employees’ long-term goals helps get a better understanding of where they want to end up. There’s no better way to show you respect them and build their trust in the company. 

4. Forge opportunities for continued learning. 

Great employees want to learn and be challenged. Allow time and opportunities for employees to explore areas they’d like to improve in or learn more about.

Whether it’s soft skills like better time management or hard skills like new programming languages, give your engineers options for expanding their knowledge and skill base. Because employees get busy and may end up ignoring training opportunities, build time for training into the regular schedule in order to encourage them to participate. 

Conferences, professional engineering associations, and even community groups such as the local chamber of commerce are great venues for encouraging learning. Many companies also offer continuing education benefits, such as covering the cost of specific courses or certifications for employees.

These educational opportunities don’t always have to come at a high cost for the company. Many nonprofit organizations related to your company’s specific type of work offer free webinars or training videos. 

5. Construct a community environment. 

Employees, especially the great ones, love to be part of a bigger community. Instead of an atmosphere of independence and isolation, create an environment where team members trust one another with important information.

Shared time and project planning between teams and employees help to build an environment where engineers look forward to working together on big projects. You can organize meet ups, hackathons, conference pitches, and more to engage your top performers. 

6. Recognize and plan for employees’ strengths. 

When it comes to job descriptions, allowing room for interpretation may sound disaster-prone, but it actually builds a sense of trust between your top performers and the administration. Managers can create a loose interpretation that takes into account what their top engineers like to work on along with their strengths and abilities.

For instance, if Engineer A is great at process workflow, let him take the reins organizing your next project. If Engineer B is better at design, give her the opportunity to work more closely in the project's conceptual stages.

You can also allow cross-functional collaboration for your best performers, thus broadening the scope of each engineer's work. This approach permits engineers to do what they enjoy and what they feel most competent at.


Final Thoughts

Turnover in companies can be one of the biggest setbacks to productivity. Not only is it expensive to hire and train new engineers, it is also extremely time consuming.

An article on The Balance Careers outlines how time and money are only two of many factors affected by high turnover, also including:

  • Chances of opportunity
  • Team morale
  • Corporate reputation management 
  • Customer relationships

By following these tips, you can help retain high performers and save your business the cost and hassle of managing a revolving door of your best workers.

With a seasoned and satisfied workforce of loyal and highly trained engineers, your company can improve its bottom line and achieve its mission without distractions.