There has been a lot of talk lately about the economy, and signs seem to indicate that we are creeping out of the holds of the terrible recession we have experienced.  Job growth is on the rise (albeit slowly), and as opportunities in the job market expand employers should take note of their relationship with their employees.

Over the past several years, those who are employed tend to stay at their current positions because the job market has been so closed.  But what happens when that job market expands again?

Many companies were left suffering after the recession of 2000 ended, when employee turnover rates became quite high as fresh openings in the job market emerged, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I’m sure many in HR are aware of the risks that may await the business world as they may be scrambling to find new people to fill a sudden onslaught of open positions.

But this does not have to be the case.  In a down economy, employees may “suffer” through a job, even those who are considered to be your high performers, because they feel secure in that job.  It’s certainly better than being unemployed.  However, staying on the job does not mean that they are  “buying in” to the culture and vision of your company.  If they are not on board with this culture, it becomes easier for them to leave once an opportunity emerges.

Thus, it is important, now more than ever, that companies stay in tune with their employee base.  According to our employee engagement research, engagement is not just a measure of satisfaction.  In fact, the two are very different.  An employee can be satisfied with his or her job simply because he or she has a job.  That’s setting the bar a quite low.  Rather, an engaged employee is one that is loyal to the company.  He or she understands the company culture and goes to work everyday to fulfill that culture; which makes it less likely that he or she will leave your company.

There is a difference between those who go to work by choice and those who go to work because he or she feels like they must.  These are two completely different perspectives on what it is to have a job.  Having an engaged workforce is better for production and internal relations.

Below are a few tips on how to understand and increase engagement of employees.

1. Measure it.  Guessing at the level of engagement is not enough, nor are your own thoughts about it even if you believe you are truly in-tune with your employees.  Because employees are not likely to tell you themselves that they are unhappy, it is necessary to provide a platform where he or she can voice an opinion.  IQS offers engagement surveys that provide a level of anonymity that employees can feel comfortable with to provide unbiased and unabridged responses about the atmosphere of the workplace.

2. Understand satisfaction is only a component of engagement – they are not the same measurement.  In our own survey constructs, satisfaction is one question of many.  While satisfaction is indeed a predictor of engagement, it certainly is not the whole picture and understanding engagement at a broader level can help to uncover other potential hazards with employee relations.

3. Communicate with your employees.  Listen to their concerns and communicate with them that you have heard them.  Too often employers do not let their employees know that they are in fact working to fix the concerns that have been uncovered.  They provided you with feedback; you need to reciprocate.

4. Put into place action plans to improve engagement.  Once you have an understanding of these concerns, don’t just sit on the results.  Be sure to provide an appropriate action plan that addresses the concerns and suggestions of your employees.  Research is designed to provide insights, and insights are meant to be acted upon.

In a time when unemployment is high and the future of the market is shaky at best, it is ever more important to maintain an engaged workforce.  The simple fact in all of this is that the economy will not be slow forever – the job market will boom again.  Understanding employee engagement can benefit those companies that make an effort to ensure that once the economy recovers, they will not be “out on the streets” themselves looking for a whole new batch of employees.