Engaging your workforce is not only integral in making the 50 Best Employers list, it is crucial during periods of intense competition for talent. Organizations that can retain top talent have a competitive advantage in uncertain economic times, according to a study.

Hewitt Associates’ 10th annual Best Employers in Canada study of more than 115,000 Canadian employees and approximately 1,200 executives and HR professionals found that organizations with high levels of employee engagement enjoy benefits such as a greater ability to attract and retain key talent.

Neil Crawford, leader of the study, notes that the average employee engagement score among this year’s top 50 is 22% higher than the average for other participants in the study. “While an engaged workforce alone doesn’t make an organization recession-proof, it can provide a level of resilience that other employers do not enjoy,” he says. “These employees are highly productive and motivated. They are more likely do what is necessary to help their employer succeed.”

According to Ted Emond, a senior consultant with Hewitt in Toronto, the average level of engagement among the 50 Best has dropped approximately three percentage points over the past five years to 76%—the lowest in the survey’s history. He attributes this to the competitive talent market in Alberta, which has the lowest engagement rates in the country and has applied downward pressure to the national average.

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Emond explains that engagement is a high-level measure of three criteria in an employee/employer relationship: the employee’s view of the employer, an intense desire to practice his or her trade with the current employer and a work environment that stimulates people to go above and beyond.

“In Alberta, the second behaviour has been eroded due to the intense competition for talent,” he says. “Unless you have a highly engaged workforce, there will be people who are susceptible to shifting their employment.”

Emond adds that Alberta firms with high levels of engagement have not been negatively affected by the competitive labour market.

Cory Garlough, vice-president of global employment strategy with Scotiabank, says there’s no magic bullet when it comes to engagement. Now in its fifth year on the 50 Best Employers list, he explains that Scotiabank employs a long-term engagement campaign to reach its employees.

“I don’t think an organization could have one or two practices that would be sustainable,” he says. “It’s about talking the talk and walking the walk, and recognizing employee performance consistently.”

Emond says it’s important to remember that the 50 Best Employers list is not a beauty contest and that for these employers, it’s not simply a case of buying employee loyalty through better compensation, benefits and perks.

“They earn the engagement of their employees by having leaders that they have confidence in,” he says. “They have individual managers who demonstrate an interest in the individual, set goals, give feedback and rate performance. They also have clear strategies on how they want to work and be successful, and they hire people who want to do it their way.”

Emond explains that in tough economic times, it’s even more important to have an engaged workforce—a point echoed by Garlough.

“We take engagement very seriously, as it’s one of our key metrics,” says Garlough. “There is a direct correlation between higher engagement and increased retention, customer loyalty and business results.”

To view the 50 Best Employers List , click here

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