Twelve Things That Predict Employee Engagement & Retention


It’s been 20 years since First Break All the Rules sat atop to business bestseller list. Its guidance on employee retention is never more true than in 2020.

In First, Break All the Rules, the best-selling book chronicling two landmark Gallup Organization studies on the workplace, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman developed twelve questions to predict the likelihood of someone staying with or leaving his or her employer.  These twelve predictive questions were the result of over 100 million interview questions studied by Gallup.  In the years following their appearance in First, Break All the Rules, the Gallup organization regularly reports on employee engagement using the twelve predictive questions in its Insights blog. 


Why the Twelve Predictive Questions Will Rule in 2020

Five years ago we were “enjoying” high unemployment and difficulty in finding jobs that the Great Recession brought.  Then the economy started roaring back in 2017 and new jobs were created.  New jobs coupled with the pent-up demand for changing jobs resulted in three consecutive years of employee turnover pushing 30%.  Many talented people have changed jobs at least once in the past 42 months. This trend will continue in 2020 and 2021 assuming a continuation of a strong economy and the wave of Baby Boomers retiring.

A study that appeared in Harvard Business Review indicated that depending on the position, the organizational costs of employee turnover are estimated to range between 100% and 300% of the replaced employee’s salary.  Clearly, employers are racing to find ways to retain their talented people.

What the Twelve Predictive Questions Predict

Let’s take a closer look at each question and why it is an excellent predictor of both employee engagement and retention.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? People who have crystal clarity in what is expected of them don’t need to waste time and energy doing things that aren’t part of their expectations. Clear expectations raise the likelihood of success, which results in improves opportunities for recognition, advancement, and compensation increases.

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right? Having the right equipment and materials to do a great job again increases the likelihood of success, plus it means getting the job done sooner and more efficiently, with work quality in which one can take pride.

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day? Each person is uniquely gifted with knowledge, skills, and talents. When someone’s work is a match for their knowledge, skills, and talents, strong results follow.

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work? Without recognition, most people are left to guess whether or not they are doing well. With regular recognition, most people are encouraged to continue performing at high standards.

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person? We spend most of our adult waking hours working, so working with caring people gives us a sense of community and family. This is essential if we are to take on the challenges of work in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing workplace.

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? People want to work in a nurturing environment that encourages their development, rather than retards or prohibits it.

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count? Supervisors who take the time to get the opinions and views of their direct reports often discover things they didn’t know, which improves their decision making. When employees are sought out for their opinions, they feel valued.

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? People want to do meaningful work and make a difference. When they see how what they do makes a difference for their employer and for customers, their self-worth is raised.

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? Nobody wants to work on a losing team. In fact, strong performers resent that weak performers hold back the team. If this is not addressed, strong performers move on while the weak ones stay.

10. Do I have a best friend at work? Since people spend so much of their adult like at work, having a friend on the job makes people look forward to coming in and spending time at work with their friend.

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress? People want to feel as if they are making progress in the eyes of their supervisor. Effective supervisors recognize this and don’t wait to be asked to spend time with an employee to discuss his or her progress.

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow? Study after study shows that one of the primary drivers of turnover is that an employee wants to learn, and if he or she is not getting that at their current employer, they will seek continued learning opportunities elsewhere.

Using the Twelve Predictive Questions

  • Instructions and scoring. Use the twelve predictive questions as an assessment to evaluate workplace satisfaction once someone has completed their first six months on the job. A good discipline is to self-assess with this list annually, perhaps in preparation for annual performance evaluations.  To score each question, circle the question numbers with which there is strong agreement about the individual’s work situation. 
  • Interpreting the scores. Count up the circled numbers.  Nine or more circled numbers indicates a very healthy workplace in which there is a great deal of fulfillment, so engagement and retention are high.  Six or fewer circled numbers indicates some serious reservations about the workplace, which if unresolved will lead to lower employee engagement and retention. Scores of seven or eight indicate a degree of engagement with some preventable turnover. 
  • Using the information yourself. The first question that should be asked about each uncircled question is what would need to happen to make it a strongly agree.   In other words, is there action you could take to make it a strongly agree?  How about changing your attitude about things?  Often times a little effort and initiative will go a long way towards correcting a perceived deficiency. 
  • Helping your organization improve. You also may want to discuss this list with your supervisor or HR to see if changes could be made in order to improve the situation for you.  Solicit his or her advice about what could be done.  Both of you have too much time invested in your career to not exhaust all efforts to improve how you feel about your workplace.

Bottom Line

Twelve questions that predict whether or not someone will stay on the job or leave it. For yourself, it’s a great way to answer questions about where you need to head. For the people you manage, it’s a wakeup call for you to create the right environment that that attracts, engages, develops and retains talented people – all things that raises your own career trajectory!

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