Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years, it’s really not hard to see why employee engagementemployees have become so disengaged. Frankly, there’s no sense of security anymore. Jobs seem to vaporize overnight – thanks to new technologies and machines, as well as lower-cost labor located thousands of miles away. Companies haven’t been investing in their employees either, claiming cost-cutting initiatives as the reason to eliminate training opportunities.

With this type of workplace environment, disengagement is born. For businesses of all sizes, industries, and regions, this can be a deadly sentiment especially when the right combination of skills disappear even faster as they are lured away by better offers or have the opportunity to work independently. And normally, these skills are difficult – if not impossible – to replace. Companies must often spend large sums to replace those people, if they can replace them at all. In fact, according to Gallup’s 2013 study, State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders, 18% of all employees are so unhappy about their job and employer that their inactivity sabotages their colleagues’ efforts and cost businesses up to $550 billion each year.

But it’s not too late to turn this around. There are companies that are actually reinventing their workforce strategies to give employees a reason to become involved, enthusiastic, and committed to their work and employer’s mission and vision. When these strategies are successful, these companies usually outperform their competitors in terms of profitability, productivity, and customer ratings.

Here are 6 strategic steps for making employee engagement the imperative in HR efforts and best practices:

  1. Treat the entire workforce like an investment portfolio. Every company claims that its employees are its most valuable asset. But this statement cannot be entirely true until business leaders view payroll as an investment and not as a liability cost. When regarded as an investment in the future of the business, employees feel a sense of purpose and value. This requires HR to step up its emphasis on meeting shifting needs over time and investments in learning and development. By paying attention to building organizational capabilities, businesses have a better chance of delivering the results they expect now and in the future.
  1. View skill development as a loyalty tool. In a Deloitte survey, 72% of employees stay with their current employer because their jobs made good use of their talents and abilities. Although employers would benefit from giving employees training opportunities to build their skill sets, it’s unreasonable to believe that every employee can be training for every role, especially in an environment where younger employees no longer expect to stay with one company forever. The key is to strike a balance between training and development opportunities that align with employees’ interests, talents, and career goals with business needs.
  1. Stay in touch with former employees. When employees leave voluntarily, they’re not just pursuing better salaries. They’re after new challenges and growth opportunities that their current employer can’t deliver. As former employees gain valuable skills elsewhere, companies stand can benefit by recruiting them back when the time and the situation are right. Former workers with fresh skills can become productive more quickly because they’re already familiar with company operations and culture.
  1. Look beyond your current permanent workforce. For many businesses, the procurement line of business handles the hiring and management of contingent workers, as known as a team of non-permanent employees such as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors, or consultants. But if HR steps in and accepts responsibility for contingent workforce planning, companies can find better ways to treat contingent workers like their regular staff. And if the contingent worker performs well and there’s demand for their skills, the company can approach them with an opportunity for a permanent position.
  1. View HR as a strategic line of business. The HR function should serve as a guide for connecting their business goals with employee hiring and development objectives. However, there are still a few managers out there that subscribe to traditional thinking about the desire to discourage employees from diversifying their skills and experience. To strengthen the argument for employee skill development, HR professionals need to invest and know how to use data, understand business operations, and become well-versed in market and economic trends.
  1. Focus on early development. I think everyone can agree that development training, help, and mentoring is always appreciated early on in anyone’s career. At that point our work life, there’s an eagerness to grow and expand skill sets and prove that we are capable of fulfilling job demands – and do it well. And with this rise of the Millennial generation in today’s workforce, giving them what the want is what’s best for the overall business. In PricewaterhouseCooper’s study, Millennials at Work, corporate performance following the 2001 economic downturn found that firms that aggressively invested in employee development outperformed the S&P 500 Index.

When HR takes a strategic approach to creating workplace policies, best practices, programs, and tools, businesses and employees both win. Businesses have the flexible workforce with up-to-date skills that they want. And workers have the meaningful work and development opportunities they want.

Want to learn more about the evolving trends in the world of work and how to create an engaged workforce that performs and delivers results? Take a look at the Future of the Employee.