Employee Engagement

How to Engage and Retain Tenured Employees

March 8, 2024
March 8, 2024
Catherine Tansey
Lattice Team

Long-term employees are essential to high-performing organizations. With their proven performance and accumulated institutional knowledge, they possess not only technical expertise but also a deep understanding of workflows, workplace dynamics, and the company's history. 

Simply put, long-term employees are very often some of an organization’s top talent. So why do they generally report lower levels of engagement?

Below, we look at the mission-critical nature of tenured employees, explore reasons for disengagement, and offer practice solutions for re-engaging long-standing employees. 

Why Retaining Tenured Employees Matters

Tenured employees are crucial in shaping company culture and maintaining employee morale, signaling stability and reliability to the workforce. When they leave, companies not only have to find replacements but also lose their valuable experience and institutional knowledge. 

“When it comes to institutional knowledge, there's no book you can read to help you there. You can only learn it over time,” said Matt Raskin, a People Strategy Group strategist with Lattice. 

Retaining long-term employees is a top priority but involves more than just ensuring a positive work environment, offering competitive pay, and providing a healthy work-life balance — though these are all crucial. 

The Challenges of Engaging and Retaining Experienced Staff

There’s no such thing as a workplace panacea, but having a high rate of employee engagement comes close. Linked to higher profitability, better employee wellbeing, and lower turnover, among many other benefits, employee engagement is essential for a high-performing organization. 

However, despite the immense value long-term employees bring to an organization through their extensive experience, established track record, and adeptness in navigating the workplace, data shows that with time they grow less engaged. 

Anonymized data from the thousands of companies that use Lattice shows that as tenure increases after year one with the company, employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) — a key metric that indicates job satisfaction and loyalty — appears to steadily decrease until year 11, when eNPS creeps upward again. It’s likely the reasons for these patterns are many.

Bar graph showing average employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) by employee tenure. Employees with a tenure of a year or less showed the highest eNPS, while employees with 11 or more years had the second highest.
Employees show the highest average employee Net Promoter Score during their first year, after which scores dip until year 11.

“Year two is where you start to be able to understand the different realities of the business, and maybe the shine has worn off a little bit,” said Raskin. “Maybe people don’t feel heard, engaged with, or connected to. The tie between [those feelings] and tenure is that employees are observing the integrity of an organization over time,” he added. 

For other employees, it may simply be that they’ve been in the same role, responsible for the same tasks for so long that they’re burned out. As the Society for Human Resource Management notes, this “hamster wheel syndrome” is especially likely to impact long-term employees

Change fatigue may be a driver of disengagement, too. Tenured employees have experienced so many shifts that they may be reluctant to embrace further workplace adjustments. Gartner research shows that in 2022 only 38% of employees were “willing to change work behaviors to support organizational changes” compared to 74% in 2016. Tenured employees have likely experienced organizational shifts big and small, be it a reorg, the changes wrought by the pandemic, new managers or team members, or simply onboarding a new business system. Over time, the weight of constant change can add up — especially if it’s not well managed.

Assessing the Engagement Level of Tenured Employees

With tenured employees at greater risk for disengagement, HR teams need not only employee retention efforts but also proven approaches for assessing employee engagement. Employee engagement surveys allow HR to report on engagement by tenure to look for discrepancies. Here’s what to do.

Regularly report on engagement.

Tracking data over time allows for a more holistic narrative of the employee experience. With Lattice, people teams can analyze engagement across different tenures to identify disparities associated with elevated employee turnover rates.

“When you have the demographic information, you can track over time and see how your populations are managing,” Raskin said. “A tool like Lattice provides the capability to intentionally understand how different segments of our organization, like tenured employees, are doing over time,” he noted. 

Run employee engagement and pulse surveys.

If your HR team isn’t already doing so, it’s crucial to conduct running engagement surveys at least twice a year. Additionally, implementing pulse surveys — short, recurring surveys — can help HR gauge employee sentiment in real-time, bridging the intervals between engagement surveys. 

Employee surveys act as a north star for people strategy, providing the raw data to formulate and implement the most relevant and effective employee retention strategies. For example, such surveys might reveal that long-standing employees feel stagnant in their professional development, crave better work-life balance, or struggle with burnout. Armed with this insight, HR can take the next best actions.

“Engagement surveys are an opportunity to figure out what your next conversation gets to be,” said Raskin, noting that it’s essential to act on what you learn. “If the idea is to listen to our employees and then take action on their feedback, they're only going to keep giving us good feedback if they're seeing action,” he added. 

Select the right questions.

The power of the engagement survey lies in using the data to delve deeper into specific demographics and themes. There is no single set of questions to ask that will pinpoint disengagement among long-standing employees. Rather, Raskin said people teams are trying to tease out what matters to the groups of tenured employees that seem to be more disengaged.

While each organization is unique, certain questions may help you better determine the level of engagement among tenured employees. Focus on questions that aid in identifying leading indicators as opposed to lagging indicators. Leading indicators suggest future outcomes while lagging indicators demonstrate current outcomes. For example, employee engagement serves as a leading indicator, while turnover rate is a lagging indicator.

Below are some potential topics to survey around. 

Employee Strengths 

Organizations consistently aim to leverage employees’ natural strengths. Harnessing these natural abilities not only boosts employee confidence and comfort in their role but also allows the company to achieve greater results with less effort. But as an employee’s role evolves over time, their responsibilities may move further away from their natural aptitudes — like a superstar individual contributor who ends up in a leadership position and no longer gets to practice their craft. Employees’ perception of whether they’re playing to their strengths might also provide an indicator of engagement. 

Try asking:

  • How well would you say your role aligns with your strengths?
  • What is one change this company could make to help you maximize your potential? 


How employees feel about senior leadership speaks to their faith in the company. Survey results demonstrating distrust in management, a lack of respect for the C-suite, or a perceived lack of communication from senior leadership may be a leading indicator for high turnover among tenured employees. Ask about trust in senior leaders and how closely employees feel execs are aligned with company values. 

To gauge this, ask:

  • To what extent do you feel that senior leaders model [company’s] expected behaviors and values? 
  • To what extent do you trust the decisions of the senior leadership in this company?

Role Clarity

How well an individual understands their role affects how well they can do their job, which in turn affects engagement. “The questions that I really like for assessing engagement are the ones that help us understand if people know what’s expected of them,” Raskin said. “From there, we can use growth and development conversations to help impact the things they’re responsible for,’” he added. 

Raskin explained that these questions can be particularly helpful for tenured employees because it’s likely they take on work that isn’t part of their job description. He said, “If you’re in a position where your responsibilities have shifted, have we looked to make sure your role actually aligns with what you’re doing? And are we compensating you fairly for that role?”

To inquire about role clarity, ask:

  • Do you feel that your manager communicates clear goals for your team?
  • To what extent would you say that your role meets your expectations?

Career Mobility

Career conversations should be a broad set of ongoing discussions about employee development. Managers and employees should regularly discuss career mobility and aspirations in one-on-ones and performance reviews, but it can also be useful to survey employees around mobility and opportunity, typically a few years into their tenure, Raskin said. “Especially at year two or three if an employee hasn’t had a promotion, I think it’s always good to pulse and ask where employees want to go, because it’s not always up the ladder to management,” he added. 

Ask about career mobility with questions like:

  • Have you had a meaningful conversation at work about your career development in the past six months? 
  • To what extent do you see yourself growing and developing your career in this company?

Employee Wellbeing

Burnout is a common reason people leave their jobs. Surveying around work-life balance, employee benefits packages, flexible schedules, remote work, mental health resources, and ongoing workload gives HR a better idea of how employees are faring at work. People teams can analyze this data by tenure and spot disengagement trends as related to employee wellness.

To get a pulse on employee wellbeing, ask:

  • Do you have time and energy for your life outside of work?
  • To what extent are you able to work in a way that works for you?

For more inspiration, check out Lattice’s article 35 Employee Engagement Survey Questions You Need to Ask.

Don’t forget about one-on-ones.

Organizations shouldn’t overlook the power of manager-employee conversations for assessing engagement.

Obtaining qualitative data from manager-employee conversations has a dual purpose. One, managers gain valuable insight into the nuances of a long-term employee’s experience, and two, employees feel valued and supported by their managers. 

“The majority of engagement is rooted in the manager,” Raskin said. “An engaged manager makes sure the conversation continues to evolve around an employee’s tenure with regard to performance, skill, growth, career trajectory, workplace motivations, and the things they care about,” he added.

This evolution of conversation is key. Employees at the one-year mark have different concerns, desires, and interests than those at the three- or five-year mark, for example. “With the more tenured employee, are you still asking the same questions you asked them a year ago? Or are you going to step deeper to actually really engage and understand what it is that they like about their work, and what don't they like about their work?” Raskin asked.

3 Ways to Recognize and Reward Long-Term Employees

It can be easy to pay less attention to those who demand less attention, and tenured employees are a prime example of this. Yet proven performance and reliability shouldn’t be cause for less praise. Consider creative ways to reward your long-term employees. 

1. Tailored Benefits Like Sabbaticals

Perks available to long-term employees are an incentive to stay and can help them feel recognized for their dedication. Long associated with academia, sabbaticals are becoming an increasingly popular way of rewarding long-term employees

The Sabbatical Project, a research project founded by senior Harvard Business School lecturer DJ DiDonna, found that “Most sabbaticals aren’t by choice. In fact, two-thirds of sabbatical-takers are thrust into their time off by work or personal crises.” When that happens, sabbaticals are still beneficial, but individuals take longer to fully reap the benefits of extended time off, as they first must navigate the adversity of their circumstances. The Sabbatical Project has found that sabbaticals “help conquer burnout,” and suggests that extended leave could be even more effective if taken proactively. 

At some institutions, like PayPal, employees earn a 20-day paid sabbatical after five years of employment. For companies interested in learning more about how other companies approach sabbaticals, check out The Sabbatical Project’s company sabbatical policy database for inspiration and to benchmark your own company’s approach to extended leave.

2. Recognition and Appreciation Programs

New hires are often showered with regular praise. Managers are more likely to give new employees feedback to titrate their performance and reassure them that their efforts are valued. But longer-term employees need this, too. 

“You sometimes see that higher performing individuals or longer-term employees need less attention, but it doesn't mean they deserve less attention,” Raskin said. 

Work with managers to understand if employees prefer public or private praise, and align employee preference with recognition programs for tenured employees. Ideas for public recognition include a year-of-service award program or kudos in the Slack group. Private praise could take the form of a one-on-one lunch with the CEO or a handwritten note alongside their year-end bonus. 

3. Career Development and Advancement Opportunities

There is a strong link between engagement and growth opportunities. Yet managers and HR leaders may become complacent when it comes to the growth and development of long-standing employees, which can have significant consequences.

Researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the NYU Stern School of Business, and Revelio Labs found that “lateral career opportunities are more than twice as important as compensation in predicting employee retention.” The same researchers identified a link between higher rates of lateral talent mobility and employee satisfaction.

The researchers here have honed in on something of note: The modern career path isn’t a monolith. While the de facto route to advancement has historically been a promotion to management, not every employee is eager for that path. Many people prefer to remain individual contributors but still want opportunities for advancement. Raskin said one key to doing this successfully as an organization is to crystalize what’s expected of whom, and to value both routes. 

For example, say your number one expectation of senior individual contributors is skill mentorship. “Say to them, ‘I don't need you to talk to junior employees about their feelings. I don’t need you to talk to them about their growth, but I do want you to help them. Be good at the work you’re exceptional at, and guide them as a skill practitioner,’” Raskin said. 

Supporting Tenured Employee Engagement With Lattice

Keeping long-term employees is essential for any thriving and high-performance workplace. By using tools like engagement surveys, fostering regular manager-employee conversations, and implementing recognition and career development programs, companies can effectively support and retain tenured employees.

To learn more about how Lattice can help your organization engage and retain long-standing employees, schedule a demo to see our people platform in action.