03/18/2015 03:01 pm ET Updated May 17, 2015

The Secret Weapon to Retain Your Top Performers

It won't be news to many Huffington Post readers that the majority of workers don't love their jobs. The most recent Gallup State of the American Workplace survey reports that 70 percent of employees are not actively engaged at work. Employee engagement can be misunderstood. It's not just about whether employees are more happy and satisfied, although those things are more true of engaged workers. That same Gallup study notes that work units in the top 25 percent of employee engagement "have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25 percent." Engagement is a driver of bottom line results.

There are a lot of factors that impact employee engagement, including compensation, benefits, your manager, job content, training, and others that require financial investment to execute. One inexpensive driver of engagement, though, is often overlooked according to research we recently conducted at the Workforce Institute at Kronos. We found that the more appreciated they feel at work, the less likely employees are to seek a new job elsewhere (a symptom of disengagement). Of the employees who thought about searching for a new job in the past year, 59 percent either do not feel appreciated or feel somewhat appreciated at their place of work compared with 11 percent who feel very appreciated.

The most interesting results of this survey are those concerning what it takes to make employees feel appreciated. It's not just about compensation. When asked what gives them a high sense of satisfaction at work, 55 percent of employees said receiving a "thank you" from their direct manager is important to them. For employees who feel somewhat or not at all appreciated, not being recognized for the work they do was the top reason cited by nearly half (48 percent) as something that makes them not feel appreciated at work.

Another interesting outcome of this research is the importance of feedback from coworkers. 50 percent of employed adults said positive feedback on their performance from their direct manager provides satisfaction, while 49 percent cited positive feedback from their co-workers as important to their feelings of being appreciated at work. Many of us are working more than ever, with the result that we're spending less time with our friends or involved in civic activities in our communities. A 2006 study of social isolation at Duke University revealed that the average number of close confidants we have is shrinking in recent decades. Although social media may be expanding our contacts, it's not a replacement for relationships with people we trust and in whom we can confide. Those work relationships with our managers and coworkers have a correspondingly higher impact on our overall feelings of satisfaction.

Of course, "thank you's" alone aren't going to help you retain your top performers, but encouraging a culture of gratitude in your workplace is a low cost way to help your employees feel more connected to each other and to your organization. As the boomers retire, and you're fighting for those smaller numbers of Gen Y/Z employees to replace them, gratitude might just be your secret weapon.