Here’s some interesting news.

According to the Department of Labor, unemployment fell for a fourth month in a row. The current rate of 8.5% represents its lowest point at any time in the past three years.

Leading indicators also show that the economy continues to grow. Granted, it isn’t creating jobs as quickly as we would like. But economists expect that to improve during the second half of 2012. Also, employers are laying off fewer workers than they have in the past few years – another sign that bodes well for employees.

But here’s a fact that really caught my eye: the number of Americans quitting their jobs has begun to increase for the first time since well before the recession.

Generally speaking, people don’t voluntarily leave their jobs unless they already have another one lined up. Or, they have confidence that they can find a new job in a reasonable period of time. Combine an improving economy with this leading indicator and the employment pendulum appears to be swinging back to the employee side.

What does this mean to business leaders?
At the present moment, the majority of American workers are not happy campers! They’ve been let go, laid off, and cast aside. They feel mistreated, over-worked, and underappreciated. And they see banks and some large corporations raking in record profits while wages stagnate or decline.

Those who do have jobs have been stretched painfully thin to make up for understaffed organizations. They’re constantly being asked to do more with less. And they’ve all been running too fast for too long to feel much (if any) loyalty to the companies they work for.

Today’s workers appreciate having a job, but they don’t necessarily appreciate their employers. And with more employment options becoming available, don’t be surprised if your employees start migrating to other employers who will show them a bit more TLC.

One thing I have learned as a leader and manager is that inspired and employees rarely leave their jobs. If you want to avoid a mass exodus (or even the loss of a few key players) as more jobs become available, make inspiring and engaging your employees a top priority.

To inspire people:

Get clear on winning.
I realize I’m beginning to sound like a broken record on this one. But if there’s one record that deserves to be broken, this is it. No matter what your business or industry, people want to work for a winner! In order to win, they have to know what winning looks like for your organization. So get clear on winning, and then get going on communicating your vision of winning. And not just how you will win, but why.

Share your passion.
People understand why winning is important to the organization. They also want to know what it means to you. Talk frequently about why you feel so passionate about where the organization is going and how it will benefit customers, employees, and other key stakeholders when you get there.

Connect the dots.
Even when employees understand your vision of winning, they often have a hard time seeing their roles in it. Let people know -- specifically -- how their jobs contribute to winning and why it’s so important for them to perform at a high level. Also let them know how they will win on a personal level when the organization wins as a whole.

To engage your employees:

Give frequent feedback.

When employees don’t know where they stand performance-wise, they think you don’t care about it. When they think you don’t care, their interest in winning wanes. That’s when they start looking for people and/or companies that do care.

Listen up!
Actively solicit ideas and opinions from your employees and then pay close attention. Nothing makes people feel more engaged than having leaders and managers who take the time to hear what they have to say.

Pat their backs.
I have yet to run across a quicker, easier, and more effective way to engage employees than simple recognition for a job well done. A “thank you” here. A “nice job” there. The occasional small reward, such as a handwritten thank you, Starbucks card, dinner coupon, or gift certificate can go a long way. The return you receive from these small but sincere gestures will far exceed the investment of time and/or money.

Recognition, both public and private, feeds that very deep human need to be acknowledged and appreciated for our contributions. Feed it often and individuals in your organization will be far less inclined to seek out greener pastures.

Don’t wait until you have a turnover problem. Get ahead of the curve and begin re-recruiting your best team members through some of the simple behaviors and sincere appreciation noted above!