You've been hearing a lot about the importance of employee engagement, right? In the business world, this is hyped as the key to better productivity, employee motivation, lower turnover rates and a panacea for all workplace ills. Okay, maybe not the last one -- but it's hard to overstate the interest in getting businesses to better engage their employees, and with good reason. There's valid research supporting the benefits of employee engagement and demonstrating the detriments of disengaged workers. But even with this massive focus, companies continue to struggle to master this task.
Surveys and studies show that more than half of the U.S. workforce are not engaged at their jobs, and most workers are either actively looking for a new job or wouldn't be adverse to a new opportunity. One big reason is our natural resistance to change. Businesses need to evolve in ways that are more responsive to worker needs and preferences. The bad news is that there is no magic employee engagement program that works for all companies and employees. The good news is that you can still be successful and engage your employees if you're receptive to change and you're willing to listen to your employees, your managers and the advice of those who've enjoyed success in this area to drive those required changes.
Before you start, be sure you understand what engagement means in your company. Don't confuse it with job satisfaction or worker happiness. Those are important parts of the engagement process, but they aren't sufficient on their own. You're not trying to make your company the happiest place to be, more like a rewarding and fulfilling environment for good work and a positive attitude. Engagement inspires your employees to be involved in the work process. The result is efficiency and productivity. Employee happiness is a fortunate byproduct.
Here is what employee engagement should look like:
- Company pride
- No active or passive desire to look for a new job
- Co-workers helping each other
- Motivated workers
- Employees taking on extra tasks or projects
- Workers willingly acting as brand ambassadors for your business
- Inclination to learn and advance within the company
- Workers' desire to improve, including receptiveness to feedback and constructive criticism
- Teams are connected to and supportive of your company's established mission and goals
That's a lot to ask of your employees. How are you going to make it worth their while? That's the true goal of engagement in the workspace. Identify what drives engagement in your people and deliver on it to the best of your ability, with consideration for the company's mission, culture and business focus. It's a tall order but one that delivers excellent dividends.
- Involve your employees in the process to identify the areas that need change the most.
- Start with small milestone goals.
- Follow a proven process when you make your changes.
Scaling Your Efforts
Driving up employee engagement won't happen overnight, even if you launch a full-scale program to support your efforts. Two very important components of this effort are authenticity and trust. You need to establish those through action and follow-through, and that takes time. You must remember, this is not a gimmick or a scheme to dupe your employees into liking their job and performing accordingly. Here's more of that "embrace change" philosophy. You're seeking long-term, preferably permanent, effects. That requires changing habits and behavior -- on both sides. Become the type of company that people want to work for and stay with.
So, do the work. Start by determining where your workforce is with employee engagement and then move forward with actions to address issues. Here are some actionable steps:
- Survey your employees to determine the level of employee engagement and identify the areas of highest dissatisfaction.
- Use your survey data to target the most urgent issues blocking engagement.
- Choose one high maintenance issue and one or two less strident issues to focus on over a 3-month period.
- Involve your management team to set objectives for this first quarter's focus and goals, and ensure that they understand their accountability in these efforts.
- Resurvey your workforce at the end of the quarter to measure changes in engagement levels.
- Use engagement survey data to tweak your engagement program efforts, as required.
- Add one or two new goals to your program.
- Include demographic questions in your surveys to help gauge what your employees would be most responsive to in terms of incentives and rewards.
- Set up cyclable engagement surveys to monitor efforts, successes and failures.
- Explain to your employees what you've learned and the steps you're taking to address the issues they've raised.
Addressing Employee Burnout
Employee burnout is a leading contributor to employee disengagement. Sadly, this often happens to workers who were previously highly engaged. In fact, it's often their devotion to work and dedication to professional growth that leads to burnout. Helping your most productive employees avoid burnout should be a priority. It should come as no surprise to you that this will involve some flexibility (i.e. change).
Provide flexible working options to your employees to help them manage a desirable work-life balance. This can include telecommuting options, flex-hours, and scheduled time-off. You can also implement changes in company scheduling to support worker productivity without adding additional stress. For example, various studies indicate that the morning hours are the most productive. Efficiency declines after lunch. There are studies on the days of the week, months, and seasons that support higher work output. Obtain this type of data and make the changes you can to accommodate top production at optimum timeframes.
- Always ask your employees for input. You don't have to act on all their suggestions, but someone may have the perfect solution.
As we mentioned earlier, you need to establish trust with your workforce. This is best accomplished through authenticity. Be real. Be honest. Be urgent. Your employees are the backbone of your business -- ensure they are made to feel that way. While compensation is important in any job, it's definitely not the only way to show appreciation for worker contributions. And, in fact, workers signify in many ways that pay rate is not the motivational factor in choosing employment or staying with a company.
This UK study revolving around working parents revealed a higher emphasis on low-stress work than on higher pay. An eye-opening PayScale study showed that at least half the workers surveyed were fine without a requested pay raise, as long as they believed the company's stated reason for denying their raise request, but only 22 percent of workers whose employers used budget as a reason for not raising pay believe the excuse. Score another one for authenticity. It's simpler than you may think. Give them a reason to believe you. Walk your talk.
- Consider community service programs and/or sponsorships to help your workers feel more connected to the community where they live and work and enhance your company's image locally.
- Recognition programs can help with a positive company culture that authenticates your investment in your workforce.
- Share the results of your first quarter engagement results (from Scaling Your Efforts) to help establish trust and honest effort.
Give Your Employees a Voice
This is arguably one of the most important components of a successful employee engagement effort. After all, if you want your personnel to be engaged, who better to involve than the workers? But playing the devil's advocate, here -- workers possess neither the entrepreneurial investment nor the financial liabilities that running a company entails. Even when you show your employees the big picture, their investment in your company's success doesn't match yours. This is only to say that employee input is important, but it must be tempered with the realities of running a for-profit enterprise.
That said, it's imperative that you provide your workers with an environment where they feel safe to voice their opinions and grievances. Establishing trust and respect gives them the confidence to speak up. This gives them a voice and provides you and management with important information. Open and direct communication from top to bottom is key in this directive. Other options -- like peer reviews, collaboration, team projects, and ongoing performance management "check-in" review sessions by management -- support this atmosphere of open communication.
- Hold weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meetings to allow employees to introduce problems and issues they're dealing with on a company-wide basis and to allow for feedback, suggestions, and brainstorming for solutions.
- Employ a variation of Google's reputed "20 percent time" initiative where employees could use up to 20 percent of their work time on industry-related projects that inspired and motivated them. (Industry legend claims this led to the development of Gmail, Google News, and AdSense.)
Using the Top-Down Approach
If the fish rots from the head, the converse must be true. To encourage and promote engagement, your management teams must go first. Demonstrate your commitment to the change your employees need for engagement through management initiatives.
Be prepared to provide management training programs to help your team adopt leadership skills that encourage engagement, loyalty, and productivity by example. It's also imperative that you make your management team a central part of your efforts. Give them clearly defined roles and responsibilities that make employee engagement a daily focus.
Support and encourage professional development. Consider programs like mentorships, paid time off for learning and development, a stipend for professional development education, and tuition reimbursement.
- Create a workplace library with books and DVDs on leadership, professional development, learning opportunities and other related subject. Ask for submission suggestions from employees and managers.
- Offer intelligence training workshops.
Setting Specific and Understandable Goals
Goal-setting is an important part of business growth. You'll be more successful if you can help your workers become more invested in meeting those goals. Explain why the goals are important -- this highlights how employee contributions impact the company. It's also another way to help establish trust and authenticity. Use measurable data, analytics, and performance metrics to help establish and support your business goals. Once you've identified them, clearly communicate your company goals to your workforce for better outcomes. Set up a system where they can check in to track milestones and monitor progress. This gives your staff clearly defined parameters which helps them stay invested in the process and motivates them to perform better along the way.
- If you're using a version of 20 percent time, incorporate this initiative into your annual goals to help HR and management measure progress and track outcomes.
Applying Engagement Practices That Start at Recruitment and Hiring
In much the same way that engagement flows from the top down, it must also be a part of your company dynamic from recruitment and hiring through termination. Choose candidates that show the best retention potential. Look at their attitude, not just experience and job skills. Once you've hired, use the onboarding experience to highlight company culture, professional development opportunities, and the benefits of working with your company.
Invest in your training programs and protocols to help your new hires perform at their best. This approach also supports your choice to hire less experienced talent if their enthusiasm and aptitude warrants it. This will help you build a team of loyal staff that appreciates your investment in their potential.
- Institute an employee referral program to tap the resources of engaged worker, who are the ones most likely to use this program.
- Start engagement efforts from Day 1. Set an attainable reward-based training or onboarding goal.
- Institute a daily focus on employee engagement at every level of your company and every stage of the employment process.
Recognition and Responsiveness
Everyone deserves kudos for their achievements. The desire for public recognition isn't universal, but there are numerous ways to reward employees for their efforts and successes. And it's not just the right and moral thing to do, it's smart business. A Randstad study found that more than a quarter of U.S. workers -- 27 percent -- left their jobs because they didn't receive the recognition they had rightfully earned. In a UK survey, workers expressed their desire for personalized performance-driven recognition and rewards delivered in a timely manner. An IBM study also reveals the importance of recognizing employee achievements, demonstrating the potential impact of an employee recognition program.
Conclusion? Recognition for achievements and responsiveness by employers are important in employee satisfaction, which supports worker engagement. If you don't have an employee recognition program yet, start one now to distinguish excellent work and reward it. Be sure that you establish incentives, perks, and rewards that fulfill actual needs in your workforce. Determine what rewards will inspire and motivate your workforce to perform at peak levels and help instill loyalty to your company. Use demographics from your employee engagement surveys, manager input, and employee feedback to determine what works best.
Don't stop with rewards and incentives. Embrace this tenet companywide. Be supportive and encourage your management team to embrace this philosophy. Offer help when and where it's needed -- whether it's to complete a simple job task or to help an employee achieve their professional development goals. Make this an authentic part of your company culture.
- Hold Black Tie events to recognize top-performing employees.
- Use a "company blackboard/corkboard" to note small but significant achievements, accomplishments, and acts-of-kindness by team members.
- Use the service of an established and reputable Employee Recognition and Incentives services provider to help you develop, launch, and mange an effective program to support employee engagement.