Employee engagement has been a hot topic for well over a decade. More and more organizations are acknowledging and attempting to “do” engagement, yet few have figured out how to move the needle in ways that matter.
Some valid questions and concerns surrounding employee engagement include:
- What does employee engagement really mean?
- Are engagement measurements and benchmarks credible?
- Will an engaged workplace help us attract and retain top talent?
- Does engagement even affect our organization’s bottom line?
Well, the principles behind engagement will never fade. Employees who don’t feel heard, supported, valued, empowered, and connected won’t work as hard or stick around as long as employees who do.
New era of engagement
“Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their places of work”.
Engagement is NOT:
Employees who are connected to their organization work harder, stay longer, and impact employee and business outcomes including:
- Increased productivity
- Increased profitability and revenue
- Better customer service
- Lower employee turnover
- Better recruitment and talent acquisition
- Greater brand presence and reputation
- Increased market share and stock price
- Increased workplace safety
With highly engaged employees, we find that this is what will happen:
- Say: How likely employees are to speak highly of their employer
- Stay: How long employees plan to stay at the organization
- Strive: How likely employees are to go the extra mile for their organization.
Despite years of research, leadership training, and organizational workshops, employee engagement has all but flat-lined. But why? Organizations are missing a key ingredient to employee success: managers.
The impact of managers on employee engagement
Managers have the most intimate and consistent relationship with individuals across organizations. As a result, they have a huge ability to impact employee engagement.
Managers are responsible for:
- Creating the team culture
- Conducting development conversations and activities
- Advocating for their team to higher leadership
- Making sure employees are secure with the appropriate pay and benefits
Managers can make employees love their jobs or dread coming to work. We’ve heard it before: people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers. Engagement can only be improved in the context of a local, manager-driven workplace.
So how do you make a difference?
Here are three phases managers and organizations can take to improve employee engagement.
1. Listen to your employees.
Organizations and managers need to take the time to actively listen and gather feedback from their employees. Ask them what they want to achieve, what obstacles are in their way, and what you can do to help. Utilize pulse surveys, one-on-one meetings, and feedback tools to help scale your initiatives and reach every individual on a personal level.
2. Focus on specifics.
Humans are complex creatures with feelings, facts, and experiences. You’ve got a lot of data on your hands so focus on what matters most to your organization that is important.
3. Transform your approach.
Through intimate employee relationships, managers are responsible for deciding what work needs to be done with the help and support of leadership, HR and the organization as a whole. Every person in your organization impacts employee engagement — in the quality of relationships they build, their approach to teamwork, and the general attitudes they bring to the workplace.
Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are very expensive. One study estimates that actively disengaged employees cost U.S. companies between $450-550 billion every year.
Organizational leaders are employee engagement advocates — they are the influential campaigners and top promoters of an engaged culture. Leadership not only needs to buy in and support employee engagement — they also need to set an example from the top down.
HR should take ownership of employee engagement initiatives and hold managers and employees accountable. This team is behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly, including selecting the right employee engagement partner, implementing tools and processes, and managing day-to-day needs and happenings related to engagement efforts.
- Managers interact with employees more than anyone else. It’s up to them to build good relationships with each employee, recognize solid performance, provide critical feedback, and to help employees develop and grow. They also serve as sounding boards and microphones for employee concerns and suggestions.
- One of the easiest ways to boost communication, collaboration, and engagement is with regular individualized one-on-one meetings between managers and employees. If you have a rock-star manager who already does this, connect that manager with other managers who might be struggling.
Employees are your voices on the front lines and your main line of sight into the employee experience. Rely on employees to provide the honest, candid, and actionable insight your organization needs to improve. Then challenge them to participate in employee focus groups to brainstorm new and creative solutions to address their primary concerns.
Get creative with your segmentation
Your organization isn’t the same from location to location, department to department, or team to team. Different types of employees experience your workplace differently. This is due to a variety of factors, such as who their manager is, what kind of work they’re doing, and who they interact with the most. Engagement isn’t one-size-fits-all. To really increase engagement, you need to understand your people, their workplace experiences, and what drives them to work for you.
Take advantage of strengths
1. Which areas of your organization are the most engaged?
2. Where are they seeing the most success?
3. What are your engaged groups doing differently?
4. Can these strategies be applied to your less engaged groups?
Communicate Survey Results and Get to Work
After you’ve analysed your survey data, it’s time to get to the real work. Your managers will be anxious to know what the results say about their teams, and all employees will be eager to see the story the data tells.
We encourage you to take it to the next level by empowering your managers to review and analyse results within their teams. As part of this process, managers should discuss results with their individual teams.
Think About Your Employee Recognition Program
Employees want to be recognized when they contribute to the organization’s success — this is always a key engagement driver in our national employee engagement trends research. Recognition programs should be tied to company values.
Make a big deal about new perks made available to employees. When organizations invest in break room renovations, paid lunches, gym memberships, and other unique perks, it helps employees feel valued and cared for.
Reaffirm areas of strength
Start with celebrating what’s going well — and don’t be afraid to brag about it a little! It’s tempting to focus on areas that need improvement, but elevating strengths can make a big impact on engagement and can also attract new and awesome talent.
Here are some examples:
Learning and development opportunities
When an employee is empowered to take actions that better utilize their strengths and fulfils their passions, you can almost guarantee increased engagement. Look for teams or departments that are offering unique learning and development opportunities, job shadowing, job crafting, career pathing, and other opportunities.
Task forces and tiger teams
When employees are given the opportunity to join initiatives outside of their day-to-day responsibilities (like your engagement task force!), it creates a more well-rounded and engaging experience for them. Highlight these teams and the work they are accomplishing and encourage employees to share their experiences.