Improving employee engagement within an organization can be frustrating at times … and it’s heartbreaking to watch employees suffer disengagement.
The importance of strategy in this scenario simply cannot be overstated, as improvements don’t come easily without having a solid plan in place.
So, what’s your employee engagement strategy?
The fact is … there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all employee engagement strategy. All businesses are unique to themselves, and one strategy may be effective for some while impractical for others.
In this post, we’ll look at:
- Why companies are investing in employee engagement strategies in the first place.
- The benefits of a solid employee engagement strategy for your business.
- How to get started with your employee engagement strategy today.
- And many different ways to develop and improve your employee engagement strategy.
Here we go …
Why are companies investing in employee engagement strategies?
It should come as no surprise that having an engaged, productive workforce is the preferred way to run and maintain a business.
Putting together a solid employee engagement strategy is something that many organizations struggle with on a daily basis, especially in today’s fast-paced business landscape. It’s an issue that can often start without warning and slowly build to the point where fixing it is difficult. Making sure employees are engaged from the very beginning is the best way to avoid potential pitfalls.
One of the main reasons why companies don’t focus on employee engagement programs is that they simply haven’t checked out the benefits of implementing them.
If you truly want your business to succeed, you need to ensure that your employees are as focused and engaged as possible. Take the time, and you’re bound to see the following (and more) benefits … all of which can push your company in a forward direction.
1. Increased productivity.
Since the dawn of business, there has been a large focus on productivity. A productive staff gets the most amount of work done in the shortest period of time, all while making sure not to sacrifice quality in the process. Employees that lack engagement often find it difficult to reach these goals, especially when they’re unaware of their actual responsibilities at work.
Improving your employee engagement strategy is one of the best ways to ensure that your workforce is being as productive as possible. A staff member absolutely needs to be fully engaged in his or her role to get the most out of their time and effort. This is why employee engagement and productivity are not mutually exclusive. When you have employees who are focused and ready to get things done, productivity can only be expected to follow.
2. More effective collaboration.
Collaboration is one of the most important aspects of any successful business. Regardless whether or not one thinks they can complete a job on their own without issue, the end results are often more effective with employee collaboration. In an age where many people work from home or are partitioned into cubicles, fostering strong principles of collaboration is easier said than done.
One of the best ways to improve collaboration is to help your employees become more engaged in their roles. An engaged employee is well-versed in his or her job, and when two or more of these individuals get together to bounce ideas off each other, magic happens. When employee engagement is lacking, the results associated with true collaboration can be very difficult to achieve.
3. Better employee input.
No matter how well-run a business may be, there’s always some room for improvement. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that many managers and higher-ups don’t listen to their employees, let alone ask them for their input. This must change, and it starts with having a staff of engaged employees working under you. Employee engagement can have a direct effect on your employees’ confidence when bringing things to your attention and providing input that might serve the business in a positive manner. Allow it to dwindle, and this wealth of good ideas may never come to light.
4. Better employee retention.
A major issue that frustrates employers is onboarding new employees, only to have them leave after a short period of time. The onboarding process is not only stressful and time-consuming, but it can be costly as well. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to tell at face value whether or not an employee is likely to stick around for the long haul, or leave before things even get rolling.
As employee retention levels can be difficult to predict, it’s important to make sure new employees are engaged from day-one. A lack of employee engagement is often a precipitator for someone to choose to work elsewhere, as they may not feel fulfilled in their current position. If you have employees that are fully engaged in their work, the chances of them leaving are far slimmer.
5. Improved employee empowerment.
Many people mistaken the words “empowerment” and “engagement” to mean the same thing. While they are heavily related, empowerment and engagement often mean two different things. An employee that is engaged is one who has a much higher chance of becoming empowered over time.
Employee empowerment comes with many benefits … but the major one is that empowered employees are likely to make meaningful contributions to an organization. These are individuals that are looking to climb up the rungs of your organization and become more and more involved, and there’s no reason to avoid embracing this. The more engaged your employees are, the more empowered they’ll be.
6. Less chance of burnout.
One of the most unfortunate scenarios in business is when employees start-off strong, yet end up burning-out. It can take weeks, months, or even years for this to happen, but when it does, it’s obvious. More often than not, burnout occurs as a result of a lack of employee engagement.
When you have engaged employees that show a great deal of interest in their work, the chances of them burning-out are low. As burnout can occur early on, it’s best to focus on helping employees become engaged in their work as early as possible. With burnout comes a lack of employee retention, and no business owner wants to deal with continuous onboarding.
7. Improved communication.
Communication is the cornerstone of modern-day business and should never be overlooked. A lack of workplace communication can cause all kinds of problems, yet many people allow communication breakdown to occur … and don’t take the time to fix things before they truly get bad. As you might expect, the problem often comes down to a poor employee engagement strategy.
Engaged employees are more likely to communicate properly with others in your company. With this, you can expect better productivity, better ideas, less internal conflict, and a host of other benefits … none of which are possible to achieve if your employees aren’t completely engaged in their work.
8. Enhanced company culture.
Every organization has its own culture. Take a look at Google, for example, which has created a culture that has spread throughout the web and become household in many ways. Company culture is very difficult to advance when your staff isn’t engaged.
An engaged staff of employees will help you take your company’s culture to an entirely new level. When people truly care about the organization they work for, they start to become as important as the culture itself — in fact, they become the culture. This type of forward momentum cannot be achieved by those who lack engagement, which is why so many of today’s businesses lack a true culture of their own.
9. Improved ideas and solutions.
For most businesses, the goal of developing ideas and solutions is held in high regard. This is especially true for organizations that consider themselves to be customer-centric … as half the job can be related to taking customer problems and finding adequate solutions to them. Ideas and solutions are also directly related to product and service ingenuity too, which often sets great businesses apart from those that miss the mark.
If you’re looking for the best possible ideas and solutions to be created within your organization, you need to make sure you have a solid employee engagement strategy. True ingenuity requires a great deal of critical thinking, which can be a challenge for those who aren’t feeling engaged in their work. When someone is plugged-in and focused, the floodgates of ideas opens up, resulting in ideas and solutions that can be used to take any company’s products or services to the next level.
10. Better competitive edge.
The modern business landscape is rife with competition. This is due to globalization and how the Internet has made it easier for people start their own businesses and level the playing field. And it’s no surprise that many of today’s start-ups fail within a year of opening. In many cases, these organizations are staffed by employees that lack engagement.
An engaged staff of employees is a crucial part of any successful business’s toolkit. When your employees are giving their all, they’re doing what’s necessary to separate your organization from the competition. In an age where just about anyone can start a business (and the smart ones can get ahead), this has never been so important.
11. Better customer service.
Customer service is super important for every business. Your customers and clients are your lifeblood, which means there’s nothing more important than ensuring they’re happy with your products and services, especially if they’re running into issues and need assistance. Provide poor customer service, and chances are you’ll be watching your audience fade away.
In most cases, great customer service starts with having a solid employee engagement strategy. When your employees are happy, they will take care of your customers. Your employees not only need to know your products and services like the backs of their hands, but they need to have the engagement and interest it takes to fully handle a customer’s inquiries.
12. Higher sales rates.
For businesses that rely on a sales team to drive profits, the importance of an employee engagement strategy simply cannot be overstated. Making a sale can be hard enough, and it’s all the more difficult when one doesn’t feel completely engaged in their role. The issue can start small and even be hard to pinpoint, but it can balloon to the point of actually causing a huge blow to any organization.
When you have an engaged sales team, you can rest easy knowing they’re doing everything possible to make a sale, nurture leads, and handle every other aspect of their difficult job in an efficient manner. It’s easy to notice on the other end of the phone, too. Engaged employees sound engaged, and a lack of enthusiasm on the part of a sales representative is enough to cause someone to change their mind about a sale, regardless of how interested they initially were.
Stay positive, stay productive: Getting started with your employee engagement strategy.
The connection between happy employees and higher profits is well-documented, with some studies showing that overall happiness can boost employee productivity by 10%.
In fact, in her book “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy,” author Dr. Noelle Nelson cited one study that found “companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity & assets more than triple that experienced by firms that don’t.”
That same study also concluded that companies on Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” saw their stock prices rise an average of 14% each year over a seven-year span — a full 8% increase than the overall market.
That’s a pretty powerful motivator for treating your employees right. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that forcing your employees to work longer hours, in miserable conditions with little to no recognition for their efforts will send them running for the exits. And a talent exodus incurs the time-consuming and costly process of hiring new employees, which can be a major resource drain, for small companies and start-ups in particular.
The challenge in becoming your employees’ happy place.
So, while we know that fostering employee satisfaction, positivity, and overall happiness is vital to business success, it’s not always obvious how exactly to do so. Part of the problem is that it takes different strokes for different folks: what makes one employee feel valued, satisfied, and happy may be altogether different for another.
When you’ve got a small firm of 10 people, catering to their individual needs may not be so difficult. You could simply ask them what type of incentives, motivators, policies, and perks would make them happy, and then deliver. But when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of employees scattered all across the country or the globe, the challenge intensifies, and your employee engagement strategy becomes more difficult to assess and attain.
What’s your work-love language?
Fortunately, while we are all unique individuals, humans do tend to fall into some fairly well-organized categories. For example, in his book “The 5 Love Languages,” author Gary Chapman outlines how each person has a primary love language their significant other must “speak” in order for that person to feel loved.
Some people feel loved when they’re given gifts, while others want quality time. For some, it takes words of affirmation—a simple thank-you—and for others, acts of service speak louder than words. Much like actual linguistics, if you’re speaking the wrong language, the message is never going to get through, no matter how loudly or carefully you enunciate.
Employees are no different. Some want gifts (bonuses, gift certificates, or other material goods). Some want time off to spend with family or doing what they love outside the office. Others thrive on verbal appreciation—recognition among their peers for a job well done. And still others need acts of service to feel appreciated. Some companies achieve this by offering housekeeping, car detailing, or childcare services to employees, so there’s one less thing they have to worry about.
(By the way, for those keeping track, we’ve intentionally left out the “physical touch” love language for obvious reasons.)
It’s not just about the money.
Another issue is that fostering happiness and developing an employee engagement strategy is sometimes perceived as frivolous, a perk that is not imperative for business operations. The fact that it could be viewed as an unnecessary expense—because many companies mistakenly assume that money (in the form of raises, bonuses, or other added compensation) makes everyone happy—it’s often not treated with the priority it deserves.
When budgets get tight or business slows due to market conditions, employee recognition and satisfaction programs are often the first line items curtailed. That’s actually the worst possible thing you could do when times get tough. If your employees are already anxious and concerned about the stability of their jobs due to a dip in business, backing away from what keeps them motivated and engaged will only multiply their misery and deepen your deficit. In fact, it’s during these times that you need to focus on employee satisfaction more than ever, to keep them engaged, invested in the company’s success, and performing at their peak to power through whatever tough situation the company is facing. In this case, try using some non-monetary rewards.
The awesome sauce – 16 ways to develop and improve your employee engagement strategy.
The good news is there are a variety of outstanding, proven ways that can make every day an awesome day at work … and help your team perform at their best for maximum productivity, without breaking the bank. Here are 16 things that should be a part of your employee engagement strategy:
1. Flex time.
The days of punching a time clock are over, and growth-oriented companies know that presence does not equal performance. What matters most is getting the work done and meeting your objectives. If that happens between 8-5, that’s great, but it doesn’t always work that way. Some people work better late at night, or early in the morning, and giving them that flexibility to do so can be a major boon to their happiness and your company’s productivity. In one recent survey, employees ranked “flexible work schedules” as the Number One thing employers can offer to improve work/life balance.
Trust your employees not to get carried away, but give them the flexibility to take the afternoon off to attend a child’s school function or take grandma to the doctor on Tuesday morning, without cutting into their allotted PTO. As long as they’re getting work done and performing at or above expectations, this is a small price to pay for their happiness.
In that same work/life balance survey, nearly 40% of respondents said remote work was a primary desire for improving satisfaction, ranking second behind a flexible schedule. Technology makes this exceptionally easy and inexpensive to accommodate, and let’s face it, many employees are already taking work home in the evenings or while traveling for business. Maybe they need to be home to greet the cable repairman at his scheduled appointment time (sometime between 8-5), or their kids are off from school for summer break or a holiday. Again, this comes down to trust. Give them the flexibility to work from home when needed, or even on a regular schedule (every Friday or Monday). You may be surprised to see how much more they get done when they’re free from workplace distractions, like meetings and chit-chat.
3. Introduce employee engagement activities.
Start-up culture has gotten the reputation for pool tables in the office and free beer Fridays. While they are definitely some fun perks, they aren’t appropriate for every business, or every employee. Providing in-office employee engagement activities that give employees a chance to have fun together—and even do good together—can give your company a boost.
- Start a book club where discussions take place once a week during lunch.
- Start a cooking group that shares recipes at a weekly potluck lunch.
- Organize a volunteer group that participates in service projects once a month (on “company” time)—perhaps a roadside litter cleanup, serving food at a homeless shelter, or reading to children at a local elementary school.
These activities not only give people the time to do things they are interested in, but also demonstrate that your company cares about them and your local community.
When choosing employee engagement ideas to try, it’s important to take your staff’s interests into consideration. Perhaps they’d benefit from closing-up shop an hour or two early on Fridays and holding a private happy hour to celebrate the week’s achievements. A company outing can also be effective, or even a simple in-office brainstorming session once a week. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what kinds of activities you might be able to introduce to improve employee engagement, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
4. Lift relationship bans.
Many companies have had longstanding bans on inter-office romance, fearing that it could lead to nepotism and favoritism. In fact, according to CareerBuilder’s annual office romance survey, some 35 percent of workers have had to keep a relationship secret because their employer did not approve.
There are two things very wrong here:
- the minute your employees start keeping secrets, trust and transparency are gone, and
- your employees already spend a third or more of each week at work, which doesn’t leave much time for a social life.
Prohibiting them from spending personal time with the people they have come to know so well by working together every day just doesn’t make sense. Plus, employees who spend time together outside the office will likely discuss work challenges and possible solutions, maybe even DO work together, boosting overall organizational productivity.
5. Give employees a voice and empower them to make decisions.
Employees need to know that management cares about their concerns and values their input. Operating in a top-down environment kills communication, which is a vital to the success of any organization. Yet, one survey found that 4 out of 10 office workers say communication with company leadership is ineffective. Even worse, 22% said lack of communication causes conflict in the workplace, which 40% said manifests in lost productivity and 32% said causes low morale and high turnover.
Giving your employees a mechanism to voice their concerns, ideas, and suggestions can go a long way toward avoiding conflict, making your staff feel valued and invested in the company’s success. Whether it’s a simple suggestion box, periodic online surveys, or an open forum for discussion like a social intranet software platform, keeping the lines of communication open is critical for their happiness and your business success.
Empowering your employees is important. Your employees are your lifeblood, and if they don’t feel empowered in their positions, they most likely won’t be able to contribute or care.
Of course, giving your employees a voice is moot if you’re not listening. Communication is a two-way street, and in business, it should be a three-way conversation:
- management to employees
- employees to management
- employees to employees
If employees’ input falls on deaf ears and they never see a response or action as a result, they’ll soon stop sharing, and thus begins the downward spiral. A social intranet provides the ideal platform for facilitating this flow of conversation. Employees can post ideas, comments, and questions, and management can respond. Everyone can see the conversation, which–besides creating a more open, transparent environment–is much more efficient. Management can respond once, instead of having to respond to the same question or suggestion from 10 different people.
7. Use performance as a guideline and set goals.
The key to improving your employee engagement strategy is being able to identify when there’s an issue in the first place. However, signifying factors aren’t always as clear as most managers would prefer, which is why it’s important to set a few guidelines to follow when determining whether or not an employee is fully-engaged. In most cases, performance will serve as an excellent barometer.
Whenever employee engagement is lacking, you can typically expect performance to suffer. This being the case, you should always pay attention to employee performance, perhaps singling-out those who are experiencing problems and focusing on fixing the problem.
Employees are motivated to do their best when they are working toward an objective. Whether it’s something simple like completing a project by the deadline or hitting a new sales target, having a goal to attain not only dangles the proverbial carrot, but also helps them know when they’ve been successful.
For some, simply checking items off their to-do list is very gratifying, even if they’re small daily tasks. For others, inspirational or stretch goal setting keeps their juices flowing. In fact, one survey of 5,000 workers by Leadership IQ found that people who set motivational goals are up to 75% more fulfilled than those who set routine goals. Work with your employees to set reasonable, attainable, inspirational, and even audacious goals. Give them the satisfaction of achieving them.
8. Get out of their way and don’t micromanage.
Micromanaging bosses are the biggest culprit when it comes to destroying employee morale. Remember Bill Lumbergh from the movie “Office Space” and his incessant, over-the-cubicle supervision and passive-aggressive overtime “requests?”
What’s happening? Yeah if you could just go ahead and not be a Bill Lumbergh, that would be terrific. Mmmkay?
You’ve hired these outstanding individuals to do a job because they have the skills and talent. So let them do it. Don’t watch over their shoulder, double-check their every move, or hold them under your thumb. Give them some breathing room to put their talent and creativity to work. They’ll be happier, and you’ll have more time to get your own work done, too … instead of wasting it scrutinizing your team’s every move.
A lot of managers mistakenly believe that issues regarding engagement levels typically stem from the employee. While there are certainly situations in which this might apply, bad management can often be the major reason behind a lack of employee engagement. If left unchanged, poor management can cause employees to leave even the best of jobs.
Taking a top-down approach is one of the best employee engagement strategies. Higher-ups should make sure their middle managers are qualified. If they’re not, then train them.
9. Fix broken processes.
Aside from horrible bosses, lack of or broken processes are a major pain for employees, sapping their morale and productivity. In fact, 36% of workers say lack of process keeps them from getting work done. Even more problematic, 60% say wasteful meetings and 43% said excessive emails hinder their productivity. Maybe it’s because some workers spend nearly 40% of their time in meetings, only about half of which are actually productive, while others waste almost one-third of their workweek managing email.
If inefficient processes, too many meetings, and email overload are making your employees miserable, fix the problem by implementing systems that make it easier for them to get work done. Use social intranet software to make collaboration and communication easier, and cut down on excessive emails. Use automated workflow software to keep tasks and projects moving from one step to the next. Project management solutions can help the entire team and company stay on top of task and project status, so no one has to sit through boring, time-wasting status meetings.
10. Take an individualized approach.
One of the hardest parts of employee disengagement is pinpointing where the issue stems from. Some people think it’s best to reach as many employees as possible in hopes of improving the entire organization’s level of engagement. But this can be tricky … especially in large companies with 100+ employees. More often than not, addressing the group as a whole isn’t as effective as taking an individualized approach.
Whenever you can, try to work with each employee that seems to be having issues, one-on-one. It may end up costing your managerial team more time, but the benefits are more than worth the extra effort.
11. Be careful with employee engagement surveys.
Surveys can be a manager’s best friend, especially when used to good effect. You can use surveys to gauge how an employee feels about their current position, what they’d like to see changed, among other things. With that said, being careless with how you approach your staff with a survey won’t do your organization any favors; it may even increase disengagement.
Keep this in mind as you develop your employee engagement strategy … If you intend on asking your employees to fill out an employee engagement survey, do it as least invasive a way as possible. Try to keep the number of questions to a minimum, and keep them as open ended as possible so you’re not influencing the answers. Keep in mind, too, that your employees have plenty to do other than fill-out surveys. One per month should be an absolute maximum; less is more in this regard.
12. Encourage employee collaboration.
There are plenty of professionals out there who are extremely good at what they do, and they prefer to work alone. Some find a solo approach to the workday to be most effective for them, yet others take this route because they don’t feel comfortable working with others. The latter reason often comes from a lack of confidence … and low confidence typically leads to low levels of employee engagement.
Increasing the amount of collaboration that occurs within your organization should be a part of your employee engagement strategy, and it will come with many benefits. For one, you’ll be helping your employees overcome whatever it is that stands in their way of working with others. This will cause them to become more engaged in their work. Collaboration is also the best vehicle for coming up with great ideas and solutions in the shortest period of time, saving your company money in the long run.
13. Create or hone your company culture.
It’s impossible to ignore that your employees spend a good chunk of their lives at work. It should stand to reason they’d want to feel as connected as possible to the organization they work for, yet many professionals attest to feeling as if they’re just another cog in the wheel. As you might expect, this leads to disengagement, and many will eventually leave their positions in hopes of finding work elsewhere.
One way to keep disengagement at bay is to create a true culture for your organization. Again, take a look at Google, which is as much its very own culture as it is a giant of modern-day business. Employees who work for such organizations often feel as if they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and there’s no better way to get someone to stay engaged than to make them feel included in the culture of a business. Think about your branding, and consider how you might be able to extend it to really give your office a culture and voice all its own.
14. Recognize progress and employee achievements.
Great employees hate being called out for things they are doing wrong, and they hate it even more when they’re never recognized for their achievements. It’s not uncommon for those in leadership roles to focus on the negative rather than congratulating an employee for the positive impacts they’ve had on an organization In almost all cases, focusing on the negative will lead to discouragement, propelling a great employee into a spiral of disengagement.
Taking note of an employee’s achievements and struggles alike is essential if you truly want to improve their level of engagement. There’s nothing wrong with addressing an issue, but you need to balance the negative with the positive. Otherwise, your employees are likely to feel as if they simply can’t win.
15. Start at the hiring process.
When it comes to hiring a new employee, there are countless things that need to be taken into consideration. A candidate’s skills and experience are, of course, typically at the top of the list, but this is only a portion of the picture.
More often than not, it’s a person’s attitude that matters most and will have the biggest impact on whether or not they end up being fully-engaged in their work. Employee engagement starts at the hiring process.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single set of criteria that will help you to determine if an employee is likely to be a true asset to an organization; you have to feel it. Rather than focusing on what’s written-down on an employee’s resume, pay close attention to their energy and demeanor. Chances are, this will matter more than anything else when push comes to shove.
16. Practice patience, young grasshoppa!
Impatience is a big problem in today’s world. We live in an instant-gratification society where people get frustrated with having to wait for something good to happen. When it comes to employee engagement, patience is a virtue and should never be overlooked.
Even if you set out to improve your organization’s employee engagement strategy, you have to expect it’s going to take some time to see true progress. No one changes their work habits overnight, and a gradual shift in the right direction is far better than no shift at all. Once you identify what seems to be working, stick with it, and avoid setting unrealistic expectations for your staff.
The bottom line.
When it comes to maximizing business success, there is a clear connection between happy employees and productivity. One study found that nearly 90% of workers with “high levels of well-being reported high job satisfaction,” and of those, nearly two-thirds consistently put in extra effort at work. Of course, you should care about your employees’ well-being because it’s the decent thing to do, but it also has a direct positive impact on the bottom line.
As it turns out, the secret to empowering your employees to be awesome every day isn’t really a secret after all. Get out of their way, give them the tools and flexibility they need to be effective and efficient to get the most work done at a time and place they feel most “in the zone,” and you’ll be amazed at how much happier, healthier, and more productive they can be.
Every business needs to find its very own employee engagement strategy, which often comes in the form of combining a number of different approaches to achieve an end goal. So don’t just sit back and let your employees become less and less engaged. Internalize the benefits, get involved and watch your organization grow in ways that would otherwise be impossible. If you put in the time and effort, there’s no doubt you’ll see improvements over time.