In today’s working world, employees are looking for an engaging work environment as much as a good job.
But employee engagement isn’t just about keeping them happy with work perks. Employees can be satisfied with their pay, workload or hours, but not actually engaged with their jobs.
There are many employee engagement strategies that can help build the relationship between your organisation and its most valuable asset: Your employees. Read on to learn how to uncover what is hindering your employee engagement and how to combat it.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a quantitative and qualitative measure of the relationship between employees and their organisation. It represents the positive emotional connection and enthusiasm employees have for the organisation’s goals.
And what employee engagement isn’t
Although related, there’s a difference between job satisfaction and employee engagement.
While important, job satisfaction doesn’t consider whether an employee is involved in strategic metrics like company profitability. Studies have found job satisfaction is directly related to the contractual details of an employee’s role (pay, benefits, job security). Satisfaction is something employees, such as contentedness or gratification.
Engagement levels are largely influenced by day-to-day experiences such as trust, recognition, communication between employees and management, and work assignments. It’s a measure of the psychological investment an employee has with an organisation and manifests itself in proactivity, mentality, effort, innovation, focus, and mood.
Why employee engagement matters
We can argue if the Great Resignation is really happening or not, but what’s indisputable is the need to sustain a healthy and attractive company culture.
An engaged workforce is a key driver of business success, earning more and user resources efficiently. Conversely, a disengaged or disillusioned workforce quickly siphons resources and time with little return. That means:
- More problems in the workforce (from resentful team dynamics to unbalanced workloads)
- Poor innovation from disengaged employees looking for the easiest solution
- Higher absenteeism and its costly knock-on effects
- Slow, if any, turnaround on time to market
- Poor bonds with customers and lowered customer satisfaction
- Impaired brand trust and market share.
In return for a positive culture, work-life balance, development opportunities and a chance to make a real contribution to their organisation, engaged employees are 17% more productive, while the organisations they work for achieve a 21% increase in profitability and 41% reduction in absenteeism.
Seeking to continually improve employee engagement can also help you withstand rough economic patches. Gallup research shows that companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share and recover from recessions at a faster rate. Plus, your long-term ability to innovate is made stronger by employees who are closer to ideation and realisation and motivated by company success.
Giving employees the tools and resources to do this, though, is a large part of the equation. We pioneered the performance learning management system (PLMS) so you can offer truly personalised training and career progression. And for the cherry on top, we do this by guiding learners step by step to master the specific skills, knowledge, behaviours, tools, and processes (aka capabilities) that will accelerate their own and your organisation’s performance.
What is an employee engagement strategy?
If it’s not yet clear, you should care about employee engagement since it underpins your ability to compete in your market. Anything that relates to business planning should have a strategy.
An effective employee engagement strategy outlines the actions you’ll take to combat employee disengagement and create an environment that encourages engagement to thrive.
If you’re starting from scratch, SHRM recommends coming at it from two angles: Organisation-wide and managers.
Organisation-wide drivers to tap include:
- Employees trust leaders to set the right course
- Employees believe in future organisational success
- Employees understand their role in future plans
- Leaders being committed to making the organisation a great place to work
- Leaders value employees are the most valuable resource
- Investments made in employee recognition and development.
We know managers have a deciding stake in employee satisfaction. You want to encourage strategic management skills that give employees:
- Freedom to make decisions
- Authority to accomplish work
- Access to the right tools
- Healthy relationships with supervisors
- Career paths and personal growth opportunities.
How to build effective employee engagement strategies
Let’s start from the ground up and go back to basics with tactics and initiatives.
Your tactics are the main drivers of your overall strategy. Initiatives are the specific actions you take towards achieving those tactics. Think of it like this: You want to get fit. Employee engagement is you at your Arnold Schwarzenegger best. Your strategy is to go to the gym five days a week. One tactic is to focus on cardio to lose weight. The initiatives to achieve that specific tactic might be attending HIIT classes, walking outside every day or completing 30 minutes on the treadmill before every workout. Everything adds up, little by little.
The best place to start building an employee engagement strategy is employees themselves.
Use an employee engagement survey
A key strategy is ensuring your staff don’t feel like cogs in a machine. Top down thinking rarely reflects what those on the front line are feeling. On the other hand, change isn’t often affected from the bottom up.
The employee engagement survey is your friend here. The relationship between employee engagement and key business outcomes is dynamic, so you’ll want to measure it often. An employee engagement survey will help you decide what engagement issues to focus on, straight from the source.
These surveys should establish employees’ points of view and frames of minds, how they align themselves with company values, levels of motivation, sense of purpose, and passion. Keep all questions neutral and focused on employee behaviours. Gather honest feedback using:
- Open-ended questions (e.g. ‘If you could change one thing about the company culture, it would be…?’)
- Multiple choice questions (‘What tool would enable you to work more effectively in your role? Professional development; Mentorship; or Flexible hours’)
- Statements rated on a numerical scale (‘I can see myself growing and developing my career in this organisation’).
These questions should address the everyday experiences of your employees, how they interact with coworkers and management, how they align with the company mission and values, and if they feel valued by their organisation . Once you’ve compiled the results, you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement and effectively create actionable steps to address these issues.
Quantifying the issues your employees have is the relatively easy part. Deciding what tactics you want to use to combat low engagement is where things start to get finicky.
When choosing what tactics to address and the initiatives necessary to achieve them, it’s important to remember some may be more time- and resource-dependent than others. It can be easy to write off the long-term initiatives in favour of short-term remedies, but the former are likely the most impactful on employee engagement.
Align career goals with business outcomes
A simple tactic to drive engagement is realigning employees with your business goals. Implementing consistent and open communication channels between employees and management is an easily introduced initiative.
Goal management and performance tracking through a capability framework in a learning management system will help employees see how their work contributes to targets, and keeps the workforce engaged and aware of large-scale organisational outcomes.
Offer continuous career growth
A global study by Deloitte found almost one third of employees said the most important opportunity their organisation can provide is on-the-job learning, particularly in increasingly tech-based work environments.
Subsidising the cost of external training and courses, hosting workshops with industry experts, or establishing a mentorship program are all enticing initiatives for new hires and current employees that have the added effect of making staff feel valued. It’ll also help you keep an eye on your high potential employees too—aka your revenue drivers and future leaders.
Create shared purpose
What purpose or belief defines your organisational identity? This should be clearly communicated and related to the work your employees are undertaking if you want to inspire a strong work ethic.
When the personal values your employees hold dear line up with your core mission, a shared sense of purpose is created and they experience a sense of ownership about their work, which in turn inspires them to be invested in the quality of that work. Particularly for remote employees, shared purpose helps create bonds where face-to-face interactions can’t.
It doesn’t need to be formal, either. Monthly team bonding activities like Friday drinks improve the ties that bind.
Implementing an employee engagement program
Once you know what needs to change to improve employee engagement, it can be tempting to rush implementation. But much like completely changing your diet from fast food to grilled chicken and veg, sudden changes to organisational practices are usually unsustainable, and likely to end with everyone simply slipping into old habits.
Creating a culture of engagement requires sound investments that consider the implications and unintended consequences of any changes to BAU. Your employees come from different circumstances and life situations, so consider the impact changing workplace policies will have on each and every one of them. For example, flexible hours may work for employees who are parents, but working 7.30am-3.30pm may mean they’re suddenly unavailable for the weekly team meeting that’s always at 4pm.
As with anything, the investment you put into an employee engagement program will determine what you get out of it. Not all drivers of employee engagement are created equal, hence the level of investment you put into each should be determined by how pivotal you consider each to improving engagement in your organisation. Any tactics adopted to drive employee engagement should lead to positive and measurable business outcomes you outlined when designing your program, such as higher profitability or lower absenteeism.
Top 4 employee engagement strategies
If you’d prefer a templated employee engagement strategy, we’ve got you covered.
The best employee engagement strategies tap into the holistic human resources trend, wherein HR gets back to its roots and engages with employees as people rather than workers.
Here are the five most effective employee engagement strategies to help keep employees engaged.
- Create an employee engagement committee
- Invest in wellbeing
- Routinely recognise achievements
- Develop all employees.
Have an employee voice
The buck doesn’t stop at surveys. Use them as springboards to hold focus groups with select employees to further discuss any issues flagged. Make sure to ask for solutions or ideas from your employees and be transparent about utilising them.
Knowing one’s opinions are not only listened to but actually contribute to change will engage employees with the company’s core values. Bonus: Encouraging free flowing internal discussion is employees will be more likely to speak positively about your company externally.
More ways to promote employee engagement amongst the workforce include:
- Actively creating spaces where they can raise issues and receive feedback, such as weekly team meetings to discuss their workflows and loads, workshop ideas and raise concerns.
- One-on-one meetings between managers and all employees (not just the high achievers) gives a more nuanced snapshot of the culture and individual grievances.
- Utilising systems of productivity (your LMS, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.) to encourage social learning.
Care for their health and wellbeing
52% of employees would choose a company that cares about their wellbeing over one that pays 10% more. Showing that your company cares for employees’ health—not just their work—may appear a costly investment at face value, but it’s one that reaps consistent rewards.
Contemplate adding wellness programs to your company’s employee benefits. Like we said, corporate gym discounts, green spaces, flexible hours and healthy food options are attractive benefits that convey you care for the individual as much as their output. The upside for you? Employers can actually save $6 for every dollar they invest in healthcare.
Considering we spend most of our waking hours in the office, it is crucial to also foster a thriving social ecosystem. Nurturing relationships in the workplace provides an added incentive for employees to be engaged during the work day.
Gallup found women who believe they have a best friend at work are 34% more likely to be engaged than those who say otherwise. Harvard Business Review reported the likelihood of two people interacting (physically or digitally) is directly related to the distance between their desks. Further, HBR found that since 90% of face-to-face interactions in the office take place at a desk, arranging your floor plan by teams (design, sales, support, etc.) channels communication between the right people at the right times.
Provide rewards & recognition
Everyone likes a pat on the back. External validation is a powerful motivator. A successful employee engagement strategy will give back to employees – without the caveat they continue working hard, that is.
- Push managers to thank their team members in meetings. Public thank yous go a long way.
- Offer PTO when employees exceed project expectations.
- Give gifts for birthdays or years of service.
- Upgrade their equipment. Think sit-stand desks.
- Make the environment welcoming. Flexible hours, casual dress codes and catered lunches are just a few ideas here.
- Encourage employees to recognise their peers. Monthly peer-nominated employee of the month awards, for example.
This may be one of the most simple employee engagement strategies, but don’t be fooled. Up to 66% of employees would quit if they felt undervalued. (For millennials, the number is as high as 76%.) Much like wellbeing packages, 59% of employees would rather an organisation prioritise recognition over a higher salary without recognition. Showing appreciation also makes it clear to new hires what successful performance looks like in your organisation.
Provide personal development opportunities
And we come to our most impressive statistic: A whopping 94% of employees say they would stay in a role longer if they felt the organisation was invested in their career. Ongoing personal development opportunities give employees goals to work towards and dramatically improves employee retention by training talent already within your organisation.
Training can come in many forms, but remember to be strategic about it. Make sure to tie any professional development back to organisational goals; this will convey employees are highly valuable to you and contribute to that shared sense of purpose.
- Sponsoring seminars, certifications or higher education programmes is a great way to encourage a learning culture amongst employees.
- Think about learning in the flow of work. This ensures training is actually impactful on the way people work.
- Design leadership development pathways. The most engaged employees see a future with their organisation, giving you a talent pipeline.
The flow on effects of encouraging your employees to educate themselves are staggering. 48% of heavy learners (i.e. those who spend more than 5 hours a week upskilling) are more likely to find purpose in their work, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, and 47% less likely to be stressed at work.
A truly engaged employee is emotionally invested in not only their personal success, but the success of their employer. On the other hand, a disengaged employee shows up, does what is necessary to get paid, and goes home. Turning a disengaged employee into an engaged stakeholder in your organisation requires an employee engagement strategy.
There’s no one-voice-fits-all approach to improving employee engagement. A mixture of employee engagement strategies and tactics is your best bet. Consider:
- Using engagement surveys to understand everyday problems.
- Investing in wellbeing initiatives to support physical and mental health in the workplace.
- Rewarding them without expectations of more work.
- Develop them. Continuous professional development benefits business with an engaged workforce of future leaders.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to increase employee engagement. Just a little understanding that your employees are your most valuable asset.
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