Employee engagement – The basics
When you walk into your office every morning and see everyone happily going about their tasks, it’s easy to be led into thinking, “This is an engaged team!”.
However, happiness is only a small part of the employee engagement mix. A sense of purpose, good health, personal relationships, well-defined roles and communication channels are just some of the other elements that contribute towards an environment where employees are truly engaged.
But before we proceed, let’s answer the most obvious question:
What is employee engagement?
William Kahn, a Boston professor also referred to as the ‘Founding Father of Employee Engagement’ defines it as:
“The harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles. In engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.”
In less academic words, when employees really care for and feel a sense of ownership about their company, they are engaged. This could mean going that extra mile without the boss asking for it or nurturing an official side project even if it means working extra hours without overtime pay.
Benefits of employee engagement
According to recent research by Deloitte, 85% of HR professionals interviewed in a survey in Australia said creating a positive employee experience is a top priority for better employee engagement. In the same study, 84% of respondents said building an organisation of the future is just as critical.
These numbers are not surprising, because done right, employee engagement can offer some remarkable benefits.
A perennially relevant example of this is Harvard’s Service-Profit Chain, which shows how satisfied employees can positively impact customer satisfaction and retention and, ultimately, company profitability. Here’s how:
Customer satisfaction directly results in customer loyalty
Customer satisfaction, in turn, is heavily determined by the nature and quality of services
Only satisfied, productive and loyal employees can provide customers the best value
Employees deliver value if they are provided high-quality learning and development, nurturing and conducive workplace policies
To break it down further, some of the key benefits of having engaged employees are:
Higher staff productivity
Better relationships with clients
Lower attrition and greater retention of top talent
With this in mind, let’s now look at some simple yet effective ideas to create an employee engagement strategy that works.
10 Employee Engagement Strategies
Defining your organisation’s values
Setting a shared purpose
Clearly defining roles
Setting clear communication channels
A positive work environment
Motivating employees (monetary and non-monetary motivation)
Caring for employee health and wellbeing (both physical and mental)
Personal development (training and coaching)
1. Defining your organisation’s values
A well-defined set of company values can be one of the best employee engagement strategies. A good way to define the values of your organisation is to answer what purpose or belief defines your identity. When employees across different levels buy into the core company values, they have a sense of shared purpose. It’s what makes them show up at work every day!
Company value definition and statement
Defining what your company stands for and what values your employees should embody can be challenging. But once defined, these bring diverse employees and teams together as a unified front – even during crises. Your value statement can be a simple list of qualities or a more detailed statement.
For example, the value statement of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a global chain of over 900 childcare centres, follows the HEART Principles: “Honesty, Excellence, Accountability, Respect, and Teamwork.”
The values of Starbucks, on the other hand, are far more detailed:
“Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
Acting with courage, challenging the status quo.
Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.”
Values further your company culture
Company values organically shape up your company culture, which also affects how external stakeholders perceive your company. How well the values and culture are ingrained into your employees will determine their level of engagement during critical tasks such as planning, problem-solving, innovation, and execution.
Once you have defined your company values, living them at the workplace and beyond is vital to creating a sense of shared purpose among employees.
2. Setting a shared purpose
Engaged employees feel a sense of ownership about their role and believe in a clear organisational purpose. The best way to define this purpose is with a mission statement. While many companies have their own unwritten mission statement, putting this into writing can be a great way to bring teams closer and promote engagement.
Here are five questions to ask while defining the core of your existence – your mission statement:
Why does your business exist?
What does it do to make customers’ and employees’ lives better?
How does it do this?
What makes your product or service extraordinary?
Which core values guide your mission?
Before formalising your mission statement, engage your employees to receive their input and feedback using means such as group discussions or by creating an internal survey. Once this process is complete and you’ve firmed up your mission statement, ensure that it is used on your website, on sales and marketing material, in your office, and during important events.
3. Clearly defining roles
Having a clear set of core values and a well-defined business mission will create clarity at the organisational level. But that’s not enough. Clarity at the individual level is just as crucial. It’s nearly impossible to have a truly engaged employee if they aren’t sure about what role they’re playing in the grand scheme of things and how they are contributing to the success of the company.
Here are a few ways to ensure that individual roles are well-defined, so employees feel valued:
Be clear with job descriptions and required skills when hiring talent. Having a clear set of roles and responsibilities not only helps people know what’s expected of them, it also enables teams to work together without conflict and friction.
Assessing the skills and emotional intelligence of people both before and after hiring them can reveal new insights about how these can be best used in your organisation. Encouraging people to do something they have a natural inclination for will foster ownership, creativity and engagement.
Don’t stop at defining goals and assessing skill-role compatibility. Set clear key performance indicators (KPIs). Define success in the role with weekly, monthly, and annual goals using something as simple as a spreadsheet if you cannot afford to use a third-party HR platform or a custom digital management platform.
4. Nurturing relationships
Organisations such as Gallup have found that having friends at work makes people more engaged at the workplace. Among other things, Gallup found that women who have a best friend at work are “more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).” When it comes to promoting employee engagement, giving people regular opportunities to mingle in a social environment could be a great quick win.
Here are some ideas to promote friendships and help people socialise at work:
Games and team building activities: Participating in team building games can help employees trust each other better, strengthen their working relationships and foster better mutual understanding.
Company retreats: Organise a weekend company retreat off-site where employees can participate in games, workshops, adventure activities or just relax by the pool. Interacting with colleagues in a relaxed environment could kick start some valuable brainstorming sessions.
Break out areas: An office break out area is where employees can bond over a meal or coffee, just relax after work, and even discuss the next big idea. Equip these break rooms with a kitchen and bar to get those interactions flowers.
5. Setting clear communication channels
When you think of internal communications, many organisations often suffer from a communications blackhole, where communication from the top doesn’t correctly percolate down to lower tiers. This could lead to employees receiving the wrong messaging or, worse still, having no idea of the strategic plan they’re supposedly a part of.
The result of this is employees feel excluded from the organisational goals and strategies. Such employees, in turn, are naturally less receptive to supervisor communications and less willing to participate in constructive discussions.
This puts the spotlight on building a strong internal communications network at the organisation level. What’s just as important is the styles and channels that managers use to interact with their teams. This could mean examining new communications channels such as Slack and Facebook Workplace or a more scalable custom solution such as a native Intranet app.
Here are some easy-to-implement ideas to bolster internal communications:
Enterprise social networks (ESNs): As open platforms ESNs can greatly democratise how enterprises create, publish and share information internally. The advantages of ESNs are better conversations between staff and management as well as greater participation by everyone.
Initiate an open-door policy: Traditionally, information in organisations flows from the top to the bottom and seldom in the other direction. An open-door policy can encourage two-way communication and feedback, making employees feel valued. Moreover, an open-door policy can be a great way to mitigate office politics. If an open door-policy isn’t the most suitable solution for your organisation, regular skip-level meetings will help spot knots in processes, remove obstacles at the immediate managerial level, and bring forth opportunities for improvement.
Publish a monthly newsletter: An in-house newsletter is a great tool to disseminate official news and updates. It also helps continuously draw focus to important organisational goals and clearly inform employees about new business areas and services. A newsletter is especially useful for acquainting new employees to the company and its processes.
Digital workplace platforms: Fostering the right levels of communication can be an even more complex challenge when you have a remote workforce. A digital platform that equips organisations with the right communications and collaboration infrastructure becomes paramount when dealing with a remote employees. Cloud solutions, mobile software tools and social sharing and discussion are the pillars of such a platform.
Have 10-minute morning check-ins: Never-ending meetings are the busy professional’s nightmare. A daily 10-minute check-in, also known as a team huddle, on the other hand, is a quick way keep everything on track, clear priorities, meet targets, and address any blockers.
6. Invest in creating leaders
Front-line managers have the biggest (and most direct) impact on employees’ productivity, efficiency, job satisfaction and overall engagement levels. Expecting managers to inherently know how to deal with conflicts or personnel motivation issues is a tad unrealistic. This is where creating sound training and development infrastructure for managers comes into the picture.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case – especially in smaller organisations. A study by CareerBuilder, an online employment website, found that 58% of managers said they have never received proper management training. Not so surprisingly, the biggest challenge for these managers were: dealing with issues between co-workers (25%), motivating team members (22%), and creating career paths for their team (12%). All of these are factors that can spell the end of employee engagement.
To ensure that immediate managers are ably trained in nurturing employee growth and engagement, focus on these areas:
Train employees before they become managers: Coaching internal talent to become successful managers of tomorrow has multiple benefits: higher retention rates, better confidence in their role, and higher levels of employee engagement. In a knowledge-driven economy, a well-trained manager can be pivotal to boosting employee engagement, productivity and efficiency.
Change management: As corporate environments change rapidly, training managers in change management is the key to maintaining stability. Change management training can help managers empathically understand how a certain change will affect employees, how this change should be best communicated, and how to equip employees to deal with this change.
Employee mentoring and nurturing: This is the attribute that sets a manager apart from a leader. A manager who is good at getting tasks done may not necessarily be adept at aiding the professional and personal development of their subordinates. Coaching your managers to nurture and mentor will empower their teams to grow professionally and take more ownership of their work.
Team building, collaboration and feedback channels: Some managerial behaviours, such as micromanagement, can lead to increased attrition rates and hurt employee engagement. Collaborating to leverage the strengths of team members, coaching talent, and creating clear feedback channels is a quality that sets leaders apart from mere managers. Did you know that something as simple as regularly asking employees to provide feedback can up engagement levels considerably? In a study by Saba, a talent management solutions company, 61% of female employees and 56% of male employees said they’re seldom asked for feedback
7. A positive work environment
According to Gallup, disengaged workers have high absenteeism rates, lower job growth and lower productivity. With this in mind, any efforts put into modeling a happy, positive and respectful workplace culture can go a long way.
Here are a few tips to create a positive work environment:
Create a solution-focussed culture where people are not afraid to own their mistake and focus on how to best move forward
Celebrate wins, honour achievements and mark special occasions for a happy workplace. It could be a new client signing on or an employee’s work anniversary! Everyone feels the need to be validated.
Listen openly to opinions and feedback before drawing a conclusion on matters. Use innovative technologies to communicate effectively. (See how retail giant Kmart Australia achieved this.)
Encourage empathy and compassion at all levels of the organisation. These qualities go a long way when someone is battling an illness, is feeling stressed at work or is dealing with personal issues.
Create spaces that allow employees to collaborate as well as focus in solitude, such as lounge rooms, cafes, game rooms and reading rooms.
Invest in a well-equipped kitchen with food and beverages
8. Motivating employees (monetary and non-monetary motivation)
Trust and contentment at the workplace can be the biggest motivators for employees – ranking even higher than money, if a Princeton study is anything to go by. With this in mind, instituting new ways to acknowledge good work and providing incentives for a job well done have direct implications on employee engagement.
Use these monetary and non-monetary means to motivate your employees:
Weekly, monthly or quarterly recognition: Create a work culture where appreciation and acknowledgement are part of daily interactions. A more formal weekly or monthly team gathering to reward people who’ve performed exceptionally well fosters a strong culture of appreciation. No matter what your preferred recognition method, always remember to keep it fair and transparent for it to be truly motivating.
Bonuses and incentives: There’s virtually no limit to the kinds of incentives and bonuses you can give employees. It all depends on the size and culture of your company, but can range from something as flamboyant as gifting your star performer a new car or offering them equity to giving them a day off work. Use platforms such as WooBoard and Bonusly to simplify employee recognition and rewards.
Other perks such as flexible work hours, work-from-home-days, childcare or petcare facilities at work can also go a long way.
9. Caring for employee health and well-being (both physical and mental)
Showing that your organisation really cares for employees’ health can be a powerful way to reduce employee disengagement by emotionalising the employer-employee relationship. But to really harness the potential of this employee engagement strategy, it’s vital to stop thinking employee wellness as merely an additional cost to the company. The Harvard Business Review reports that an employer was able to gain $6 in health care savings for every dollar invested.
If wellness programs are not already being offered at your organisation, consider using any of these ideas a starting point and build your own programs from there:
Weekly yoga, Zumba or meditation sessions in the office before or after work hours
Standing desks and ergonomic workstations coupled with plenty of natural lighting
Onsite gyms or corporate discount partnerships with health and fitness clubs
Healthy food options in the kitchen, such as fruit, vegetables, whole-grain bars, yogurt, low-fat cheeses, nuts and kale chips.
Encourage employees to speak up about mental health issues and offer assistance programs to those facing mental health issues
Create internal groups and communication channels to discuss mental issues to reduce stigma attached to psychological illnesses
Create green spaces within the office with plants to counter the effects of stale, recycled air that too many offices are filled with
10. Personal development (training and coaching)
In an ever-changing work environment, constant personal development and upskilling is what will give your employees and organisation an edge. Encourage a culture that celebrates lifelong learning as both formal and informal training can promote continuous development. Giving employees new opportunities to continuously learn and develop can dramatically improve retention rates, especially for top talent.
Here are some ways your organisation can invest in personal development to promote employee engagement:
Promote and recognise lifelong learning by treating these as an achievement or milestone
Sponsor certification or higher education programmes. If your organisation cannot bear the entire costs of an educational program, offer part sponsorships or interest-free education loans as an alternative.
Sponsor seminar, conference or training program passes for events that will aid the professional and personal development of your employees.
Encourage employees to pursue passion projects. Large companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and LinkedIn have gained some of their most profitable products via employee passion projects.
Paid time off and sabbaticals can encourage “creative slacking”, prompting employees to come back to work with innovative ideas
Finding an employee coaching and development technique that works for your organisation and can justify the time spent on these is something that the management and HR teams will need to deliberate on. But there’s little doubt that the rewards can cause the employee engagement needle to move considerably.
Achieving great employee engagement levels is all about finding the right mix of communication styles and channels, defining purpose, collaboration, and learning. The CentricMinds Intranet platform can help your employees communicate openly and collaborate seamlessly so you can start seeing a positive change to your company culture and improved transparency across the organisation.