Research has proven that employee engagement contributes to increased profitability, yet most organizations still have no formal engagement strategy in place and two-thirds of employees are disengaged. A 2016 Gallup study drew the connection between consistently low engagement and team performance and suggested that when an employee’s engagement needs are not met, there is a higher likelihood of turnover — which can cost an employer 1.5 times the employee’s original salary. The study also found that engaged teams have lower turnover, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity and 10% higher customer ratings than disengaged teams.
Having an engaged workforce is clearly good for business, but there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to make it happen. So, gaining a better understanding of what your unique employees need is the surest path to success. By putting your people at the forefront, you can discover what they need from their managers, work environments and leadership teams and proactively build an engagement strategy around those needs.
Here are four valuable lessons we can learn from four companies who have successfully put their engagement strategies into action:
1. Employees perform better when the company mission is clear.
In the airline industry, customer service is not always easy. Canceled flights and policy changes are rarely in the hands of flight attendants, and customer service reps must often deal with disgruntled customers. Yet, I’ve noticed that employees at Southwest Airlines are generally friendly and seem happy and engaged at work. What’s their secret?
In January 2013, Southwest unveiled a new corporate vision and purpose to its employees. It explained that Southwest leverages “the power of storytelling to make sure each one of its 46,000 employees pursues the company vision each and every day… by rallying employees around a common purpose.”
Engagement happens when employees feel like part of a bigger mission and purpose — but it must be authentically deep-rooted in leadership, business models and culture programs. True employee ownership of a company vision and purpose happens when employees live and breathe the mission in their day-to-day interactions.
2. Employees at all levels need to be recognized for their contributions.
Imagine if you tripled your company’s revenue and profit year over year, but your board of directors didn’t acknowledge your team’s hard work. Now scale this concept down to an entry-level employee. She might not be doubling company revenue, but the blog post she wrote — now her first piece of published work — is a major professional accomplishment. If nobody recognizes this personal achievement, she might not be as motivated to keep producing great work.
A client of my company’s that has 180 employees recently learned through an employee feedback initiative that some employees felt as though their peers were getting special treatment simply because they were more “liked” by decision makers. To address this issue, the company created a new program in which employees are invited to nominate their peers for recognition. This seemingly small action prompted a major cultural shift, and engagement improved across the organization. They were also in a better position to retain high-value client business as a direct result of more engaged customer-facing employees.
3. Employees are more engaged when they tackle big problems as a team.
A publisher of teaching and learning materials since 1807, Wiley Publishing faced a big challenge a few years ago: It had 700 branded social accounts that lacked strategic direction. Customers didn’t know where to go for customer service, and problems were being handled differently across departments.
The company decided to implement an all-hands-on-deck solution and launched social media training across multiple teams and departments to close the digital skills gap and create a more consistent customer experience. Interestingly, the approach didn’t just impact customer service. The publisher saw a 90% increase in employee engagement, too. As employees worked together as a team to increase internal collaboration and strategic thinking, worker engagement rates skyrocketed.
A collaborative, cross-functional approach to solving problems leads to a sense of ownership and camaraderie among employees.
4. Employees need to have a voice (and leaders who listen).
Candid feedback and input from those on the business’s front lines can be extremely valuable to informing business decisions. Before you can intelligently shape your organization’s overall engagement strategy, it’s important to gather direct employee feedback in order to move the needle on the problems that truly matter. Additionally, employee insights can help validate the gut feelings you may already have around broken parts of your company’s culture. I believe this so strongly because I see it in practice consistently as my company’s clients share their stories of utilizing our employee survey tools.
Our client company that has over 300 employees across multiple facilities already had a strong cultural foundation as a majority employee-owned organization. But its leadership team had a hunch that employees in certain remote divisions were less engaged than those at the company headquarters. The company began collecting confidential employee feedback each quarter to pinpoint engagement issues and areas for improvement. By amplifying the employee voice and thoughtfully taking action in response, the company saw quick results. They increased engagement scores across the company and have invested in a true culture of feedback.
Improving employee engagement won’t happen overnight and will look different for every business. Continually measuring employee sentiment will help you better understand what areas to take action on and how to make the biggest impact. When employees are authentically engaged, it leads to productivity, profitability and, more importantly, a team of workers pursuing the company’s vision and goals with vigor and enthusiasm every single day.