Employee engagement has become increasingly emphasized in the landscape of modern business management. Yet there are still many organizations that aren’t focused on this profoundly important driver of productivity. Anyone who’s had experience in management will attest to the difficulties in maximizing the potential inherent within a company. Why is it that companies experience such different results as they try to achieve their goals and execute their business plans? How is it that some companies fail to flourish, even though seemingly everything about their operations has been carefully planned and overseen? The answer may have to do with employee engagement. See below to understand this topic more and some employee engagement ideas.
What Is Employee Engagement
First, let’s align on our definitions: what is employee engagement? This is a good time to lay out an employee engagement definition we can agree on. There are many ways to define employee engagement. According to Gallup, engaged employees are “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace”. And Aon Hewitt defines employee engagement as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization.”
We define employee engagement as the extent to which the members of an organization are committed to give their own mental resources, energy, and focus to help reach the organization’s goals and fulfill the organization’s values.
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Employee engagement also speaks to the extent to which workers identify with the organization’s goals as their own, how motivated workers are to contribute to an organization’s well-being, and how much workers’ efforts contribute to their own sense of well-being. An engaged employee would be more likely to do things like answer HR surveys, help design training materials, take part in mentoring programs, volunteer in community service initiatives, etc.
Investing in employee engagement doesn’t mean making your employees happy. Happiness, employee satisfaction, and engagement are connected, but they are not synonyms.
Why Is Employee Engagement Important
Perhaps the definition of employee engagement makes its importance obvious to you. If it doesn’t, consider this: the relationship between an organization’s short & long-term productivity goals and worker behavior is correlative.
Another way to understand the importance of employee engagement would be to digest some employee engagement statistics (all of the below employee engagement statistics are drawn from this article):
- Only 15% of employees are engaged with their work
- 63% of companies say retaining employees is harder than hiring them
- 71% of executive say employee engagement is critical to their company’s success
- Disengaged employees cost U.S. employers~$500B each year by taking less ownership and initiative over their work, driving down productivity for their companies
- Companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable
- 69% of employees would work harder if they were better appreciated
- Highly engaged workplaces show 41% lower absenteeism
- It costs ~$5,000 to hire and onboard a new employee, which means losing one is expensive
Clearly, employee engagement is an important topic that any business needs to actively address. How do you ensure employees are engaged with your company and their work and giving maximum effort?
On some level, employees will always remain autonomous. But they can be motivated & incentivized to work harder—or less hard. The extent to which an employee is engaged with their own work and with the organization’s goals will determine how much of themselves the employees give to their labor. This can make an enormous difference in the productivity of an individual employee, and an even bigger difference in the productivity of a whole workforce.
Further, in fields where companies are forced to compete for talent, employee engagement correlates strongly with employee morale and workplace attractiveness. Cultivating an engaged workforce helps attract top talent – and retain current productive employees.
Finally, consider remote employee engagement as the globe battles COVID-19 (and as many companies decide to extend working from home arrangements indefinitely). Many of us thrive on personal relationships. We work hard for the boss that we like and respect as much as for the larger entity that employs us. We work hard to support our teammates. We are in a better mood. This makes employees more engaged and productive, as a result of interacting with our colleagues and discussing shared experiences. All of these things are strained when we are not co-located. It has become particularly important to find ways to improve employee engagement in a remote-work environment.
Employee Engagement Ideas
Companies have been spending increasing fortunes on determining how to increase employee engagement. For a long time, this focused on employee happiness, and included lots of office perks like gym memberships, recreation rooms, etc. Obviously, these types of “perks” have become much less helpful in the era of COVID-19. And as we mentioned before, employee happiness and satisfaction are not the same as employee engagement. Indeed, many companies were moving beyond these types of “perks” well before 2020 to focus on ensuring employees feel fulfilled in their roles within an organization. Yet, it can be difficult for an organization to understand how to actually implement programs to increase it. This is where employee engagement ideas come in. Though, employees must understand what employees really want for these ideas to be effective.
Employees want to feel like their job fits in well with the rest of their lives. Now that we are living with coronavirus, this becomes even more important. Employees working from home are looking for ways to balance work and life while still feeling connected to and invested in their employers. Keep this in mind as you come up with some of your own employee engagement strategies.
Employee engagement strategies might roughly be split into two buckets:
a) ways of thinking, acting, and communicating that can help with employee engagement and
b) concrete activities, events, and processes that can increase engagement.
You’ll know best what’s right for you, but here are some employee engagement ideas other companies will be using in 2021.
Employee Engagement Examples
- Give employees the flexibility they need. More and more companies are realizing that individual employees are often the best judge of how they can make their best contribution to the company. For some employees that will mean showing up in the same place from 9-5, five days a week. For an increasing number of other employees, however, flex time helps them give the most of themselves in the long run. Plus, of course, there is a pandemic on—companies are well-served being as accommodating to their employees as possible. And remote employee engagement is still employee engagement.
- Create shared activities. Employee engagement activities are one of the best strategies for getting a workforce committed, motivated, and on the same page. Some of the best team-building exercises occur in a retreat-like setting—getting away from the high stakes of actual work helps lower defenses and build trust. In 2020, simply having Zoom-happy hours became a common example of an employee engagement idea that allows individuals to connect outside of the actual work environment.
- Provide employee recognition based on value. Many companies are using platforms like Fond to create programs enabling employees to recognize one another for embodying company values and for creating value for the company.
- Increase transparency around your businesses’ performance, opportunities, risks, and decision-making processes. Holding open and honest town halls where employees can ask questions is just one of many employee engagement examples that operate around a theme of honesty and transparency with employees.
How to Improve Employee Engagement
So, how to increase employee engagement? Truly try to imagine the employee experience. For example, a consulting firm might want to have every interaction with clients occur via video chat. After all, it used to travel to the client site each week, but in 2020 this isn’t possible. So, asking employees to be available for video calls at all times would help engagement with its clients. However, employees are now working from home at odd hours and with kids running around in the background learning remotely. Perhaps counterintuitively, employee engagement would be maximized by allowing more conference phone calls instead of video calls for internal interactions. Employees would appreciate the understanding from their employer of the burden of being on video and might actually be able to focus more during calls, knowing that they are muted and not physically being seen.
Employee engagement is ultimately based on value, fulfillment, and trust. If you’re struggling with a disengaged workforce, you should start by looking deeply at how you deliver for your employees on those three dimensions. Are you enabling your employees to create value, and are you recognizing them for creating that value? Are you allowing them the autonomy to work in a way that makes sense for them and enables them to be the best versions of themselves? Have you given them reason to trust you, based on integrity, transparency, and care?
Measuring Employee Engagement
Of course it’s all well and good to nail down the theory behind improving employee engagement. But the devil is in the details, and really delivering (not to mention evaluating) results will require you to effectively measure employee engagement over time. In order to do this, you’ll need to establish Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. KPIs are the particular things you evaluate in order to determine the success of your efforts over time.
Some logical metrics to look at for employee engagement would be your employees’ sense of value, of fulfillment, and of trust. You might specify other/additional measures of engagement. You can try to measure these things with employee engagement surveys. Scores on survey responses over time can function well as KPIs for measuring employee engagement. However, there are other ways to monitor if your employee engagement strategies are working. For example, you could simply count the number of employees who are showing up to your town hall meetings or Zoom happy hours. If attendance starts declining, that is a good sign that employee engagement is slipping.
Beyond the Workplace
Many companies are now finding that they get the best bang for their employee engagement buck when they go beyond workplace/productivity considerations. If you’re really motivated by driving up employee engagement, then investigate whether or not your employees are thriving in every aspect of their lives. Is something standing in the way of their well being? If so, the employee is unlikely to be as engaged as they could be. Is there anything the company can do to help?
Measuring employee engagement can be qualitative or quantitative. Surveys and attendance tracking is quantitative. But executives can also simply maintain a regular cadence of honest and open discussions with their employees as a way of measuring and coming up with ideas for how to improve employee engagement.
Some companies seem to have a certain X factor that enables them to consistently meet or even somehow exceed their potential. Other companies are never able to put it all together, no matter how thorough their business plan or their system of operations. It’s often employee engagement that makes the difference. If you’re able to get your employees engaged, they will start to identify with the goals of the company. When this happens, you won’t have to worry about motivating them to optimize their contributions—they will naturally be self-motivated to do so. Hopefully our list of employee engagement ideas above will spark your own journey of getting your employees more engaged and productive.
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