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Increasing employee engagement in the workplace

Year-after-year, increasing employee engagement in the workplace remains a top priority for many organizations. And with good reason. Employee engagement has a direct impact on performance, retention, and overall company results.

This article will walk you through the steps you’ll need to take to increase staff engagement in your workplace.

But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what “employee engagement” means.

What is employee engagement?

There are many definitions for employee engagement, but at its core, it’s the degree to which employees are motivated by, invested in, and passionate about the work that they do and the organization they work for.

EngageForSuccess.org, an organization that promotes employee engagement, defines it nicely as follows:

“[Employee engagement is] a workplace approach resulting in the right condition for all members of an organization to give their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.”

In other words, employee engagement comes down to a genuine commitment to a cause, driven by happiness to work at an organization and a shared sense of purpose. As you can see, there are multiple layers and variables that contribute to whether or not an employee will be truly engaged.

Just as important as what employee engagement is, is what it is not. Engagement is often conflated with:

While both of the above contribute to staff engagement, they do not alone cause it. Employees may be happy, for example, but not particularly motivated to work hard for the organization. Likewise, employees may be satisfied with their employers and what they’re paid to do, but not motivated enough to go the extra mile.

The challenge, therefore, is to find the right blend of engagement variables that will make employees feel motivated to go the extra mile every day. This can be influenced by factors such as location, culture, individual values and characteristics, processes, communication, and so on.

Every team is susceptible to changes in engagement levels, making it necessary to continuously monitor and tweak your employee engagement strategy.

Now that we’ve talked about what employee engagement is, let’s turn to why it’s important.

Why is employee engagement important?

As mentioned, there is a lot of evidence citing the importance of employee engagement. Consider some of these statistics as an indicator of how much your peers value employee engagement:

In addition to these statistics, engaged workforces have been shown to lead to:

  • Improved productivity and efficiency
  • Higher customer retention rates
  • Competitive advantages
  • Happier employees

Or, as Forbes succinctly summarizes for the business-minded readers, high employee engagement leads to:

  • Better service, quality of work, and productivity
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Increased sales
  • Increased levels of profit
  • Higher stakeholder returns

The above lists and statistics focuses mostly on benefits to the employer, but there are obvious up-sides for your staff as well, including:

  • A stronger sense of belonging
  • Better work-life-balance
  • Reduced stress and friction during daily work
  • A sense of purpose towards a common goal
  • Motivation to use “discretionary effort,” (i.e. going to extra mile, even when nobody’s watching)

As you can see, employee engagement is a win-win for employers and employees alike. It’s the secret ingredient that unlocks a workforce’s true potential, and allows them to do great things, while also ensuring happiness and job satisfaction.

Saying that you want an engaged workforce is one thing, but achieving it is quite another. It takes a continuous, top-down effort that combines the right strategies and continuous measurement and refinement.

The rest of this article will focus on how to measure and generate employee engagement at your organization.

How to measure employee engagement

Measuring employee engagement is absolutely critical to achieving all of the nice benefits described in the previous section.

If you can’t measure it, then you can’t improve it, to quote famed management consultant Peter Drucker.

Apart from the fact that you can’t improve on what you don’t know, there are four key reasons you should measure your employee engagements levels:

  1. To identify strengths, problems, opportunities, and unknown truths in your workforce.
  2. To build trust with your employees.
  3. To help keep everyone at the organization informed about what’s going on.
  4. To understand and act on trends.

In other words, measuring employee engagement isn’t just data collection. It’s a show of goodwill and an exercise in accountability and clear communication that shows your employees that you’re committed to their well being and improvement.

Clearly, measuring employee engagement is important. But how do you do it?

Here’s a list of steps to help you get started.

  • Determine what you want to find out. You can’t measure everything. In collaboration with your executive team and HR, determine what information you’re hoping to uncover about your workforce. This should be a combination of priorities that management wants to address, and issues that are important to your staff. Make a list and use this to guide the next steps of this process.
  • Choose your survey medium and process. Once you’ve determined what you want to learn, decide on how you’re going to learn it. Will you use a long-form employee engagement survey? Will it be a series of interviews? Who will receive the survey? When? How will you process the results and action the suggestions? Create an end-to-end process for how you will manage the project.
  • Communicate the plan to your employees. Before sending out your survey, inform your employees about your engagement initiative. Be transparent. Explain the catalysts behind the project, what you’re hoping to achieve, and how you’ll process and action their feedback. Clarity of communication helps to build confidence in the process.
  • Identify what’s important to your employees. If you’re sending your first engagement survey, structure it so that employees can tell you what they value in you most. Be broad with your questioning, but not burdensome. The answers to these questions will help to show what your employees really value, helping you identify your areas of focus. Ask employees to rate their opinions on the importance of things like:
  • Collect qualitative AND quantitative data. Quantitative data will help you find trends and priorities, but qualitative data is where hidden gems of information come from. Ask open-ended questions and allow employees to write candidly. This will give you ideas for how to improve employee engagement in the way that your staff values.
  • Process the results, prioritize action items, communicate next steps. Gather survey results and work through your action plan from Step 2. Make sure that you communicate progress with your team to make it clear that their voices have been heard.
  • Develop a continuous listening strategy. This measurement process outlined how to measure the results from one survey. In reality, one survey must lead to a culture of continuous listening. Engagement is fluid: it changes and evolves over time. Because of this, you need to listen regularly and adapt as needed. Establish a yearly or half-yearly cadence for a “full” engagement survey. Use monthly pulse surveys to gather more immediate feedback. Encourage “radical candor” as part of your daily operations to promote spontaneous recommendations for improvements.

Measuring employee engagement can be onerous. But the results will speak for themselves when done properly. The key with this process is to not cut corners. Don’t rely on one type of survey, as that can lead to data biases. Don’t survey a sample of your workforce, as that can lead to misrepresentation. Don’t focus on only qualitative results, as that misses gems of information generated from open-ended questions.

But above all else, make sure that you act on the engagement insights that you’ve measured. Without action, all you have is data. And data alone doesn’t improve engagement.

This next section will give you some ideas for how to act on that data.

How to increase employee engagement in the workplace

When thinking through how to action your employee survey results, it’s helpful to understand what factors impact engagement. For employees, there are three key areas of an organization that you should focus on:

  • The organization
  • The manager
  • The processes

At the organization level, company culture is the key driver for engaged or disengaged workforces.

Take an honest look at your own company culture. Does a culture of engagement and empowerment exist? Do you have policies that promote motivation, respect, and empowerment? Do you clearly communicate the company’s goals and vision.

If the answer is “no,” to any of these questions, then there’s likely some work to be done on the organizational level. This might include:

  • Creating a people-focused culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing above all other commitments.
  • Focusing on engagement at the local and organizational levels. In other words, don’t try to shoehorn the same strategies into all departments in all offices. Get granular to determine engagement drivers among teams. Fix locally to improve globally.
  • Clarifying your core values and emphasizing the mission to ensure that everyone at the organization knows what they’re working towards and why.
  • Creating a culture of continuous feedback that empowers employees to voice their opinions with the confidence that they will be heard.
  • Making physical and mental health a priority by providing or encouraging healthy snacks and meals, wellness programs, fitness incentives, and health competitions. Show a commitment to your employees’ wellbeing and they’ll show a commitment to you.
  • Showing a commitment to the community by providing volunteer opportunities or team building activities. 70% of employees believe that these types of experiences improve morale and engagement.

Managers also play a critical role in fostering engagement at the team and departmental levels.

Management needs to exhibit behaviors and values that motivate (not demand) employees to go the extra mile. Leaders who inspire their team are much better at creating engaged workforces than those who demand productivity.

As the saying goes, “people don’t quite companies, they quit managers.” Poorly placed managers can wreak havoc on engagement, employee retention, and performance. Ensuring you have the right leaders, in the right place, is critical.

It’s also the organization’s responsibility to engage their managers, give them the training and tools they need to perform, and promote the right people into leadership positions.

The processes you have in place at your organization are the third pillar that will affect engagement at your organization. Processes should be in place to make things operate more smoothly, not get in the way of productivity. Too much red tape, or lack of clear structure, are two great ways to ensure that employees become frustrated and disillusioned about the work that they do.

Processes affect engagement right from your first contact with a candidate through to when they leave the organization. Clean processes show that you have your house in order, while disjointed ones show exactly the opposite.

Here are some key processes that you should focus on to increase employee engagement in the workplace:

  • Hiring. Ensure that your hiring process is efficient, fair, and treats the candidate with respect. This is your first impression for future employees: make it a good one.
  • Onboarding: Make sure that you have a seamless, complete, and inspiring employee onboarding process that set employees off on the right foot.
  • Training and development. Make professional development available to all employees, and ensure that they have the tools and resources need to meet their PD goals.
  • Remove the red tape. Review processes at the organizational and departmental levels to find causes of churn and frustration. Adapt or remove these processes where possible.
  • Flexibility. 87% of employees expect that their organizations will help support them in balancing work and personal commitments. Make work-life balance a priority by providing flex hours, work-from-home arrangements, and any other benefit that will help employees juggle their priorities.

Of course, everything in this article will not work without buy-in from the entire leadership team. Employee engagement is one of the key drivers of organizational success. Acknowledging that reality, and acting on it, will set your company up for great things in the future.

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