Employee engagement is a fundamental concept describing the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.  Studies show that engaged employees tend to be more productive, stay at the company longer, help improve customer service, and help boost the bottom line.

As a consequence, unengaged employees are less invested in their work and as a result the organization faces negative consequences affecting productivity, the bottom line, and turnover.

Is it all about money?

Some people think that money alone will keep employees motivated and engaged but, that is not the case.  In fact, studies show that money is NOT a key contributor to employee engagement.  So, what is?  The answer is it depends.  Different people are motivated by different things, but there are some common factors that tend to drive up engagement.  Those factors include:

Recognition

Recognition is one of the biggest motivators for employees.  As employees we want our peers to respect us.  The best way of earning this is by being acknowledged for a job well done or being good at what we do.

Some people often equate recognition to be extravagant award events or monetary bonuses.  Employee recognition can be as easy as a pat-on-the-back and a genuine compliment.  It can be as simple as a “thank you” email or a friendly greeting at work.   In fact, a simple greeting before and at the end of the day can be often overlooked, but it is one of the strongest forms of showing employees appreciation and respect.

The best thing about employee recognition is that it penetrates the entire company.  It motivates not only the employee receiving the recognition but other employees as well.  It promotes a culture of self-improvement and gratitude.

If your organization has a formal employee recognition program, make sure it is all-inclusive.  Everyone needs to be eligible for rewards.  Also, don’t wait too long to recognize someone for their work.  An immediate or timely “thank you,” or “job well done,” allows the employee and their peers to associate the recognition with the exact behaviors that resulted in an exemplary performance.  Recognition shapes company culture and is so powerful, it can be the foundation of employee engagement, development, and retention.

Meaningful Work

An authentic connection between the work we do and a broader life purpose has been shown to be more important than salary, working conditions, or opportunities for promotion.  Research shows that it can improve our performance, commitment, and job satisfaction.  Some people mistake feeling meaningful and feeling happy as synonymous, however they are not and each can produce different long-term results.

Happiness is about seeking pleasure, avoiding discomfort, and doing what you deem as enjoyable or best for you as often as possible.  A life with meaning is something beyond yourself such as making a connection with and helping other.  It is about contributing the greater good whether that includes family, nature, or your work.

Finding meaning in our work is very personal and individual.  There is no one-size-fits-all.  Employees who find their work meaningful often view their work in relation to significant family members and bridge the gap between work and their personal lives.  Those employees also show a sense of pride and achievement in their work, often feeling fulfilled and find their work creative, absorbing, and interesting.  Meaningful work can happen when overcoming a challenging situation in which our skills and experience enable us to help others.  Meaningfulness can be episodic and is often not felt in the moment but rather upon reflection after the fact.

Although research shows that management has very little influence on meaningfulness, leadership has the most significant impact on decreasing meaning at work.  Managers who encourage their employees to cut corners or focus on profits rather that the quality of work or customer service erodes feelings of meaningfulness.  Management often:

  • Creates a disconnect between personal and company values
  • Gives employees work they see as pointless
  • Treats employees unfairly
  • Overrides or ignores employee’s judgment, leading to feelings of dis-empowerment
  • Ostracize employees or creates division among colleagues
  • Puts employees in situations where they feel unsafe

Despite management, some employees have craft their current job to have more meaning by culling certain tasks or learning new tasks.  They  deepen relationships at work by teaming with others, teaching new tasks, or spending time with colleagues in a different department.  The way an employee thinks about their job can change it from meaningless to meaningful.  Simply thinking about what we do and why it’s important can give more meaning and a greater impact on the organization.

Development

Employees are the organization’s biggest asset.  Investing in training and development is vital to business growth and success, and to keeping the employees engaged.  One study showed that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.

Training not only helps the development of the employee, but the organizational development as well.  Targeting skills and employees for future leadership helps a business grow and be ready for changes in the marketplace.  Employees who learn new skills feel empowered, thus increasing employee engagement.  Regular development initiatives can prevent idleness and establish regular evaluations of employees, their skills, and processes.

Here are things to consider when creating an employee training plan:

  • Target soft skills like critical thinking and business communication which will pay-off in a changing marketplace
  • Personalize the training to the employees in terms of their specific skills, technology fluency, approach to learning, passions, goals and desires.
  • Create a strategic plan beginning with business goals and align those with individual development goals.

The value and benefits of a solid training and development program has a domino effect.  Leaders can efficiently influence employee performance and align it to business objectives and future business trends.   Training empowers employees giving them greater job satisfaction, commitment, and retention.  This creates engaged employees who impact overall organization culture, improvements and profits.

Communication

Communication serves as the foundation for every facet of business.  Effective communication is relaying information between two or more persons with the purpose of delivering, receiving, and understanding the message successfully.  It is the process of information sharing whether expressed using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors.  And yet, one study of 400 surveyed corporations with 10,000 plus employees showed that communication barriers cost the average organization $62.4 million per year in lost productivity.

Effective communication plays an important roll in employee engagement.   Each employee is given clarity of how they contribute to achieving company goals and what is expected of them.  Sounds like meaningful work, doesn’t it?

Fair communication builds trust with management and creates a healthy working relationship.  Employees are engaged in a non-threatening environment as they share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  Effective communication solves conflicts easily and quickly without letting things fester which lowers morale.  It promotes the desire to work towards a common goal, strengthening teamwork, employee relationships, and job satisfaction.

As leaders we should listen to employees’ concerns, keep them informed of upcoming changes in responsibilities, work schedules, expectations, and company-wide information.  Employees “in the know” feel empowered which enhances morale and engagement.

Leaders who provide regular feedback and ask employees for their input increase employee engagement.  Implementing employees’ ideas when possible or communicating why it is not possible also adds to employee engagement.

Is employee engagement worth it?

Yes!  Organizations with high levels of employee engagement reap many benefits.  Besides increased productivity and profits, highly engaged employees stay at a company longer, increase customer satisfaction, company morale, and help keep the company in tune with changes in the marketplace.

Little to no investment is required to recognize employees’ achievements, help employees find meaning through their work, develop employees’ skills and talents, and communicate effectively.   The question shouldn’t be, “is it worth it?”  The question should be, “how can you start now to engage your employees?”

Click on the Training tab to see online courses related to Engaging Employees.  Join us for our Third Thursday Webinar Series each month.  March 19, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. CST, Melanie Shaw presents “How to Develop Standards that Increase Performance.”  Register at www.uniquehr.com/webinars.