Google the term ‘employee engagement’ and over 15 million results appear in under .3 seconds. There are an abundance of reports, polls, blogs, articles, and research studies out there that all seek to understand this concept and its impact on businesses. With data consistently showing direct correlations between engagement and organizational outcomes, companies are spending countless amounts of time, money, and resources trying to figure out what employee engagement is, what does it cost to get it, and perhaps more importantly, what does it cost to not have it. For these reasons, I seek to join the millions of other writers out there who want to shed light on this topic and demystify the concept of employee engagement.
Maintaining a workplace of engaged employees is no easy task, but it is not quite as scientific and prescriptive as others often make it seem. Here are a few take away points to remember about building engagement throughout the business.
- There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula. I have seen organizations greatly range in their views on employee engagement. There are those who believe the employee’s paycheck is the only thing they should need to show up to work each day and perform, and then there are those organizations who go to great lengths to use monetary incentives, after work activities, jeans on Friday, and host committees all aimed at increasing employee engagement. In my opinion, none of these efforts are right or wrong, it all depends on the employee and the sincerity of the efforts behind the engagement strategies. Additionally, what works for one employee to increase engagement may not work for the next. Take time to find out what each individual employees feels they have to offer to the organization, what their goals are, and how they see this position and company fitting into their goals. Then, you can base a lot of your engagement opportunities around these responses that directly impact the employees long term vision for themselves.
- It has to start with direct supervisor. Efforts to engage individual staff members have to start with the employee’s direct supervisor. Organizational wide attempts to produce blanketed engagement efforts will not feel sincere if they are not matched with a connection between the employee and their supervisor. And ironically, even the best supervisor cannot keep their employees engaged forever without the rest of the organization supporting those efforts. The actions of the direct supervisor have to fit in to the greater culture and structure of the organization, or else we are setting up the management to fail, and we will not only lose the direct employees, but our greatest leaders too.
- Choose relationships over material things. If presented the choice, choose relationships over pizza on Fridays. Better yet, build relationships over pizza. Event based engagement exercises only work if you put in the effort to engage with the people you are trying to make happy with food. I have worked with organizations where the leadership brings in pizza or cake and then sends out an office wide email announcing food in the break room. Granted, everyone would flock to the break room and be very excited at a free lunch or snack, but at the end of the day, the only outcome this produced was weight gain, not engaged employees. If you want to use food to increase engagement, it is a great lure to get people to show up, but then you have to be there to talk to them, ask them how their day is going, what things did they do this week at work that they felt really impacted a goal, and better yet, come prepared with something specific to praise them about that they accomplished recently. The same principles apply when using any sort of tangible item to increase engagement…even money! Don’t give a bonus to an employee without being able to explain the why and tying it back to something they did that really impacted the team or organization.
- Data is helpful, but not always necessary. Employee engagement cannot always be measured with scientific accuracy, but that doesn’t mean it is any less real, important, or impactful. Often times it can be best measured by monitoring the other outputs of the organization. If you believe that engaged employees drive better business results, then you can expect to see an impact on the various other bottom line measurements throughout the company. If you do want to attempt to measure engagement of your employees, consider individual based discussions and small group interactions to learn about the culture versus global surveys and rating scales. You learn a lot more when you can talk with employees and ask follow up questions for clarification versus polling them. You will likely find that they hold the solutions and ideas needed to take the engagement of your organization to the next level.
I hope these concepts help as you think through the engagement efforts within your organization. Keep in mind, engaged employees show up to the job each day for what they can add to the organization, not what they get paid to complete each day. The leaders and culture throughout the organization should be designed to make people feel valued and connected so that regardless of what position they are in, they know they are a critical and equal partner to driving the mission of the business forward.