March 8, 2017 | BizRun Team
We don’t have to tell you that employee engagement is a hot topic these days. Just Google the term, and you’ll see a slew of statistics, articles and infographics. But while experts across the business board agree it’s the key to creating a high-performing workforce, truly affecting employee engagement in your company can seem like a daunting task.
The good news is that increasing enthusiasm and engagement among employees actually isn’t as hard as you may think. But like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And it does take consistent effort, plus a commitment from those at the highest levels of your company.
To make a business case for employee engagement initiatives and gain high-level buy-in, you have to be able to explain why it’s so important to your business. To understand that, we must first understand what employee engagement really is.
Employee engagement = passion
Have you ever noticed how the latest business buzz terms become so overused that their meaning becomes lost? Everyone’s using the lingo, but few seem to really understand the concept. Employee engagement is far too important for us to allow it to fall prey to that same fate. So let’s start by defining what we’re really talking about when we talk about employee engagement.
Forbes defines it as an employee’s emotional commitment to his or her employer and that employer’s goals. Gallup, who’s been studying employee engagement since 2000, defines engaged employees as those who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. While you’ll find other iterations, it’s generally agreed to be the degree to which employees are excited by their jobs, are loyal to your company and are willing to put extra effort into their work.
It’s important to note that engagement isn’t the same as satisfaction. An employee may be satisfied with her job or satisfied with his paycheck, but that’s not the same as being passionate. When we talk about employee engagement, it’s the passion factor that’s key.
Why is engagement so important?
Once you understand what employee engagement really is, then it becomes clear why it can have a dramatic effect on your company’s success. According to Dale Carnegie Training, companies with engaged employees outperform those without engaged employees by 202%.
In its most recent meta-analysis of employee engagement and organizational outcomes – encompassing 1.8 million employees in 82,000 businesses and work units – Gallup found yet again that those organizations in the top quartile outperform those in the bottom quartile. Those with the highest employee engagement enjoy 10% higher customer loyalty, 21% higher profitability and 20% higher productivity.
It stands to reason then that if you suffer from low employee engagement, you’ll also feel the impact. Gallup asserts that an unengaged workforce puts your company’s growth and innovation at risk. And the statistics suggest that engagement is a pressing problem for many U.S. companies.
How do you maximize employee engagement?
Engagement may well be the key to high performance, but first you must understand how to create and cultivate it. While it can feel like an awesome undertaking, the underlying premise is quite simple: if you want your employees to care about your company, you must first demonstrate that you care about them.
Sounds simple, right? In the smallest companies, it often is. It’s easy to stay connected to everyone on your team if you’re working closely together. But if your company is virtual or employs more than 10 or 15 people, it becomes harder to maintain that connection, let alone have a personal relationship with every employee. And once you surpass 50, you might struggle to even remember everyone’s name – and that doesn’t feel good to anyone.
Here are three no-cost ways to show your commitment to your employees. And in doing so increase their commitment to you:
1 – Become a more engaged manager
This may sound like a no-brainer, yet it’s almost always the root problem of low engagement. You’ve probably heard the saying that people quit people, not companies. The reverse is also true. People don’t work for companies, they work for people. As an owner, a supervisor or an HR manager, this starts with you.
Employees who work for engaged managers are more likely to be engaged. But what do engaged managers do differently? For starters, they use the concept of MBWA, or management by walking around. Engaged managers regularly check in with their employees, not just about work issues, but personal ones, too. They show an interest in their employees’ lives outside of work. They communicate with their employees as people, not just workers.
Instead of relying on formal or annual reviews alone, engaged managers regularly provide feedback. They recognize that frequent, spontaneous and specific recognition – like a thank you for help with a particular task or an unexpected reward for extra effort – goes a long way. Engaged managers realize the importance of sharing the company’s overall vision and important initiatives with their teams. They make sure their employees understand where they fit and how they contribute to the big picture.
2 – Communicate your company’s purpose
To take the first point a step further, you need to make sure your employees understand not just your strategic goals and growth objectives, but your bigger vision and purpose.
In 2009, Daniel H. Pink published a book called Drive. In it, he asserts that employees want to be paid well, but it’s not their primary motivator. His argument is that when people become too focused on rewards, they lose interest in the activities that drive those rewards. So what we really need and want is the opportunity to get better at what we do, to be empowered to do our jobs, and to feel connected to a purpose that’s larger than ourselves.
This is particularly true of Millennials, which will make up the lion’s share of our country’s workforce by the end of the next decade. Studies find that recent MBAs are willing to work for significantly lower salaries if they believe in the work they’re doing.
A recent Inc. article cites Medix Staffing Solutions, a Chicago-based contract employment agency, as a company that discovered its core purpose, built a culture around it and saw big improvements in engagement. Suffering from high turnover and low morale, they made lots of changes to their policies, but it was the work they did to define their mission and culture that truly made the difference.
3 – Lay out career paths and growth opportunities
Along with having a clear purpose, providing clear growth opportunities will help you retain and engage top talent. According to the Society for Human Resources Professionals, laying out career paths can have a positive impact on your company by “improving morale, career satisfaction, motivation, productivity and responsiveness in meeting departmental and organization objectives.”
It’s the law of reciprocity in action. When your employees believe that you’re supporting their growth and giving them opportunities to reach their career goals, they feel compelled to also support your company’s objectives.
You can lay out career paths in a more or less formal way depending upon your company culture. Creating an organization chart is a great place to start. You can visualize how a team or department might grow if you added additional resources, as well as how to address supervision of teams so that headcounts are manageable.
A cautionary note: Don’t be tempted to use your company’s size as an excuse to wait to define career paths. Even smaller companies will benefit from this important exercise. And it’s arguably the best and easiest time to address it. Investing the time now to figure out a career progression for the employees you have will help you visualize how you can grow and scale your business, while also helping your employees see that there are more opportunities for them to grow as well.
Committing some time and attention to increasing employee engagement can make a significant difference in your company’s success. And even better news? Time and attention are really all that’s required.
Entrepreneur magazine summarized it like this in a widely shared article about employee engagement: “Often, it comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat people as you’d want to be treated. And, save your money on those expensive consultants, programs and other productized approaches. Compassion, mutual respect, kindness and flexibility don’t cost a thing.”
Yep, and neither does smart business planning. Get very clear about your purpose. Decide how you want your company to grow and what opportunities that creates for your people. Then communicate, communicate, communicate and watch your employee engagement and your success take off.