Let’s not beat around the bush here: there are few things more important in the workplace today than employee engagement. Why? When organisations have effective employee engagement programs, they report higher levels of productivity and an increase to their bottom line.
Not only that, a work environment where employees feel engaged results in better retention rates. Put simply, it becomes far easier to hold onto your top talent.
Engagement: What it is and what it isn’t
A few misconceptions exist around the idea of employee engagement. Most notably, “engagement” often gets confused with “job satisfaction”. But they are not the same things.
All staff who are engaged will be satisfied with their jobs. However, an employee can still be satisfied but not engaged in a job. A person who isn’t particularly pushed or challenged in their work, but who still picks up a decent salary with a few perks thrown in, won’t modify or improve their performance.
They don’t need to, so why would they?
And such employees are unlikely to be adding any real value to an organisation.
Engagement is about much more than a worker simply feeling content in their present position. It’s the extent to which an employee buys into what a company is trying to do, and how personally involved they feel in its success.
Businesses who can develop and sustain an engaged workplace create something greater and more powerful than the sum of all its parts.
The bad news is that you won’t find a perfect ready-made employee engagement program on the internet or off the shelf. It’s vital that your approach is specifically tailored to the individual needs of your organisation and all its nuances.
The good news is that there are a set of key principles to factor into your planning to help you create the ultimate program. Here they are:
A candidate becomes engaged before they become an employee
The recruitment process is where employee engagement truly begins. Yes, even before a candidate becomes an employee. It’s here a company needs to highlight its Employee Value Proposition clearly. Employees are the new customers, after all.
It’s also here that a business has a genuine opportunity to discover whether a candidate is really of the calibre that the organisation needs.
Of course, education, experience and expertise have their place – but qualifications can be studied for and skills can be taught. Attitude and application cannot. People can be trained and taught on the job to do most things – but you cannot change what makes them tick.
Interview questions/tasks that assess a candidate’s emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament are more useful than ones that merely assess a skill set.
Top tip: Look to hire characteristics, behaviours and attitude over skills and experience.
The importance of performance management and setting goals
Individuals who are empowered are employees that are engaged. This means that it’s vital for staff to have a clear understanding of expectations. Once this clarity is achieved, employees should be allowed to set their own goals. Autonomy is one of the key drivers of human motivation and setting goals in this way inspires commitment and ownership.
Top tip: Have high expectations but encourage goals to be realistic. It’s easy to build on small successes, but it’s far more difficult to build on massive failures or missed targets.
Networking: How to share ideas and insights within an organisation
Never underestimate the value of a well-networked team. When employees have the opportunity to share ideas and exchange insights, the organisation’s whole perspective is broadened. People will feed off the ideas of others and feel inspired.
The culture of the organisation needs to be one of listening as you are speaking. Internal and external networks need to thrive to enable multi-way conversations to take place.
Top tip: Give employees opportunities to network online and offline
Communication and connection are the keys to success
How successfully managers and leaders communicate with staff is the cornerstone of successful employee engagement programs. The best managers know their staff inside-out and understand their personalities and motivations.
But the extent to which managers connect with their teams is often down to their own authenticity and transparency. If staff feel that managers are authentic, it really builds trust and galvanizes a team.
It’s crucial that all managers are seen to be communicating and reinforcing a company’s mission and vision on a day-to-day basis.
Top tip: Managers must walk the talk!
Where do you start with employee engagement?
There is plenty of inspiration to be found from the ways that some of the biggest names in business have engaged their employees. Google, famously, introduced its ‘20% Time’ – essentially an opportunity for employees to devote a day a week working on projects that they thought would most benefit the company.
Similarly, LinkedIn cancels meetings to enable staff to work on individual projects or to attend external training. Employees are also encouraged to pitch ideas to the boardroom.
Successful employee engagement programs tend to think outside the box – but it’s important to recognise that what matters is what is going on in and out of ‘your box’ – your company.
Whatever initiatives are implemented – or rewards offered – they need to demonstrate that the organisation has its fingers on the pulse of employee needs.
And you should never assume you know what your employees think or want – you need to ask them.
Ultimately though, employee engagement programs are not just about having ideas or a shared vision. Creating the correct conditions and having the right tools in place to execute and apply your program are of fundamental importance too. Only when all these aspects are covered will genuine employee engagement occur.