Ever heard the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”? The same holds true when it comes to creating a positive working environment which results in positive employee engagement. If you want dedicated, hardworking, and productive employees, then you need engaged employees. You need to reduce the vinegar and increase the honey within your company culture.
Why is Employee Engagement Important?
Numerous studies have shown that engaged employees are more productive. The more productive your employees are, the higher your rate of return will be – both in terms of customer service and financial gains.
Employees who are engaged understand their job and how it contributes to the big picture of the company. They believe that their work has value. Humans are hard wired to equate feeling valued with an internal desire to take pride in their work and deliver to those who are making them feel valued. So, what does engagement involve? How do you demonstrate to your employees that they are valued?
What is Engagement?
First you have to understand what engagement is – and what it isn’t. Engagement is not about sugar coating everything. While you do want happy employees, that doesn’t mean everything is unicorns, rainbows and smiley face emojis. Engagement can’t be artificially produced. It must be genuine and authentic for it to produce long-term impact. And in business, results are the name of the game.
Engagement is all about creating an environment where employees are committed to the company and the people they work for, and are willing to go above and beyond to see the company succeed. Engaged employees are dedicated, happy, and serve as organic influencers for your company and its products or services. When people are proud of where they work and what they do, they naturally share that with others. That is the ultimate goal of employee engagement.
Easy Employee Engagement Strategies
Clearly defined roles.
There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting at your desk wondering why you were assigned a certain task or why you were asked to participate in a certain meeting. Not having a clear understanding of what your job is results in low morale, low commitment to getting the job done, and low quality control. Having a clear understanding of what your job is, and how and why it is important to the company increases moral, commitment and quality.
Whether you are hiring a new employee to join your team, or forming your team from within the company, you need to define the expectations of the role and the technical and soft skills needed to reach those expectations. Ensuring the right match between the person and the job does take a little extra time on the front end, but having constant turnover due to poor person-job fit costs much more time and money in the long run.
Along with understanding the job itself, people need to understand how their job fits into the big picture. Knowing that your work contributes to something bigger creates aspiration. It creates a sense of intrinsic motivation where one wants to be successful. Knowing that your work matters gives it a sense of importance and in turn allows the person to feel important. Feeling important and valued leads to a desire for continued and enhanced engagement.
First, let’s clarify what I mean when I say people need to feel supported. Too many times, I have watched someone express frustration or challenges related to a task and the leader wanted to know if this was going to cause a delay in getting the task finished. This does not make the employee feel supported.
What you should do, is help the person come up with strategies or identify resources to help them overcome the issues they’re having. It is not about doing the work for them or taking it off their plate but helping them figure out how to solve the problem. After all, your ability to solve problems is likely one of the reasons you are in a leadership role. So be a leader and guide them toward possible solutions.
Recognition is another term that should be clarified. Ongoing recognition is different from an annual awards program. Those are important, but annual awards generally focus on highlighting the achievements of only a few people. Everyday recognition is all about being polite and expressing genuine appreciation for those you work with. It is saying please and thank you. It is acknowledging the efforts made, the milestones met, the challenges overcome, and the innovations initiated.
This doesn’t need to be anything formal. It can be as simple as verbal praise during a group meeting, a written note, or a social media post. Knowing which type of expression of gratitude is most preferred by each individual employee can direct you to the best choice. The key is to make sure the recognition is specific as to who was involved, what was accomplished, and how it benefits the company. Personalized recognition is what will make it meaningful. Meaningful support and recognition leads to a feeling of being valued which leads to higher employee engagement.
It is not just making sure that work is moving forward, it is also about forwarding the relationship with the other person. You want them to feel supported, appreciated and valued. In order for someone to feel any of those things, they must first feel that they have a connection with you. Whatever the type of relationship – colleague, supervisor, subordinate, partner, etc. – there has to be an appreciation for the role that each person holds and an understanding of how that relates to one’s own role.
In addition, you need to help foster the relationships between your team members. If you team doesn’t trust and respect each other, productivity will diminish. Everyone needs to be confident that their team members will pull their own weight, follow through with their responsibilities, and have each other’s back. Camaraderie within the team should be encouraged and nurtured.
Relationships are built not just by meeting professional expectations, but also by revealing small personal insights. Enjoying a lunch together and learning about each person’s food preferences is an easy way to begin building team connections that go beyond the work itself. From there, easy conversation generally follows that can lead to further bonding.
Communicate – always.
Everyone wants to be in the communication loop. Transparency is more than a trendy word. It is a huge factor in engaging with people. People want to feel that they are part of what is happening and that they have some semblance of control over their work environment. This can be achieved through frequent communication.
While sometimes people will complain that they are getting too much information, they will complain a lot louder if they don’t feel they have been included in enough communications. Not everyone can be part of every decision. That means that it is the responsibility of those in power to do everything they can to help others feel like they are aware of what decisions are being made and why. This could be anything from asking for input during data gathering stages, or regular updates on what decisions are being made and where in the decision process they are.
No one likes being blindsided. People would rather know that decisions are in process and know who is making the decisions and why, then just suddenly be told that a decision has been made and they need to get on board. The more involved everyone is in the process – even if that involvement is only awareness – the more engaged people will feel with the company. This engagement is driven by frequent, clear, and honest communication.
What is my Role in Employee Engagement?
Regardless of what role you have on a team or in a company, engagement is everyone’s responsibility. It is not a passive process, but one that requires continuous effort.
As a team member, you have to be open to learning what your role is and what opportunities it provides. You have to be willing to ask for support when you need it and accept suggestions and encouragement from others. You have to try to develop positive working relationships with others. And you have to receive and process the communication that comes your way and deliver your own communications as appropriate. Engagement is not something that is given to you, it is action that you must take.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to create situations for engagement to thrive. It is your responsibility to provide clear direction on what your role involves and what you expect from the roles of others. One of those roles is to provide support and recognize others for their achievements. You need to create opportunities for relationships to develop. And you must take leadership for frequent and transparent communications. Engagement is not a one-and-done, but a constant practice of intentional employee development.
My Point Is…
Engagement is not something you put on your to do list one time and then cross it off as completed. It takes ongoing effort. Engagement is something that must be integrated into the company’s culture so it becomes part of everything that is done. It is more than a task; it is an approach to how things are done. Engagement is a combination of effort and attitude. It is a process that never ends and its outcomes are cumulative.
Actively working to create a place where people want to work, where they want to be a part of the larger corporate team, and where they want to shout from the rooftops about the great place they work, takes time, effort, and a strong commitment from leadership. Is it worth the effort? If you want highly productive, caring, and enthusiastic employees, then yes, it is absolutely worth it. Do you have what it takes to create a culture of engagement?
Revised. Originally published under The OD Pro in July 2019.