Employee engagement is a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of wellbeing. Engaging employees is seen as a bit of a ‘holy grail’ when it comes to managing people and looking after their well-being.
In 2006, management researcher Robert Vance said that“employees who are engaged in their work and committed to their organisations give companies crucial competitive advantages—including higher productivity and lower employee turnover.”
So how exactly do people professionals – from departments like Human Resources, Learning and Development and Organisation Development – create the conditions for engaging employees in their work? That’s the topic of today’s blog.
How to engage employees
To keep it simple, I’m going to focus on four key elements for engaging employees in the workplace:
- Have a meaningful organisational purpose
- Involve your people
- Help people to feel valued
- Get people playing to their strengths
And now in a little more detail:
1. Have a meaningful organisational purpose.
Your organisation needs to have a purpose in the world that is relevant to employees so they can feel that what they do makes a difference. That their work matters. That they have a point. Like ‘what on earth are you here for?’ Really. A lot has been said about the importance of organisational meaning to the ‘millennial’ work generation and generation Z which came after but in truth, meaning matters to all generations.
So my first tip is to make sure that your organisation’s vision and purpose is clear and meaningful, so that it represents something your people can buy into and hold onto. So that the efforts they put in every day at work make sense to them in a wider society and world context. And that purpose needs to be communicated regularly to people so that they don’t lose sight of it and so that they can keep it close whenever things get tough.
2. Involve your people.
Almost all the research out there on how to engage employees describes the importance of people’s involvement with their work – both from an organisational point of view and from a role point of view. What this means practically is that employees need to feel empowered to do their jobs in the way that works best for them and for the organisation. This gives people a sense of autonomy in, and personal control over, their work. It can be achieved by encouraging line managers to take a supportive, coaching approach with their teams, rather than doing too much tell and instruction and micro-management.
Employees also welcome a sense of control and involvement in the future direction of the organisation, so wherever you can, give your people a ‘voice’ to feed into strategic and local decision-making. Suggestion boxes, feedback conversations with line managers, online surveys – there are a number of ways of doing this. Again, all these things help people feel that they matter, that they are making a difference – this time to the way in which their organisation runs and to how their role is being delivered.
3. Help people feel valued.
Getting people feeling that they are listened to, by involving them more in workplace decision-making, will definitely help make them feel more valued, as the message is being communicated that their opinion matters. But ask what else, what more can you do, to increase that sense of valuing each and every employee in your organisation? There are many low-cost ways of doing this, here are just a few suggestions: low cost employee perks, such as Perkbox or others can provide people with access to money-saving offers for a pretty modest investment.
Encouraging line managers to give praise and positive feedback when appropriate – have a listen to my podcast at season 1, episode 4 on great feedback in 3 steps for more on how to do this well, but in essence the best way of giving positive feedback is to be specific, be timely (that is, give the feedback as close as possible to the timing of the good thing observed), and finally, help the person understand the benefit of what they’ve done for the wider team, department or organisation – this also reinforces an individual’s sense of purpose, another way of driving up engagement. Other ideas include buying team lunches from time to time, providing healthy snacks, remembering people’s birthdays, having a best team contributor of the month type award, there are loads more. In fact, we do all of these things and more at my company, Strengthscope, and I recorded a podversation with my People Lead, Migle, not so long ago, that sits at podversation 3, if you’re interested to listen to some more tried and tested ideas for engaging employees at work.
4. Get people playing to their strengths.
Employees report that having their personal strengths acknowledged and being able to play to their strengths every day in their work can be one of the most engaging aspects of what they do. People find that being encouraged to master their areas of strength gives a great sense of motivation and connection with work. This leads to more frequent experiences of ‘flow’ where people become fully immersed and absorbed in their work and contribute the greatest value to the organisation. So, stretching areas of strength is seen as one of the greatest untapped opportunities for driving up employee engagement in the workplace today. Season 1, episode 9 (Know your strengths) and Season 5, episode 11 (Maximising strengths in others: the art of great leadership) should give you some good pointers for more on this.
So those are my four top tips on how to engage employees and drive up those engagement scores in your organisation, plus those Glassdoor ratings too if that’s what you’re shooting for. People professionals need to use their people processes to see where these elements can be included, from recruitment and induction through to personal development, talent management and performance management. And where their processes are found wanting, it’s possible to make simple changes in order to make a big difference to employees’ likely ‘discretionary effort’ at work.
A few years back, management consultancy Deloitte’s report into global HR trends captured this well, talking about how the performance management process can be improved by shifting its emphasis. They wrote: “Look hard at your performance process and push toward simplification and strengths-based assessment and coaching. Train managers on how to give feedback. The days of traditional appraisals and forced ranking are coming to an end; performance management is now a tool for greater employee engagement.”
Have fun this week getting your employee engagement game on and see you next time.