Companies depend upon employee engagement for multiple reasons: higher productivity, better morale, lower turnover rates, and other, more ephemeral reasons, such as trust in management and self-confidence. Employment engagement strategies aim to foster engagement that’s in tune with company values and corporate culture.
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The Problem with Employee Engagement Strategies
“Employee engagement strategy” is a loaded term because it suggests a one-size-fits-all solution and an external influence that somehow triggers engagement. As Annette Franz, CEO and founder of CX Journey, Inc. notes, “Employee engagement cannot be a strategy because engagement comes from within the employee.”
Instead, Franz defines employee engagement as the connection employees have to their companies. It’s the motivation that drives employees to rise to their highest potential to help their company succeed.
Strengthening employee engagement requires an understanding of who they are and what they need.
An employee engagement strategy that works wonders in one business may not produce the same results in a company with different values and cultural expectations. Your employee engagement strategy needs to be tailored to your employees, their expectations, and your corporate culture. To do so, you need to define employee engagement as it applies to your specific environment, starting with the basics.
How to Define Employee Engagement
To define employee engagement in your company, start with the fundamentals that provide employees with satisfaction and a sense of worth. These fundamentals have little to do with financial recompense or benefits, and more to do with deep-seated human needs. Those needs, which are highly subjective in nature, include:
Feeling valued. Employees need to believe both they and their company matter. Employees who believe they make a difference are more invested in company success and more likely to remain with the company. Help employees remember they matter with regular updates on progress, such as a weekly status report delivered through email or collaborative software.
Belonging. Humans are social animals with an intense need for social acceptance and belonging. An employee who identifies with your company’s values and feels at home in its culture is more likely to feel that sense of belonging. Employees who feel they’re part of the corporate “tribe” are more likely to make friends within the company and go the extra mile for the company success.
Empowerment. To succeed, employees need access to appropriate tools, processes, and information. They need to know how to find help if they need it, while also having the power to make their own decisions about how tasks are completed. A balance between supportive and hands-off management is essential for employee engagement.
Respect. Employees value respect and knowing their opinions are heard and valued. Providing respect need not be a huge gesture–a simple thank you for an employee’s work on a project tells the employee she’s respected, which in turn builds future confidence and motivation.
Focusing on these five fundamental needs does more to improve employee engagement than “appreciation days” and other gimmicks. Employee engagement strategies should focus on long-term gains, not short-term “feel good” moments.
Employee Engagement Surveys
Strengthening employee engagement requires an understanding of who they are and what they need. When a group of mid- to high-level management try to build employee engagement without employee involvement, they can quickly disconnect from reality–management and employees often see the workplace through radically different lenses.
Surveys and polls are excellent ways of identifying employee needs and determining employee engagement levels. Anonymous surveys provide employees with a safe environment to offer their views, providing data your employee engagement team might otherwise overlook (or indeed never have considered). Employee engagement data should flow from the bottom up, not the top down. Short, real-time polls are an effective way to evaluate employee engagement on specific projects or topics.
Surveys are only the start of the process. Gather your responses, evaluate the data, and then take action based on employee responses. It’s at this point many an employee engagement strategy crumbles–not taking action sends the message you’ve heard employee concerns, and have chosen to do nothing. Even if the action you take doesn’t fully resolve an issue, you’re at least letting employees know you value their responses. Show them you listen.
Keep employees informed as you act on issues, and give them a voice throughout the process. If possible, have each department appoint an employee to serve on your engagement team.
As you implement changes to strengthen employee engagement, accept that no strategy is 100 percent effective. There will always be employees who don’t respond to engagement efforts. Some of these employees may simply not be a good fit for their positions or the company. Others may need a little personalized engagement–the employee who does his best work alone, for instance, isn’t a good fit for group projects.
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Your goal is to create an environment where the majority of employees are happy, engaged, and working in sync with company values. There’ll always be that employee you just can’t reach.