As a business leader, if someone asks you the “why” of your business, you need to have an aspirational answer or they’ll quickly lose interest. The same goes if you’re chatting up a potential investor or talking to your team members.
A clear vision and mission statement is the bedrock for employee engagement. Think about the number of volunteers worldwide who contribute their energy to causes they care about and expect nothing in return.
When it comes to employee engagement, start with the why and build from there. In this article I’ll take you through:
What Is Employee Engagement and Why Should You Care?
Employee engagement is the level of mental and emotional commitment an employee has for your office environment and the work they do.
It’s something I think about a lot with my own team members because engaged team members will work harder and stick with your company longer. The time and energy put into supporting an engaged workforce will benefit your company in so many ways.
When team members feel engaged, you’ll see positive trends in:
In fact, you could easily say that employee engagement is the key to a thriving company.
Who’s Responsible for Employee Engagement?
When it comes to engagement, every team member plays a part.
However, while each employee is somewhat responsible for their own level of engagement, it’smanagers who create the conditions and relationships that foster engaged employees.Or the opposite–a supervisor can also have a serious impact when it comes to disengaged employees, resulting in lower levels of engagement that negatively impact the mission and vision of your organization.
“The manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement.”
Present leadership and strong relationships within a team are necessary for high engagement. Employees want to work for leaders who:
Put their people first
Value what employees bring to the table
Show integrity on a daily basis.
People want to feel a strong sense of purpose and meaning within their work, and they want to be known for what makes them stand out. Employees want relationships with managers who take them to a higher level of job satisfaction.
How Do You Gauge Employee Engagement?
So what does engagement actually look like?
An engaged employee is present, motivated, and ready to get the job done. They:
Look for ways to function at their best
Take accountability–they don’t blame others when issues arise
Are open to feedback from others, and want to respectfully give feedback
Are willing to go above-and-beyond for the greater good of the workplace
Are there for the long haul–they care about the mission of the company and want to be a part of it
Employee engagement can be measured by evaluating the organization as a whole, teams, or individual staff members. In fact, a combination of all three is most effective to ensure you have a clear picture of where your organization is.
You can assess employee engagement by utilizing formal surveys and interviews. Frequent pulse surveys is an effective way to ask staff why they stay and what factors could make them more likely to leave in the future.
Be transparent when you’re collecting feedback—tell your team members why you’re doing the survey and the goals you hope to achieve from it.
You should also spend time talking with your staff, either informally or in a stay interview, to ask them how they feel when it comes to engagement.
Consider asking questions like:
What motivates you to wake up and come to work every day?
What’s your favorite part of your job?
What’s something you’ve done with our company you’re most proud of?
Can you think of one new thing you’d like to work on or do differently?
Is there something about your job that you really don’t like?
After ___ months/years with our company, how do you feel overall?
An open and honest conversation will likely yield more information and also help build rapport and trust.
I’ve had to become comfortable being uncomfortable in my role as a leader. This means putting yourself out there to hear honest perspectives that might not match your own. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make changes, and sometimes as leaders we can’t, but your team members will feel valued and heard.
8 Drivers of Employee Engagement
Once you have a feeling of where your own workplace stands, it’s time for your leadership team to look at areas you can improve and then create an employee engagement strategy. Leaders should take an active role in the action plan and lead the way when it comes to needed improvements.
In my experience as both leader and team member, I’ve identified these eight key drivers that lead to more engaged employees.
1. Know Your “Why”
As an organizational leader, it’s your responsibility to communicate why you come to work each day and what your business stands for. You should be able to clearly articulate your company’s vision and mission statement, and you should talk about the passion you have for your work often.
When you know your “why,” you instill passion into your work and you’re better able to push through hard times because you know the importance of what you do.
Don’t buy it? Check out this video I regularly show to fellow leaders and team members that demonstrates the awesome power of “why” (warning, tingles coming up):
2. Model Your Expectations
Your employees should know what’s expected within your work environment not just by hearing your words, but from your actions. When you approach your work with energy, enthusiasm, and a strong sense of purpose, staff will see this and do the same.
3. Put the Right People in the Right Seats
To maximize employee engagement, it’s your job as a leader to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right positions. We need to play to people’s strengths and have them working in the area that best suits them as often as possible.
In my own office, we realize not everyone excels in the same areas. This is seen within day-to-day operations and conversations with staff about their strengths and areas of improvement—and it’s often reflected within performance evaluations.
As leaders, we have to understand individual employees enough to know the areas in which they excel and then put them there whenever possible.
4. Ensure Effective Training and Continued Coaching
Engaged employees are most effective when they’re clear about their job expectations and know-how to meet those expectations.
Help employees get a strong start with clear and accurate training related to their job roles, then ensure management is present for continued coaching after the initial probationary period has ended.
Staff should know they work for an organization interested in professional development, and that means there’s no end to coaching. Keep them appraised of growth and career development opportunities, and push them to reach the next level.
Gallup recommends using pulse surveys to identify what your employees want to learn more about. They also help reveal gaps in knowledge you need to be aware of as a manager.
If you’re not willing to listen, it means your staff doesn’t feel heard—a significant contributing factor to disengagement. So, be willing to listen to employee feedback, even if you don’t have the same perspective. And trust me, your staff is likely to have better employee engagement ideas than you do. Be open to this possibility and listen to your team members.
Also be willing to have those uncomfortable conversations and address issues you see early on, rather than waiting for them to become bigger problems down the line. If you see an employee not meeting deadlines, ask them questions about it constructively.
Here’s an example:
“Hey Sarah, I see this deadline was missed. Are you having trouble getting it completed? Do you need help?”
You’d be amazed at the doors these simple questions will open, and it’s much more effective than assuming you know the issue and best solution.
6. Give Continual Feedback
Staff needs to know where they stand on a regular basis—not just at annual evaluation time. It’s important for managers to have honest discussions with employees to talk about their hard work and also areas of need. Engaged employees respect managers who are open, honest, and willing to have those discussions that can feel a bit uncomfortable.
It’s also a lot less stressful at evaluation time to know employees are already aware of their areas of need because it’s been previously discussed.
7. Recognize the Wins
Employee recognition is paramount to strong workplace culture and increased engagement. So, be sure you’re recognizing wins of all sizes on a regular basis.
There are many effective ways to recognize staff milestones and they don’t have to be extravagant. Consider things like:
Stopping by their door to let them know you saw the win, and you appreciate their work
Sending them recognition through email and including their direct supervisor
Sending an office-wide email to make others aware of their good work
Recognition within a staff-meeting
A phone-call or text to the employee to express your appreciation.
These little acts go a long way in keeping employees feeling appreciated and engaged.
I remember when I was just a few years into my current job, my office underwent major renovations. My boss back then asked the construction team if he could keep these big, concrete chunks of the floor they’d removed (I’m sure they thought it was a strange request).
My boss then gave out those chunks of our building to staff as awards to show his appreciation, and to remind us that we were an integral part of the office and the work. He showed us we were valued, and we were needed.
It’s been about fifteen years since then, but that piece of the concrete floor still sits by my desk and reminds me every day what I do matters.
Showing appreciation as a leader doesn’t have to cost money, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It really is the little things that mean the most when it comes to recognizing the great work of your team.
8. Prioritize Wellness
Staff want to know you care about them and their wellbeing, so an effective way to ensure you have engaged employees is to make their wellness a priority.
This covers encouraging them to take needed time off and letting them know they can make their families and their mental wellness a priority. Consider options like increased telework or a flexible work schedule to help meet the needs of staff and encourage a healthy work/life balance.
Remember, being busy, overworked, and stressed isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a sign of health issues to come, and leaders need to encourage employees to slow down and rest when needed.
Now that you know what it takes to increase employee engagement, let’s take a look at how to maintain it.
Engaged employees need strong connections with management to feel valued. This means it’s your responsibility as a leader to take the time and make the effort to build those relationships and maintain them over time.
Relationship-building doesn’t have to be a formal event. It can be as simple as stopping by an employee’s office door to say hello, walking the halls to check-in, or giving staff a call to see if they’re in need of anything that day.
2. Be Open to Improvement
As leaders, we have to be open to recognizing that we might have improvements of our own to make when it comes to employee engagement. In fact, we should always have improvements to make, and we should always look for ways to learn and grow.
We do this by being open to feedback, learning from mentors and their experiences, and making learning a priority. Read about employee engagement and ask colleagues to tell you how they found success and where they failed.
3. Address the Issues
There will be times when an employee isn’t engaged, and it’s your job as a leader to address it. It’s crucial that you do, or you risk the disengaged employee spreading negativity in the workplace.
Have open conversations with the team members to find out more about why they don’t feel engaged and potential ways to improve their level of buy-in. Then make a plan.
4. Nail Onboarding
With each new hire, the goal is to strengthenyour organization. This requires a strong onboarding process. Finding the right people for the job increases long-term employee retention, productivity, and improves your workplace culture.
Onboarding starts before a new employee steps foot in the door (physically or metaphorically) on their first day, and you can easily take steps to ensure your new employee is ready, engaged and remains that way.