Employee Engagement – How Do We Get There?

Let’s talk about engagement—how do you keep valued employees, increase performance, and reduce turnover? In a post-recession economy, it is a priority to build a responsive company culture that engages your workers.  After years of cost cuts, critical work to create engagement and retention strategies is ahead for HR professionals.

According to a recent Gallup poll, most American workers remain disengaged, a condition attributed to workplace environment, managerial impact, and lack of career development and recognition.  By Gallup figures, only about 30% of the U.S. workforce finds value in their job beyond the money.

High turnover is expensive.  Easy networking and a “grass is always greener” attitude make talent an easy target for poaching by a competitor. When innovation and experience walk out your door after their exit interview, your challenge is to replace your employee—and prevent it from happening again soon.

Engagement strategies pay off

Long considered a soft HR issue, employee engagement is a measurable metric that supports your bottom line.  The C-suite attitude toward workforce plays an essential part in setting the pace for job satisfaction—or high turnover.

In a Harvard Business Review report, the authors discuss the importance of employee engagement for operational success. The report, based on surveys from more than 500 executives, includes the following points:

  • Top business is moving toward strategic growth strategies, including employee engagement.
  • Leading factors in business success include excellent customer service, good communication, effective employee engagement, and integrated executive leadership.
  • Senior and middle management often have different perspectives on employee engagement.
  • Successful companies use well-crafted analytic and survey tools to explore and measure employee engagement.
  • Employee feedback is used to create and fine-tune recognition and incentive programs.
  • High employee engagement improves performance, productivity, and revenue growth while reducing costs.

What does employee engagement look like?

Happy employees do not necessarily mean engaged employees.  Showing up, doing the job, collecting a paycheck, and going home are enough to make some workers happy—but not necessarily engaged. Employee engagement means loyalty, interest, curiosity, respect, and pride. As HR, part of your job is screening and onboarding the right candidates for your organization. Ongoing flux in technology, the economy, and the workforce require adjustment of HR processes to manage and retain a dynamic, rather than stable, worker population.

As we noted earlier, Millennials are going to dominate the workplace for at least the next decade.  Seeking challenge, responsibility, and success, these workers are less likely than Baby Boomers to remain in an unsatisfying job. So how do you create engagement?  Consider these points:

  • Company culture means a lot of things, but it generally refers to the blueprint of behavior on which your company is modeled. What are the rules, vision, norms—what is your company about?  What is the growth goal of the company, how does it deal with conflict, how is important information transmitted?  Answering these questions for your own company is important.  As quoted in , one business owner said “You can’t borrow somebody else’s work environment–you’ll be miserable at it.””
  • Business culture influences employee engagement in a big way. If employees understand that leadership does not know—or care—about the company, they won’t, either.  Skilled talent expects recognition and compensation—but it also seeks personal connection with its working space.  That means pride in the company brand and services.  Simply put, is your workplace one where people want to work?  Why?  Ask the questions, reflect on the answers, and build your culture.
  • Authentic communication is an important stepping stone toward employee engagement. Does management share information or spin it?  Do workers stay informed of upcoming changes, or new hires, through the grapevine, or by frequent, informal meetings?  Is management distant and conferring, or responsive and consultative?  We all know what it feels like to be part of a great team.  It makes a difference if information is used and withheld, or shared and explained.  Being straightforward with your talent means they are more likely to be straightforward with you.  When communication is a two-way street, employee engagement improves—a lot.
  • Money is important but not the only compensation available on the job. Do your employees know they are valued?  How?  Is performance evaluated fairly?  What about skill and career development?  Honesty with new hires about advancement and training opportunities show an employer is interested in an employee as a real human resource.

There are tips and incentives to improve employee engagement, but it boils down to meaning.  An employee who cares is an engaged employee.  Strategic alignment on workforce engagement improves your bottom line all the way around.

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