One of the most important issues facing companies and HR leaders today is employee engagement. A critical driver of organizational success, employee engagement is not simply job satisfaction but a feeling of connectivity between the employee and their company’s mission. In today’s workforce, high levels of engagement help retain top talent, dramatically increases productivity, and improves organizational and stakeholder value.
If an employee is not “engaged,” they are either “not engaged” or “disengaged”. Non-engaged employees adequately complete their tasks but are not proactive and adaptive like their more engaged co-workers. Disengaged employees are the most likely to be looking for new job opportunities and have the potential to drive down company morale.
But, by focusing on employee wellbeing, HR leaders have the power to increase productivity while fostering a culture of engagement.
4 ways to improve employee engagement include:
1. Revisit your employees' basic needs
2. Balance your organizations' stress seesaw
3. Create peer-to-peer networks
4. Foster a Coaching Culture
1. Revisit Your Employees’ Basic Needs
Whether your organization is a start-up or a household name, the pandemic thrust employers and employees alike into a never-ending cycle of rapid change.
Did stay-at-home orders make it difficult for some employees to find a quiet place to work? Maybe a loved one contracting COVID sent stress levels soaring? Or, maybe mass lay-offs left the remaining employees feeling overwhelmed and confused about their responsibilities. If so, you are not alone.
Three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right, according to Gallup’s 2020 State of the American Workplace. That means seven out of 10 employees feel ill-equipped to accomplish their goals and tasks, likely leading to mass frustration with both their manager and company. It’s important to acknowledge this statistic goes far beyond things like computers and access to online programs, as well.
“Materials and equipment is not a checklist of tools parsed out to employees,” Gallup’s report reads. “Instead, it includes both tangible and intangible necessities for job performance. In today’s workforce, information and empowerment are often as necessary to a job as technology and office supplies.”
Amid rapid change, it’s important to keep in contact with your employees and team, listening to their evolving needs, advocating for said needs, and communicating transparently if those needs can or cannot be met.
According to the same research, six in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree they know what is expected of them at work. While a vast improvement from the last statistic, increasing this ratio to eight out of 10 could reduce turnover by 14 percent, reduce safety incidents by 20 percent, and increase productivity by 7 percent.
Clear expectations are the most fundamental employee need, and it is ultimately up to managers to provide such. As we come off a year of rapid change, HR leaders and managers should work together to reassess and fine-tune employee expectations, beginning with job descriptions. Less than half of the workforce believes they have a clear job description, with even fewer believing their work aligns with their job description.
It’s okay for a person’s role to change and develop over the course of their employment. What’s not okay is when this happens subtly and/or slowly, eventually leading to employees being held accountable for work that does not align with their job description nor what they’re evaluated on. As priorities, responsibilities, and circumstances change, the best managers continually assess, fine-tune, and share expectations with their employees.
To help teams and individuals understand their expectations, managers should:
- Meet with individuals to discuss the explicit and implicit expectations
- Clearly describe outstanding performance
- Show how their work aligns with the rest of the team and organization
- Provide frequent formal and informal feedback to help them reach their goals
2. Balance Your Stress Seesaw
We can’t dive deeper into this topic without talking about stress! COVID united billions of people in one way: heightened levels of stress. Whether you are an essential worker, a newbie to remote work, or trying to keep small business doors open, stress is at an all-time high.
As vaccines begin to roll out, it’s understandable if you want to create a stress-free environment for your team as your office starts to open back up. However, a stress-free existence is not what creates a happy, productive team.
Let’s think of stress as a seesaw (or teeter-totter). In the right seat, we have our most stressed-out self heading for burnout, anxiety, and irritability. The polar opposite, our stress-free self, sits in the left seat. And while that may sound like the side we want to win, a stress-free existence leads to boredom, disengagement, and a loss of purpose. What we’re really after, as employees and individuals, is balance.
To reach peak performance, where we are our most creative, energized, and motivated selves, we need a healthy serving of stress.
“It’s sort of an ironic paradox,” Dr. Jeff Hull, Ph.D., and Director of Educational and Business Development at Harvard’s Institute of Coaching said. “It’s not an either-or proposition. It’s really important that we reflect on ourselves as leaders, for our teams, on what is the balance we are shooting for in terms of optimal stress management. Not having no stress; not having too much stress.”
Finding and prioritizing balance for your organizations’ stress seesaw is the key to unlocking your employees’ potential.
3. Create Peer-to-Peer Networks
How are decisions made at your company? If everything is directed from the top down, it’s likely many of your employees don’t feel valued. In fact, only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree their opinions matter, according to the same 2020 Gallup study.
Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, want their voices to be heard at work. Because of this, the most innovative and adaptive companies are shifting their organizational framework from the classic hierarchical pyramid to a “network.”
“The hierarchy can actually be an obstacle to success. As we integrate the next generation, we need to take advantage of networking and technology that creates better connectivity,” Dr. Hull, Ph.D. said. “And that leads to themes like belonging and inclusion that are crucial for flattening the hierarchy and bringing organizations together so people actually feel like they are working on something important no matter what level they are within the organization.”
One way to make employees feel more connected to the company’s mission is to create peer-to-peer networks. Think of these networks as small breakout groups, where you pick a topic to discuss and include employees from different departments, with different backgrounds, and different pay scales. Don’t let your C-Suite sit out, either. For peer-to-peer networks to be effective, they must create an opportunity for employees to discuss issues they might otherwise not have a say in.
A great example comes from a start-up who used peer-to-peer networks to co-create their company culture. Each month, they rotated a group of employees from different levels who would come together to discuss a single question like, “why do you come to work every day?”, “what’s the most meaningful part of your job?”, and “what is the core value of our company?”
Dr. Hull, who helped the CEO build this peer-to-peer network, observed three sessions throughout this year-long initiative.
“One session I watched...[a millennial], unbelievably bright woman, facilitated a conversation where the CEO was a participant,” Dr. Hull, Ph.D. said. “And it was really powerful because people were like ‘wow, they really want to hear from us, they really want to have a dialogue’. And so they learned from each other.”
4. Foster a Coaching Culture
Coaching is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have. There is an overwhelming amount of research demonstrating coaching is one of the key ways people become more productive and foster a learning mindset throughout their career. As career development opportunities remain the top consideration for job seekers and the top reason people quit, coaching can not only help you develop your high-performers and managers into transformational leaders, but retain and attract top talent.
It’s also important to distinguish mentoring programs from coaching programs. Mentors, usually older more experienced employees, pass down advice saying things like “this is the technique that worked best for me.” Coaches, on the other hand, guide employees by saying, “let’s find the techniques best suited for you.”
While coaching is not a new professional development tactic, the idea of making coaching available to all employees is. At LeggUP, we believe coaching should be more than a work perk, it should be an employee benefit. That’s why we created the first professional coaching and mental wellbeing platform delivered to enterprises as an employee benefit. With the help of our certified professional coaches, science-backed assessments, and self-paced development, we can positively impact the productivity and wellbeing of your employees.
Interested in exploring employee engagement further? Watch our webinar and fireside chat with Dr. Hull, Ph.D, and Tom Finn, LeggUP’s co-founder.