A successful organization is about more than just its bottom line, at least if it wants to be sustainable.
While there are many factors that go into a company’s long-term success, one of the most important revolves around having highly engaged employees working together as a team. Creating a culture in which your employees are engaged is key.
Today’s employees want more than just 9-to-5 drudgery and a paycheck. They want to feel a sense of purpose for the work they're doing and they need to feel appreciated for the contribution they make to the mission and the overall success of the company.
If you would like to create a culture of engagement in your own workforce, this guide can give you the rundown of how to start and navigate the whole process. Here’s what you need to know.
What does employee engagement mean?
At Up Your Culture, we define employee engagement as an emotional commitment and willingness to give your best at work.
When engagement is strong, employees have a powerful sense of purpose, and they feel as though they have a stake in the game. Because of that, they are willing to give everything they’ve got to achieve success and often go above and beyond what others are doing.
Why is employee engagement important?
The most obvious impact made by lower engagement is declining productivity.
If your staff merely shows up for work, putting in the minimum amount of effort to get by, your company is in trouble. While it may not completely break down right away, it will be impossible to grow and thrive over time. On the other hand, if your people show up feeling invested in their work and excited to put in discretionary effort, your productivity will skyrocket.
The benefits of creating engagement include:
- Lower staff turnover, less time wasted on repeated training and lower employment costs
- Greater productivity and efficiency due to employees being self-motivated and diligent
- Higher profits due to the above benefits and greater overall productivity
- More consistent company improvement and better customer service
- Lower levels of absenteeism and short-staffing during crucial operations
There are also many other benefits of employee engagement. These include reduced stress in your workplace, better communications between you and your staff and greater loyalty between the members of your organization.
Long-term, your company can also earn the reputation as a place that takes care of its employees’ emotional needs and personal growth goals. This will likely make your organization more attractive to highly talented job candidates even in a competitive hiring market.
How poor engagement can impact your business
Just as employee engagement creates marked benefits like those mentioned above, its absence can lead to precarious problems like reduced motivation and increased turnover.
Losing an employee means unexpected recruiting, hiring, and training costs and it interrupts the steady flow of business which can be costly.
If your people lack engagement and motivation, you will spend valuable time and management energy trying to push them to produce more. Eventually, you will give up and devote that time to figuring out how to exit them from your organization, recruit new employees, hire those new employees, and train them all over again. This causes morale to drop further and drives out your most talented people, perpetuating this vicious cycle.
Finally, research shows that a lack of engagement can reduce quality. Poorly motivated employees work less diligently and underperform on their basic duties which can lead to as many as 60% more workplace mistakes that later must be fixed by someone.
What drives employee engagement?
Employee engagement isn’t just about happy hours and pep talks. As an owner or business leader, it is up to you recognize what matters to your people and create an environment in which they can thrive. This usually involves establishing a strong mission that employees feel connected to, developing their skills and growing them over time, and creating a strong sense of belonging.
It’s also important to show your people that you care about them. This means communicating honestly, demonstrating respect for their unique qualities, doing what you say you will do, and consistently rewarding and recognizing them for their good work.
Whether you run a for-profit business or a non-profit, your people want you to:
- Demonstrate integrity
- Seek their input and include them often
- Remind people how their specific contribution is important to the company and others.
- Provide effective feedback
- Praise them often
- Seek growth opportunities
- Reward them for their work
- Create an environment where they feel confident, they can speak up
- Show empathy and genuine concern for employees as people
- Provide them with the resources and support they need to be successful
The job of engaging employees is most fundamentally a top-down effort that must stem from a sincere effort by the organization’s owners and executives. Only when those at the very top have complete buy-in can they create a wave that sweeps through the organization and pulls everyone in. When all people-leaders are fully invested in the vision, employees will feel it and engagement will rise.
Types of employee engagement
Every organization has a unique culture, mission, reason for being, and core values. Therefore, the effort needed to create strong engagement within each organization will look slightly different and will need to be custom tailored.
With that said, employee engagement is all about responding to the innate needs of human beings, so in many ways, understanding Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help. At the most basic level, you need to focus on your employees’ wellbeing, providing a safe environment in which to work and committing to fair compensation so they can afford a home and the healthcare they need.
Working up the needs hierarchy, you can develop a culture of inclusion in which your people feel like they matter and they belong. Creating strong relationships with your people, seeking their input, and recognizing their good work creates a strong sense of connectedness.
At the highest and most sophisticated level of engagement, you can commit to coaching and developing your people to reach their greatest potential. Understanding each employee’s personal goals and keeping their innate strengths top of mind, you can work with them to create a growth plan and support them as they stretch for more. Once each goal is realized, you can then provide them with effective feedback and celebrate their success.
What causes poor employee engagement?
Flip that upside down and you have the recipe for poor engagement. Fail to provide for their more basic needs, create an environment that is siloed in which people don’t communicate or share, and neglect to build relationship with your people or support their growth, and your engagement will plummet.
Any organization that works for its own core benefit while squeezing its staff to give the most for the least possible reward will hardly be workplace in which people thrive. Employees who work in unfulfilling jobs will be even less tolerant of their position if they also feel as if they’re being exploited without recourse to communicating their grievances, or being listened to if they do have something to say.
How to improve employee engagement for the long term
Employee engagement can’t be a fad and it can’t be a program you do for a little while until it’s “fixed.” Strong employee engagement is the result of consistent focus and a never-ending commitment to your people.
It starts at the top with leaders who value engagement and are willing to work for it. They must commit to building strong habits and holding each other accountable to the priorities discussed above like increased transparency, effective feedback, people development, and two-way communication.
But it can’t stay at the top. Every employee has a stake in the culture which means they have the responsibility of demonstrating the core values of the organization and using them as guideposts for how they treat customers and each other.