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Ten Best Practices for Employee Engagement

The buzz about employee engagement continues to grow, likely because many organizations realize that it's important but are not very good at engaging their employees. We see this problem in our own national benchmark survey, with U.S. companies reaching an average score of just 67 out of 100 on our Engagement Index. Yes, employee engagement is low, but what can you as an employeer do about it? Everyone agrees that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their competitors - it's a no-brainer that enthusiastic and committed employees provide better customer service, for example - so it's clearly not something HR professionals should ignore.

Based on the employee engagament survey research we've done over the years, here are 10 suggestions for specific actions you can take to help move your Employee Engagement needle in a positive direction:

Employee Engagement. Love Your Job
  1. Understand what your employees are thinking and feeling - use all methods, including well-designed and benchmarked employee surveys, to systematically collect employee attitudes and opinions, as well as promoting social media platforms where associates can share their thoughts. One of the most frequent complaints we hear from employees is that senior management doesn't listen to them and refuses to take employee suggestions into consideration when making changes to corporate policies and practices. In other words, be sure to open the lines of communication between employees and senior leaders in your organization if you're serious about maximizing employee engagement.

  2. Create an "intentional" culture that defines your mission, vision and values, rather than leaving your corporate culture to develop "by chance." In the absence of clear top-down direction, a corporate culture will develop but it might be based on negative factors like cynicism, frustration and not really caring about the future of your organization rather than on any positive characteristics or values. Organizations that articulate a clear and achievable mission give their employees something to believe in. At the same time, though, it's critical to be realistic about what your culture is now and not try to impose values or principles that are completely inconsistent with your current situation. Employee engagement is highest where employees can "feel" the mission in their bones, rather than snickering about it under their breath.

  3. Demonstrate a genuine appreciation for employee contributions, both big and small. It's almost impossible to overstress the importance of regularly recognizing the efforts and contributions your employees are making to your organization if you want to encourage engagement. If you really think about it, where would you be without them? And yet, fewer than 4 in 10 U.S. employees is satisfied with the level of reward and recognition at their jobs, even though this factor alone is typically among the strongest contributors to job satisfaction. For many of our clients, we recommend that they cultivate a "Culture of Recognition" but, like many of these recommendations, this can only come from the top.

  4. Learn how to tell your organization's stories so you can both reinforce for current employees what your organization stands for and ensure that the right people are attracted to your organization. This relates to the idea of building a strong culture and defining a clear mission, but it goes beyond that. We know that people respond really well to stories and that sharing stories is one of the most important ways we develop a feeling of belonging. It seems that many organizations don't see the value that can come from encouraging story telling, like sharing big wins with everyone or recognizing departmental accomplishments in a public way. This simple fix can do wonders to employee commitment and loyalty.

  5. Both commit to, and practice, open and honest communication with your employees and your customers. It should not come as a surprise that employees are very aware when senior management does not act in line with stated values ("Do as I say, not as I do") or when favoritism ("It's who you know, not what you know") replaces accountability as the path to success.

  6. Encourage social interactions among your workforce both inside and outside of work since, when colleagues feel connected to each other and the organization, their productivity and sense of engagement improves. Unfortunately, many organizations are extremely "siloed" and departments often find themselves competing with each other rather than collaborating for the greater good. When employees are asked how communications can be improved, they often stress the need for increased cooperation and want to learn more about the roles, priorities and responsibilities of the other departments within the organization. Regular "lunch and learns" can be an effective way of achieving this goal.

  7. Recognize the importance of career path development and truly support and encourage your employees to pursue career advancement/enhancement. Like reward and recognition mentioned earlier, believing that there is a clear career path where you work makes an incredible contribution to job satisfaction and employee engagement. So why are U.S. employees no more satisfied with their career prospects than with reward and recognition? In fact, in our exit survey results, we find that the main cause of voluntary turnover comes from employees who are leaving to improve their careers. This doesn't mean that every employee needs to, or wants to, advance through the ranks but it does mean that organizations need to give serious attention to encouraging "career enhancement" if not career advancement for all.

  8. Show employees that you care enough to invest in their training and development even if further improving their skills makes them more attractive to your competition. Similar to believing that they have long-term career possibilities, most employees don't want to be stuck performing the same tasks day in and day out. Does your organization offer widely-available and structured educational opportunities for continuing skill building? Do your front line managers discuss these opportunities during the performance reviews with their direct reports? Current satisfaction with the level of training and development is only slightly higher than with reward & recognition or career advancement.

  9. Give employees the flexibility to do their jobs in the way they think is best - employees appreciate knowing that you are there to support them but that you trust them to get the job done. In other words, avoid micro-management at all costs. Nothing kills productivity or enthusiasm faster than being constantly watched - and criticized - when you work. Give your employees autonomy in how they do their work and they will return the favor by becoming more engaged and satisfied at those jobs.

  10. Help employees understand what is expected of them by updating job descriptions and clearly defining their roles and responsibilities. Knowing what you are supposed to do at work is - perhaps not surprisingly - one of the key contributors to high engagement within American organizations. Most places do pretty well at this, but a lot fail to maximize this strength because their performance review programs are not taken seriously. Remember that regularly evaluating employee performance in a constructive and forward-looking way, no matter how you actually conduct the reviews, represents an essential opportunity to really engage with your employees and build their commitment.

Employee Engagement Really Matters!

In short, effectively building employee engagement is not something that can be achieved with sporadic or knee-jerk reactions to poor employee engagement scores. It needs to be part of a carefully planned and calibrated strategy that incorporates each of the 10 points listed above. It may not be easy, but it is worth it!

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