As a manager or business owner, you probably hear of the importance of employee 'engagement' quite often. While this might sound good, what exactly does that look like and how can you foster it?
Business owners, managers and HR staff are continually bombarded with sage advice, dire warnings, and questionable new "must have" practices, especially when it comes to employees. For example, a phrase that has come to prominence over the last few years is "employee engagement."
And while this might seem like an intuitive concept, it's a fair question to ask what, exactly, is an engaged employee?
Management, Employees and Work
Liz Ryan, a Senior Contributor at Forbes magazine, had this to say about 'employee engagement',
"Some people use the term "Employee Engagement" more loosely than just the employees' engagement with the organization's mission. These folks say "If employees are happy and busy, they're engaged." I'm okay with that definition. When folks can plug into their own power source at work, they can race forward unimpeded.
When people are hampered and hemmed in on every side by pointless bureaucratic process, rules, fear, hierarchy and stupid management decisions, they can't relax into their jobs. They can't move an inch without having to get somebody's signature or go see a committee."
Ryan's contention is that seemingly "un-engaged" employees are a result of "the problem of corporate and institutional fear manifested in excess policy and sludge."
Others take a bit more analytical approach to defining and measuring employee engagement. To their minds, engagement is more than simply morale or job satisfaction. It implies an emotional investment or attachment to the organization and its mission.
For example, BusinessDictonary.com defines it as,
Emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organization, which tends to influence his or her behaviors and level of effort in work related activities.
In other words, the more emotionally connected or engaged an employee is with his or her company, the more effort that employee will put into their work. This, in turn, means that engaged employees are more than simply happy or satisfied employees, but are workers who perform better.
And this is always a good thing for an owner or manager.
Tips for Improving Employee Engagement
The challenge for managers here is that engagement is a decision on the part of the employee. In other words, you can make an employee "happy", but engagement has to be encouraged and fostered - can't be manufactured.
There are a number of factors that contribute to genuine engagement on the part of workers, but there are four that are essential and that management can influence.
Implicit in these four factors is the element of trust - trust between manager and worker, and trust in the organization. If there is no trust then all the other factors fail to achieve engagement and will be seen as inauthentic and disingenuous.
Employees need to know, understand and feel that their efforts truly contribute to the ongoing success of the company. This requires some system of measuring both accomplishment and impact in relation to every position. Simply telling employees that their work matters does not sufficiently foster engagement.
Having tangible evidence of some type, on the other hand, engenders both pride of accomplishment and a deeper sense of genuine contribution on the part of an employee. Because not every employee performs work that directly contributes to the revenue or bottom line, the type of achievement or contribution will vary from one to another.
Directly related to the concept of contribution is the concept of mission, or purpose. Employees need to be very clear on what the company's purpose of mission is so that they have the context for valuing their own contributions towards that mission.
Closely tied to contribution is recognition. Author Chip Conley once noted in an interview,
"The primary motivator of disgruntlement at work is the feeling of not being recognized. People join a company and they leave their boss, as Marcus Buckingham said. The bottom line is the ultimate motivator that says “I gotta to out of here” is not that you’re underpaid, it’s that you feel under-respected or under-recognized. There’s a lot of research that shows that. Unfortunately, the practice of management tends to not take account of that."
Conley adapted Maslow's famous "hierarchy of needs," which charted human needs on a pyramid graph. Maslow's graph had needs like food and shelter at the base of the pyramid, good family relationships in the middle, and needs such as self-actualization at the peak.
Conley applied this concept to employees with the basic need being money, needs like recognition for a job well done in the middle, and needs such as meaning and creative expression at the top.
The problem is that most managers tend to manage largely at the bottom of the pyramid. But recognizing employees in a variety of ways, including peer recognition, is critical to fostering an environment that helps employees to be more engaged.
This is not a new concept, but it is possibly the most ill-managed one in any organization. Communication, to be truly effective, must be strategic and intentional. Simply talking and telling is never enough.
One source states that,
Quality communication can’t be a one-time occurrence. It must be a long-term strategy ingrained in your culture and the way you do business. To this end, you need to set goals for the frequency of communication for each channel and for each internal audience (i.e., company-wide, department-wide, etc.) and stick to them.
Communication must be a reflection of your company culture, as well.
For example, a gaming software firm geared primarily at Millennials, may have a culture and brand is informal and irreverent. This means that the tone and forms of their internal communications should also be irreverent and informal.
On the other hand, a traditional banking services firm that fosters a culture authority, expertise, and trust, will model its internal communications to reflect those qualities as well.
And, finally, communication is the "glue" that holds everything else together.
4. Employee Growth
In order to stay engaged, employees want to feel that they can continuously grow and develop at work, both personally and professionally. If an organization's workers feel like their drifting along in dead-end jobs, they will disengage, become dissatisfied, and begin to look for other opportunities.
Every business knows that it must continually grown and improve in order to survive and succeed. And, for employees, an atmosphere of continual growth is also a necessity for companies that want to experience high retention.
This can take the form of on-site continuing education, subsidized formal education, incentivized skill growth programs and even opportunities for pursuing personal work-related projects on company time. The bottom line is that employees need both opportunities and management encouragement to pursue growth and development.
Professional HR Management Help
Employee development, culture building and workforce management can all fall under the auspices of a company's HR staff. And oftentimes the tasks and demands can seem overwhelming. This is where having an alternative for your HR management can be highly beneficial.
Another key step in maintaining HR workload, while increasing your company's cost-effectiveness, is to consider outsourcing. A professional agency such as Accuchex can provide much-needed help with Human Resources needs and questions.
Accuchex is a full spectrum Payroll Management Services provider offering expertise in Time Management, Insurance and Retirement issues, as well. Sign up for our free "My HR Support Center" tour.