Employee engagement strategies couldn’t come at a more critical time. A 2016 Gallup poll noticed some disturbing trends, showing a global engagement level of only 13%. This represents a clear failure on a worldwide scale. Making matters worse is that, according to Gallup, this trend doesn’t seem to be changing. The big question, therefore, is why?
Being that we’re talking about global statistics, it’s difficult to pinpoint every little reason. Labour laws and cultural approaches to work vary radically from one location to the next. Case in point, the same poll indicates that U.S. workers are 32% engaged – hardly good news, but still over twice as much as the global average.
One issue that we as HR professionals can all agree on is that this crisis is perpetuated by the constant implementation of failed approaches to engagement, specifically annual or semi-annual surveys. These tactics treat engagement like a mathematical formula, using generic questions that fail to recognize employees for what they are: human beings.
Companies that do enjoy high engagement rates see this concept as something meant to be ongoing; a process not to be done on paper, but rather through consistent interaction, analysis and reliable methods. Fortunately, engagement is a lot like illness. The cause is universal and, consequently, so is the cure. The key is to find the right approaches.
Regular Communication with Leadership
Many of us are aware of the famous saying, “employees quit their bosses, not their jobs.” This is absolutely correct. Pay and benefits mean nothing if there’s a disconnect between staff and management. Again, employee engagement strategies are an ongoing process. Workers want to feel like their opinions and feelings matter. More importantly, they need to be able to express feedback and concerns as they happen, not on some questionnaire six months later.
Open Door Policy
This leads us to the classic – and proven – “open door policy”. Put simply, this means that managers should emphasize that they’re always available to talk. Whether it’s an issue with another staff member, senior leadership or workplace policy, the ability to voice concerns is vital to overall morale and engagement.
Similarly, staff should be encouraged to tell their superiors about things that the company is doing correctly. This helps upper management keep track of practices and regulations that work.
Personal issues can create roadblocks to engagement. There will always be times when employees are dealing with stressors or health problems that affect their ability to work. Rather than suffer in silence until these individuals are reprimanded for underperforming, managers should invite their staff to come to them and express what’s happening. Only then can accommodations be made to hopefully preserve some productivity and, more importantly, keep the worker in question happy. If someone feels that their boss genuinely cares for his or her well-being, they’ll ultimately feel like an asset, rather than another number on the payroll.
Granted, a supervisor isn’t a therapist. If it’s clear that the individual’s issues are beyond resolution through a simple chat, it’s important that we tactfully offer them resources that will help them cope.
Make Coaching a Team-Based Effort
Coaching sessions are an important way to keep employees updated on their performance, but many supervisors do this horribly wrong. While the objective of these meetings is universal, the way they’re handled can make a big difference between creating an engaged worker and a disgruntled one.
The Wrong Approach
In many organizations, coaching follows a specific formula. The worker has pulled aside for a few minutes. They’re acknowledged for their successes and admonished for their shortcomings. It then turns into a one-sided discussion where the manager points his or her finger at the poor subject, dictates what needs to be fixed and explains how to fix it. What makes this strategy particularly heinous is that it feels like an interrogation, usually focusing on bad points. Worse still, literally telling someone how to improve their work is micromanagement at its finest. The end result is an employee who feels like an underappreciated pawn. If this continues, the pawn in question will quickly switch chessboard.
The Right Approach
To illustrate this, let’s use an example. Steve’s manager, Lisa, is coaching him about his sales performance. She starts the conversation by saying: “Steve, I just want to say ‘good work’ on last month’s numbers. You were the third highest performer in April, and that’s always great to see. But it looks like your sales this month are in a bit of a slump. Obviously, I know you can do better – we’ve seen it happen. How can we help you get back to where you were before?”
From the above dialogue, we notice four things about Lisa’s approach:
- She acknowledges and thanks Steve for his excellent performance
- She tells him about her concerns compared to the current month
- She treats the solution as a team effort between herself and Steve
- She puts the onus on Steve to brainstorm his own solutions, rather than dictating what needs to change and how to change it.
Consequently, Steve doesn’t feel like he’s being accused. He understands what he needs to do, and can discuss solutions openly with Lisa. This is also an opportunity for him to air any concerns he has that may have contributed to his decline in performance. For instance, maybe there’s a staff shortage, perhaps some of his clients have left or a recent policy change stifled his ability to land sales. This is just as much of a chance for the organization to receive feedback about potential areas of opportunity as it is for Steve. In the end, he leaves the meeting with the intent of making his company proud, equipped with the tools to do so.
Give Employees More Autonomy
Employee engagement strategies need to offer flexibility. Workers who are in control of their tasks won’t feel like they’re being “bossed around”. This is a chance for management and staff to collaborate on a regular basis.
Implement Employee Ideas
Sometimes, the best solutions don’t come from a board meeting. After all, workers are the ones on the front line, dealing with day-to-day operations and keeping the company on track. When approaching projects, management needs to avoid delegation and focus on cooperation. In other words, give team members the opportunity to not only take charge of their work but also consider their innovations and suggestions for potential policy changes.
Workers who feel that their input literally alters their workplace for the better will feel like they’re part of something bigger.
Let Workers Train Themselves
Training sessions are a useful way to keep staff’s skillsets up to date and introduce new responsibilities; however, not everyone learns by listening to their supervisor or trainer lecture them in a classroom setting.
Learning styles differ from one person to another, so it’s difficult – if not impossible – to create a perfect training session that works for everyone. The good news is that we don’t have to. During team meetings, leaders can act as guides while allowing their workers to study and discuss the material as a group. This will make them more comfortable and, in turn, invested in learning what’s in front of them.
Working from home is one of the employee engagement strategies that companies are embracing, and for good reason. According to Harvard Business Review, employees who work from home are more engaged and productive than those who come into the office.
Telecommuting doesn’t just encourage communication – it makes it critical. While not everyone may feel comfortable knocking on their boss’ door, working from home means that they have no choice but to keep in touch with management and other workers. Things like e-mail, teleconferencing or instant messaging are all necessary, leading to consistent, open discussion as issues arise. It’s also often easier to bring up issues when they can be carefully thought out in writing. There’s also a level of comfort involved with being separated by a computer screen.
Workers who telecommute often do a much better job of using the tools at their disposal. Their ability to self-teach without the distractions of an office setting allows them to work on their own terms under much less pressure. The end result is better overall performance and a sense of autonomy.
The Bottom Line
Employee engagement strategies aren’t easy to implement at times, especially if an organization has been moving in the wrong direction for years, or even decades. Many of these changes require a complete overhaul of company culture and policy. As a result, they can’t simply occur overnight.
However, if businesses dedicate enough time and effort to improving employee engagement, the results will inevitably speak for themselves. There’s no reason why the vast majority of workers need to feel so disinterested in their company’s success. The sooner management understands this, the sooner it can be resolved.