101: Employee Engagement

By Matt Cholerton Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I’d like to talk about employee engagement. Wait! This isn’t a touchy-feely, buzzword subject. This is a real, bottom-line business item and here’s why:

#1) Engaged employees are more productive. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in their book Power of Engagement, say “engaged employees produce more, make more money for the company, and create emotional engagement and loyal customers.”  A Hay Group report found offices with engaged employees are up to 43% more productive.  Gallup found, beyond productivity and profitability, engaged employees are safer, and their retention levels are higher. They are your employees with the creative and innovative contributions.

#2) Disengagement comes with a frightening cost. The same Gallup poll cited above claims the lower productivity of actively disengaged workers cost the US north of $328 billion! However, the contagious effect of disengaged employees in your workforce is more directly visible and discouraging.

Will Felps and Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization in the Business School and UW psychology professor, did an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. They divided people into small groups and gave them a task. ‘One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. Within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.

You have disengaged employees. Gallup results note almost three quarters of employees today don't consider themselves 'actively engaged' in their work. This large lot of folks are not likely the disengaged bad apple types, but they do impact productivity and progress.

So how can you effect engagement?  How can you get employees involved, enthusiastic and connected?  First, you must be willing to admit engagement is a key issue that you impact and then you must invest your time and resources regularly.  Here is my Top Ten areas contributing to engagement;

Respect - Engaged workers feel respected. They are consulted on work assignments, their input is valued, and they feel listened to. Respect their lives outside of work as well.

Communication - You should have regular team and individual meetings. Relay what is going on in the business, successes and failures, and plans for the future.  Brainstorm together and answer questions. They are often much closer to the core issues of your business and have good ideas for process and product improvements. Weave in the values of the company and share how their work is creating meaning to customers and their world around them.

Collaborative Decision Making - Good employees want to see how their work fits into the bigger picture.  More importantly, they want to know their expertise and work has influence. They want to be consulted on areas that effect their jobs.

Challenging - Smart and invested employees don’t want to be doing routine tasks all the time. They are willing to do the work that needs to get done, but they look for challenges. Stretch your expectations of employees.

Focused Goals and Framework - These days I’m leaning away from ‘official’ performance reviews, but you should clearly lay out expectations. Give structure to tasks, assignments and discuss desired outcomes.  Give feedback, good and bad, on progress.

Accountability - Have you ever worked hard on a project only to find it was never really a company priority? Have you ever seen a co-worker's success, or failure, go completely unrecognized? There is nothing more demotivating. Ultimately, we need to be held accountable, and we need those around us to be held accountable.

Sense of Team/Relationships - Your employees want to contribute and belong to something bigger than themselves. They also work alongside people, communicate constantly, and take and give orders. You need to recognize and foster this by acknowledging team efforts, exploring new tools for collaboration and creating opportunities for team building.

Chances for Reward/Opportunity - Employees strive on learning new things and developing. Some employees want the chance to interface with clients, some want to travel, some want to be part of product development and others want to move from accounting to sales. Talk to employees regularly and find out what motivates them. Look to provide training where it is needed and wanted.

Networking and Community - Don’t let your company and employees exist in a bubble. Attend industry events and organize a professional mixer or workshop. It’s a great way to meet others (potential new employees, resources, customer referrals) and give a chance for employees to brag about what they do.  Volunteering allows you to give back to the community and is enriching for employees.

Workplace Environment/Culture - You don’t need a Foosball table or catered lunches.  Those might be nice, but creating a desirable workplace environment can be cheap and easy. Get bagels delivered once a week, get a local artist or employee to paint a mural, have a wall of employee photos.  Make your workplace unique - a place where your employees want to be and want to tell others about.

Is your team engaged? What works well for you and what will you do immediately to increase engagement?


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