Employee engagement is top-of-mind for many leaders today, as research has found that organizations with a highly engaged workforce outperform those without by 147 percent (SHRM, 2018). The specific benefits of an engaged workforce include higher productivity, lower turnover, more innovation, and better customer service. Additionally, employees are typically happier when they are engaged—a win-win!
While we know that engagement is important, we often get stuck when we actually try to improve it. Many articles on the subject offer vague, general recommendations about what you can do, such as “make engagement a daily focus” and “work to build trust.” While these are noble goals, they’re not immediately actionable and likely require multiple different strategies to achieve.
There’s no silver bullet with engagement; for any intervention to be effective, you’ll have to consider the organization’s unique context. Just because something works for Google (nap pods and slides) doesn’t mean it will work for you. But there are things that have been shown to improve engagement across industries and demographics.
Here are three actions you can take right away to impact employee engagement:
1) Have a career conversation
One of the best predictors of an employee’s engagement is their confidence in their career. If people—and millennials in particular—don’t feel like they can achieve their professional goals at your organization, they’ll likely become disengaged and move on to another workplace that better supports their growth.
Having professional development and advancement opportunities available to employees is definitely important to employees being able to envision their future at your organization. But one simple thing you can do right away is begin having conversations with employees about their career goals.
What do you want to achieve in your professional life? Where do you see yourself in a year (or five, or ten)? How can we help you get there?
Asking these questions to begin conversations with employees about their goals is powerful. Our research has found that people who said they had a meaningful professional development conversation with their supervisor in the past year were four times more likely to be engaged at work than those who didn’t!
For these conversations to be meaningful, managers must be prepared to not only ask the right questions, but also listen and respond to what is shared. They should work collaboratively with the employee to determine what type of support would be most helpful and come up with a plan to help the employee get it. Managers should also be diligent about ensuring that these types of conversations are held with everyone and not just a select few, as this could come across to as favoritism and reduce team morale. In sum, encouraging and supporting those in supervisory roles to have meaningful career conversations with their direct reports can have an immediate positive effect on overall engagement in your organization.
2) Say “thank you”
Everyone wants to be appreciated because it feels good. But there’s also a business benefit to expressing gratitude, a fact that most leaders now realize. As a result, many organizations have now come up with big rewards programs to encourage innovation and performance. While these systems can be effective, recognition doesn’t need to be a big to-do.
Time and again, we’ve found that the most impactful form of recognition is a simple “thank you” offered in real time. Whether it was a small win or an impressive effort, take the time to slow down and appreciate all of those who contributed. Having a conversation, delivering a handwritten note, or even treating the person to coffee are all effective ways of doing this.
When you offer your feedback, be as specific as you can about what it is that you’re grateful for. “Good job everyone!” is nice to hear, but won’t contribute as much to long-term engagement as something more personal, like “Chelsea, we wouldn’t have been able to sign this new client without the detailed proposal you created. Thanks for putting so much care into it!”
Showing gratitude may happen on an individual basis, but the effects can quickly permeate your organization and create a culture of appreciation. Thanks no longer flows just from leaders and managers to employees, but between team members and colleagues. When everyone feels like their work is recognized, they are much more likely to stick around and go that extra mile in the future.
3) Communicate the mission
By now, what organization doesn’t have a mission statement that makes it clear to the world how deeply their leaders care about their ____ (insert: customers, employees, communities, planet)? And for good reason: a compelling mission with strong core values can help direct and clarify strategic goals, as well as increase employee engagement by providing a deeper sense of meaning to the work being done.
However, if you asked many employees to rattle off your mission statement, you might find that many of them are unable to do so. If that’s the case, your mission is probably not having a tangible impact on how employees approach their work each day.
To change this, consider infusing your company communications with the language of your core values and mission. Newsletters and blogs are easy targets where you can communicate the vision, but you can also incorporate this language into meetings and check-ins with staff.
Doing this helps to tie daily work back to a larger purpose. It also helps instill trust that decisions at all levels are being guided by a commitment to the mission. These things can make work feel more meaningful and result in people putting in additional effort to ensure the organization’s continued success.