Organizations with highly-engaged employees routinely outperform those with greater numbers of disengaged employees. They not only post higher earnings, but also recover faster from market-induced setbacks. It seems self-evident, then, that companies would have a vested interest in taking every step possible to keep their employees actively engaged and committed to their work.
Despite this, research has shown that over two-thirds of employees are either disengaged or, at best, indifferent. Low engagement rates contribute to diminished productivity and increase the likelihood of turnover, causing many otherwise promising employees to depart for more favorable opportunities elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many strategies that organizations can implement to help boost engagement.
1: Provide a Road Map for Success
Knowing that they have a clearly-defined future is a major factor in whether or not someone decides to leave an organization to look for new opportunities. This is especially important for millennials, who change jobs more frequently than previous generations and routinely identify development opportunities as a key factor in their career decisions. By holding regular career discussions with employees and asking them where they see themselves in the future, companies can create plans that help them develop the skills they need to take on additional responsibility in the future.
In addition to boosting retention rates, this emphasis on development also boosts engagement since employees are more likely to see their role in the organization as important and valued. They take greater ownership over their responsibilities while also keeping an eye on the future. Knowing that the work they do today will benefit their career tomorrow, employees who feel they have a clear advancement path in the organization can avoid feeling like they’re stuck in the same position with no end in sight.
Also, facilitating development helps to build trust because it demonstrates that the company values and appreciates its employees. With that sense of trust comes a greater commitment to the organization’s mission and improved engagement.
2: Recognize Good Work
It’s one thing to show support for employees through development opportunities, but such measures are only one of the ways that companies can demonstrate how they values employees. Cheering on successes and highlighting accomplishments might seem like a minor gesture, but it goes a long way toward showing employees that the work they do matters.
Gallup research has demonstrated that 2 out of 3 employees feel that the good work they do goes unrecognized. This figure should be particularly worrisome for companies since employees who feel underappreciated are twice as likely to quit. Considering that recognizing good work is such a low-cost strategy that can be implemented on a daily basis, it’s rather remarkable that so many organizations are falling short in this regard.
Encouraging employees and celebrating accomplishments doesn’t have to come exclusively from leadership. Positive feedback and recognition from colleagues can also help boost engagement by creating a sense of trust and camaraderie throughout an organization. When employees have a positive emotional investment in the success of their teammates, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work to further that success.
3: Establish Two-Way Communication
No one likes being kept in the dark. Organizations that operate under a veil of secrecy and keep employees on a strict “need to know” basis tend to struggle with low engagement and retention rates. People want to know about decisions that affect them, what is expected of them, and information that may be relevant to their tasks.
But simply sharing information isn’t enough to promote engagement. Employees need to know that communication flows both ways. If they can’t take their concerns or ideas to leadership, they will likely feel ignored or unvalued. This goes beyond simply having an open door policy. Being able to voice concerns is one thing, but knowing that someone is there to genuinely listen to them and take them seriously is quite another.
Effective leaders are generally proactive communicators who encourage people to speak out and let everyone know they’re willing to listen. They make themselves as accessible as possible and don’t treat information as leverage to further their own ambitions.
4: Provide a Sense of Purpose
For many employees today, especially millennials, it’s not enough to simply show up for work, perform a task, and collect a paycheck. They want to feel that the work they do matters, that it has some purpose beyond simply turning a profit. In addition to their own personal contributions, they want to know that the organization they work for is committed to values and goals that they share.
If employees can’t reconcile their personal values with those of their company, they will become disengaged very quickly and likely begin their search for another position elsewhere. It’s incumbent upon organizations, and especially leadership, to communicate their values and mission statement clearly and explicitly. Furthermore, they must show employees how their contributions actually make a difference in whether or not the organization accomplishes its goals. When employees connect their workplace to their personal values, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work and demonstrate a greater level of personal investment in the company’s success.
5: Be Fair and Realistic
In order for organizations and leaders to retain the respect of their employees, they must treat them with respect and fairness while also holding themselves to the same standards. Employees want to know that they will be judged primarily on their performance rather than factors outside their control. They also expect that rules and procedures are there to be followed, not discarded at the earliest, inconvenient opportunity. This is especially important for leaders, who very often set the standard for behavior by example. If employees get the impression that the rules do not apply to some people, they are more likely to become disengaged and refuse to hold themselves accountable for their actions.
Companies also need to make sure that their expectations are realistic. While engaged employees will often take on a heavier workload than their less engaged peers, leaning too heavily on them can burn them out or lead to resentment. Similarly, if even routine tasks seem to be overwhelming, employees can become frustrated and seek more reasonable opportunities elsewhere.
An engaged workforce is an invaluable asset for any organization, but it’s also a very precious one. Any breach of trust could easily undermine that engagement and cause drastic decreases in productivity, profitability, and retention rates. By keeping a focus on ways to boost engagement, companies will create a positive work environment that makes people want to commit its success both in the present and for the future.