Employee Engagement is an Inside Job
Whether you’re familiar with the term “employee engagement” or not, you may be conjuring up an image of employee group volunteer activities, employees talking one-on-one with managers, company picnics, or even team huddles.
All of those things may very well be signs that your employees are engaged, or maybe that’s just an appearance.
“The most important thing to keep in mind about ‘employee engagement’ is that it’s an outcome, not an activity. Engagement is the end product of a positive employee experience,” says Amy Lafko, MSPT MBA, owner and principal of Cairn Consulting Solutions, LLC. “Creating that positive employee experience is the role of the business owner and the role of the leader.”
Employee engagement is how much effort someone gives to their work and how employees feel about their work and the organization.
Lafko tells us, “It is created through alignment, communication, and connection with the organization.”
Don’t dismiss “feelings”; they translate into dollars.
Turnover is expensive (between 30-50% of annual salary), and a positive employee experience decreases the likelihood of voluntary turnover. Gallup data shows that engaged employees lead to 10% higher customer satisfaction ratings, 21% increase in productivity, and 41% reduction in absenteeism.
Of course, employees are going to be more or less engaged at any given time. It cycles. The important thing to remember is that it’s not quick, and it’s not a once-and-done thing. You don’t create engagement and then it stays. It’s a process to build a culture focused on the positive employee experience that you live every day.
Getting Started – What are Other Companies Doing?
Benchmarking engagement levels with other companies may not be the place to start. After all, what do another organization’s scores matter if what’s happening in your own organization isn’t working?
“How are you, as an organization, getting better? That’s the real heart of a survey,” Lafko explains.
All of the money invested in expensive surveys to measure employee engagement won’t make a difference unless you plan to look at the results, find out why the scores are what they are, and set about creating a strategy and action plan to put your organization in a better place a year from now. Benchmark against yourself, not the externals.
Creating a Positive Employee Experience
In looking at assessment results, it’s not just about realizing, “We’re not doing this or that.” You have to take action. Figuring out what and how to improve is often the biggest challenge.
“The employee engagement survey becomes a roadmap to help you figure out what you need to do to get where you want to go,” says Lafko. “When I work with a client, employee engagement is not a once-and-done process. It is ongoing work throughout the year.”
Survey results are just the beginning. Lafko has created an employee engagement program that not only addresses a survey, but also provides a toolkit for follow-up discussions, a strategic planning process, and execution. The leader toolkit helps the organization’s leaders go back to their teams to ask questions and understand what those survey results really mean.
Lafko points out that “organizations spend resources on technical training for frontline team members, but often forget that there are technical skills of being a leader. Skills include communication, conflict resolution, accountability, feedback, etc. It is a business imperative to develop the skills of your leaders.”
Giving all leaders, not just senior-level leadership, the skills they need is key to creating change and engaging their employees.
A manager walking the office and asking, “How’s your day?” is not engagement. Giving leaders the skills to dig in and ask, “What’s going on? What do you need?” and finding out what motivates each individual employee, listening, learning to coach — those are skills that start the conversations that feed into strategic planning and actions that improve scores over time.
When Does Employee Engagement Start?
Why wait for a survey?
“The ideal way is to start by hiring the right people first,” says Lafko. “Look at the interview process as part of the employee experience.”
Hiring selections are often made solely on likeability and technical skills. Hire those who are motivated by the work, the environment, and the reward system of the organization. Look for people aligned with the mission, vision, and values.
Increasing Employee Engagement
Not everyone is motivated by the same things. Finding out what motivates each individual is key. Some may be motivated by a big annual company picnic and having the opportunity to make the boss all wet in the dunk tank. Others need the personal connection and access to the president in a very one-on-one setting that makes them believe that he or she cares and appreciates their efforts.
“Ask people what will increase their desire to stay and be engaged,” Lafko encourages. “Don’t be afraid because you ‘know you can’t give it.’ Help find realistic ways to meet their motivations. They may ask for 20 more vacation days or a $10,000 raise. If you can’t do something, be transparent about why and focus on what you can do.”
Once efforts are set in motion, it’s critical to follow up, follow through, do the pulse-point surveys along the way, and find out how employees perceive the changes.
What about the Disengaged?
There is a difference between someone who is disengaged and someone who does the work, gets the job done, and gives good service. Even if that person works hard and doesn’t go above and beyond, that provides value to the organization. The problem is the person who doesn’t do their job and lowers morale because they’re disengaged.
The key to this person is to find out what will make them happy. You may find out sometimes that the person just doesn’t fit or that there is another role in the organization for which they are better suited.
“Help them figure out where they want to be,” Lafko advises. “Once they move on, you can bring someone in who has the skills, behaviors, and motivations for the role.
“We are afraid to let people go,” she adds, “but you have to look at how that person staying is affecting the business and how are they affecting morale of others. People are very thankful if you take the time to help them move on to where they can be happier. They can leave on good terms.”
The moral of the employee-engagement story is that engagement happens at a very individual level. It’s a positive employee experience that can be set up for success by starting from the interview process. But even if you’re just learning that engagement isn’t high among your employees, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Take a look inside your organization: find where you are now; figure out why things are as they are, what motivates people, how they feel; identify where you have issues or miscommunications; give your leaders the skills they need to be successful supporting employees; check progress and perceptions; and simply strive to make your own organization better — it’s an inside job.