The importance of employee engagement, and two important things you need to improve it
The success of every business—no matter the size, location, or industry—relies on the engagement of its employees. Teams of committed employees can punch above their weight, consistently outperforming their goals. On the other hand, an apathetic workforce can drag down productivity, drastically impacting the bottom line.
At Mensana, we begin every project by visiting every part of your organization, from the boardrooms and administrative offices down to the assembly lines, warehouse floors, or in the field with reps, getting to know your teams. Almost immediately, our consultants can identify the degree to which your employees feel valued, empowered and committed.
In our many years of doing these initial explorations, here’s one of the most important insights we’ve learned: employee engagement is an ongoing process, not a fixed target.
Too many companies think employee culture can be established with new policies or special programs. In reality, improving engagement requires leaders who not only set a vision for a vibrant workplace environment, but also demonstrate, through both words and actions, high levels of empathy, accountability, authenticity and integrity.
The daily routine driving engagement into the ground
Do your teams begin every shift with a meeting, stand-up, or huddle? In theory, these daily sessions provide opportunities to celebrate recent wins, identify potential challenges and align priorities. In practice, though, what actually happens? In many cases, the team leader reads yesterday’s results, outlines the day’s tasks and then asks if anyone has questions. Silence often follows, while employees almost visibly think, “Can I get back to doing my actual work now?”
These meetings should be inspiring collaboration and connectivity. When poorly run, though, daily huddles can breed frustration and detachment, eroding goodwill between managers and employees.
Let’s consider how and why these meetings fall apart. First, many of these daily sessions are run by a shift supervisor—someone who might have excelled in their previous role but may not have been formally trained to provide the guidance and mentorship expected of a leader. If your business doesn’t have a robust plan to develop leadership skills among your supervisory ranks, then you are missing out on one of the best opportunities to create effective ambassadors of your workplace culture.
Next, these sessions are often designed to relay messages from senior leadership. This top-down, one-sided flow of information not only inadvertently sends the message that leadership isn’t interested in listening to the concerns of employees, it also fails to generate engagement and leverage the knowledge of the people with the closest view of inefficient processes and potential obstacles.
Moreover, senior managers (let alone executives) rarely attend sales team stand-ups or shop-floor huddles. The disconnect between management and staff widens further, and leadership remains unaware of wilting employee engagement until serious problems, such as increasing staff turnover, emerge, by which point the company is forced into reactionary mode to deal with situations they may not have been prepared for.
Two fundamental building blocks of positive employee engagement
Every employee wants to feel like their contributions are appreciated and their concerns are heard. So what can you do to make every one of your employees feel like a valued member of the team?
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but here are two fundamental places to start:
- Create a supportive culture of open, two-way communication.
- Be genuinely invested in the success of employees.
Let’s apply those two points and revisit the example of the daily meeting. Instead of having supervisors talk at teams, these meetings should encourage interactivity and participation. Did the team miss a target last week? Your employees might, from firsthand experience and observation, have candid and actionable insight that senior managers might never have considered—provided those employees feel safe, supported and encouraged to share.
Ending a group meeting with “Any concerns?” is the surest way to ensure no one voices their concerns, especially if they’re about personal matters. Anyone in a supervisory role needs to prioritize regular one-on-one interactions with employees to create a relationship of trust. Both recurring meetings and impromptu conversations create space for employees to suggest ideas, share frustrations and request greater responsibility.
Leadership and mentorship are learnable skills. By helping your managers become better coaches, your company will build a stronger culture of clear communication and authentic collaboration.
Here are some additional ways to boost employee engagement:
- Celebrate the personal achievements and life milestones of your employees. If an employee is uncomfortable with public recognition, a private word of congratulations can still go a long way to bolstering morale.
- Offer professional development programs and highlight opportunities for advancement during your one-on-ones.
- Ensure that senior leaders set an example for clear communication and respectful interactions. Your culture must be adopted at all levels of the organization to be successful, and it’s imperative that leaders ‘walk the talk’ to get the right behaviors baked in at every level of the company.
- Follow up on employee suggestions and concerns. Even if you can’t provide a solution immediately, continue to communicate intentions and timelines: let employees know whether you’re investigating further, developing a plan, or if you simply need to push out the task to the next quarter.
- Provide meaningful rewards that incentivize specific behaviors or increased performance.
Engagement impacts more than you think
Quite simply, highly engaged employees are highly productive employees.
But beyond the bottom line of increased output, there are myriad other benefits of an engaged workforce. When people on your teams feel motivated, aligned and inspired, they are far more likely to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their job.
Here are some additional benefits you can expect:
- Higher levels of employee loyalty. Between the shift to work-from-home and the Great Resignation, people’s relationships to their employers have forever changed. More than ever, employees are aware of their options. Make yourself the most attractive one with a positive workplace culture that will help you retain current employees and attract new ones.
- Lower absenteeism. As a child, when did you fake an illness—on the day of the field trip, or the morning of the spelling test? Employees who dread the drudgery of their jobs are more likely to miss days, arrive late and skimp on effort.
- Better employee health. Workplaces with a positive and respectful culture can reduce employee stress and anxiety. Plus, company-wide initiatives like healthy catered lunches or corporate exercise discounts can boost employee morale and encourage healthy lifestyles.
- Increased workplace safety. Engaged employees are more likely to identify and report potential hazards, even those outside of their direct role or area. When people care about their coworkers and take stewardship of their surroundings, the frequency of safety incidents decreases.
- Improved customer service. Happier workers are more likely to go the extra mile for customers, clients and partners. They are more likely to handle even difficult interactions with grace, preserving your company’s image and building the organization’s external reputation.
How to tell when employees are more engaged
If you've ever found yourself reminiscing about the 'good old days' of an organization you worked at, chances are you've probably lived through a company cultural shift… and not a great one. On the other hand, if you find yourself looking back and feeling hopeful at all the ways your work life has improved, then that's an encouraging sign that your workplace culture shifted for the better.
Culture is one of the best barometers of engagement—but also one of the most elusive to measure. Culture also has a chicken-and-egg relationship with engagement: employees are more engaged when the culture is supportive of them, and a supportive company culture generates more engaged employees.
When an organization prioritizes employment engagement, they are signaling to employees: “Your presence and your contributions matter.” Feedback is encouraged. Autonomy is granted. Employees are empowered. Success is recognized and celebrated.
In return, the culture shifts. Communication becomes more honest and stops being limited by fear. Collaboration becomes a way of life and not just a corporate buzzword. Employees start sharing their thoughts more. The ambiance goes from detached and aloof to warm and genial.
How will you know if this change has occurred? There are a few quantifiable metrics that can signal a positive shift. You might witness better retention rates, increases in employee referrals, more promotions from within and a greater demand for personal and professional development. You might also see fewer mistakes, quicker turnaround times and more goals being exceeded.
Build and uphold both the right measures and the right environment to support employee engagement, and you'll have employees eager to succeed… and to help their colleagues and company succeed, too.
The bottom line
Mensana has helped many companies—of various sizes and sectors—raise their level of employee engagement. Whether you are seeking an urgent intervention for fading morale or looking for industry-leading engagement strategies, Mensana has the experience and know-how to make it happen.
We don’t just make one-off recommendations to provide a quick boost; we work closely with your organization to design and implement long-term programs that deliver sustainable results. Every one of our clients is different, and we take pride in developing personalized engagement strategies that bring your team closer together.
Would you like to learn more about building a company culture that increases organizational performance productivity? Let’s sit down and talk about how Mensana can help engage your employees and, ultimately, grow your bottom line.