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Keeping your employees engaged

Employee engagement has been a buzzword in human resources for some time now and is seen by many as the holy grail of workforce management.

There is plenty or research suggesting that with an increased level of engagement (Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals) a firm can expect higher levels of productivity, profitability as well as a lower staff attrition rate.  In addition, they are much more likely to act as ambassadors for your work place and brand, making it considerably easier to attract top performers.

This guide sets out to provide a brief overview of steps that you can take, within the context of your organisation, to improve the engagement levels. It’s not meant to be seen as a definitive guide on employee engagement – there are plenty of resources out there that do this much better.

1 The key to success is effective leadership
2 Have a plan
3 Create a sense of purpose
4 Employee performance management
5 Values and culture
6 Know how to identify success
7 Offer recognition
8 Empowerment
9 Communication

1 The key to success is effective leadership

Some of the characteristics that you would need to develop in order to create an environment conducive to developing and maintaining a high level of employee engagement are listed below.  It’s shown in several studies that a powerful driver in engendering engagement are the direction and goals of the firm itself, and how this is communicated to the employees.
 
It is also critical that the employees are seen to be valued by the senior leadership, that they are empowered and listened to when they have something to say.  After all, as we all know, the level of engagement is often closely associated with how you feel the company or department is being managed, and indirectly how you feel about your manager.

Career progression is something that is incredibly important to maintain an engaged workforce. An employee has to feel that he or she is valued, that their contributions are valuable, that they are being looked after and that their careers are being considered. Some firms are better than others in this respect, but the fact that the prevailing wisdom remains that you need to change company to move up in your career is testament to career progression isn’t being taken seriously enough. 

Clear communications at all levels also tend to produce a higher level of commitment amongst the workforce. Employees need to understand the vision of the company, and how their contribution is helping the company to succeed. Promoting employees, rewarding success and achievement is a key factor that should be built into the culture as well, and communicated to everyone in the company.
 
Evidence suggests that working in teams can be more productive, and contribute to engagement more, than working as individuals. Think of it as a ‘company within the company’ where employees can easier identify their own contribution, see how it makes a difference to the common goal, give and receive praise and often also see the conclusion of a project.  Leaders need to be team builders and create a working culture that successfully manages to align the motivations of the employee with the ones of the company.

2 Have a plan

Does your company have a strategy? Are your employees aware of what it is?  If not, how can you expect them to be engaged when they can’t clearly see how their contributions are driving to a common goal?
An effective way of engaging employees is to have a plan, communicate it clearly to everyone, attempt to explain how and why they are important in achieving the company goals, and regularly communicate business performance reports.

To not keep employees involved in the overarching company goals and strategy risks creating a feeling of ‘us and them’, where the employee would feel underappreciated.  Whilst you may not see any direct results of this, the number of employees considering a move may be high, potentially leading to considerable cost in recruiting and inducting their replacements.

So be transparent about your long-term strategy. Communicate clearly and confidently about the future of the company, and you will see your workforce rally behind you with more commitment and drive, seeing themselves as an integral part of your long-term plan and vision

3 Create a sense of purpose

An employee needs a sense of purpose, beyond the pay check, for coming into work every day.  The third sector is often doing well in this regard as the people working there tend to be more committed to making a difference. Within the private sphere, the life science industry probably comes up top when it comes to attracting employees who want to make a difference to people’s lives. Again, communicating the values and vision of the company to your employees is crucial, and to allow people to easily identify their place and contribution to the common goal.

Through the understanding and belief in what your company does and stands for and seeing the difference it makes to people’s lives, contributes significantly to giving employees a sense of purpose, which in turn will make them more committed to their objectives leading to higher motivation and productivity levels.

4 Employee performance management

Everyone needs to know where they stand and how they’re doing.  Not doing so deprives them of a powerful motivator – the urge to better themselves. It’s true that without a clear goal you will not achieve anything, but it’s equally true that without knowing your starting point, you will never know how far you’ve come.

In practical terms this means giving individuals clear and transparent feedback on their performance, both formally and informally.

There also needs to be a mutually agreed set of goals set up.  This is as much for the organisation’s benefit as it is for the individual, something that you as a manager need to drive. Good performance management should be supportive and help bring out the best in people.

Performance management sometimes has a negative connotation and is seen as a remedial action to bring underperformers up to speed.  Using it this way is likely to not only push the underperformers away due to undue pressure being put on them, but also high performers. PM is not in fact intended to be used in this way at all but should be seen as something positive for both employer and employee. 

5 Values and culture

Many of you already work for large corporations with well thought out vision, mission and values.  An organisation’s values are its DNA and should permeate everything that the organisation does. It defines what the business does on a day to day basis and how it does it. Ideally your employees should share the same values, which would make it easier for them to believe in the company and its goals, and to align their efforts.

This aspect of employee engagement should start as early as in the recruitment process for a particular job.  However, to employ an individual who  already share some or all of your values might be a good start, it’s imperative that the organisation empowers them in practice as well.

 CIPDsuggests that in order to stimulate your employees to be motivated and want to connect with their work, you need to create a culture where the organisation’s values will guide the way things are done. If one of your values is ‘empowering the individual’ but a team or department is run with a firm hand by a micro manager, you will soon see how it creates a disassociation between the employees and the organisation, and soon people will start looking to move on.

6 Know how to identify success

To aspire to better ourselves is a powerful driver in us humans, whether it’s personally, socially or professionally.  To clearly translate the overarching corporate vision into tangible and achievable goals is key to be able to recognise success.  It is your responsibility as a manager to ensure that you know when to reward people for success, and what that success looks like for each and every individual.

A great tool for this is the personal development/performance plan that most companies now have in place.  It should be clearly defined in this document what is expected from the individual, which could then be used to identify success.

It would also make sense to try to define success on a team, divisional and corporate level in order to keep it tangible and achievable.

Charting progress and recognising key milestones will help foster unilateral positivity, pride and a sense of achievement. You can also make these even more tangible by visualising them in some way (wall chart or similar), showcasing individual and corporate successes along the way.

7 Offer recognition

Building in an official programme for recognition of achievements into the workplace culture can be an effective way of creating a motivated and engaged workforce.  Contrary to popular belief, there doesn’t need to be much of a price tag attached – it’s often the personal touch that counts.

When devising such a programme, try to align it with the company’s vision and mission to create the notion that success that gets recognised in its own right is also helping the company succeed. In fostering a culture of reward and recognition, make a point of encouraging everyone’s participation, at all levels.  If any initiative only comes from the top, it risks backfiring and cementing an ‘us and them’ culture.

Research has shown that there is a clear link between a culture of recognition in the workplace and the financial performance of the organisation. 

8 Empowerment

Personal achievement, independence and self-belief are crucial ingredients for people to flourish.  Part of your remit is to foster an environment that will allow employees to grow and develop within the context of their employment.

They need to be given enough freedom to get on with the tasks they have been entrusted with, without undue interference.  They also need to have support and encouragement and to feel accountable for the outcome of these tasks.

This freedom under responsibility is an essential building block of engagement.  As a manager, try to keep the focus on the result rather than being too descriptive as to how the work should be done. Helping others reach their true potential through support and encouragement is not always easy but incredibly satisfying when you get it right.  Micromanagement on the other hand is a guaranteed way of putting people off.

Learn to strike the balance between giving your people enough space to use their abilities to best effect, whilst still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure that the job is done correctly and effectively.

9 Communication

Work on your communication.  Generally, the more you communicate and keep people in the loop about things, the more likely they’ll respect you.  Face to face communication is recommended in most cases, but it depends on what the situation is.

Depending on your level and the structure of the company, try to make good use of your line managers as well as employees are far more likely to listen to, and believe their immediate superiors rather than the senior management. There is evidence that as many as 85% of employees are wary of information from higher up the organisation.

Note that core messages and stories need to be communicated to all, as well as over time. Don’t expect that just because it was said once (or announced once) the whole workforce will have received the message. Look at it a bit like propaganda (in a positive sense), where core messages are constantly reinforced.

Be straight forward, don’t try to cover up bad news in positive spin, be serious when you need to, but show emotions when there’s cause for celebration too!

Beware of falling into the trap of overusing email for crucial communication.  Particularly when it involves individual feedback as it isn’t seen to allow for a dialogue. Employees must feel that there is a dialogue and they’re able to respond rather than just being talked to.

Corporate communications (internal) are an important part of keeping your workforce engaged. Make sure you have the infrastructure (intranets, blogs, social networks, team briefings, newsletters etc.) in place to manage it.  If you don’t, then consider what it would take to put one in place, what it would take to manage it and what the rewards might be.