How to Improve Employee Engagement

When it comes to employee engagement, the research and survey data consistently find that engaged employees perform better, churn less, and are happier at work. That’s not surprising. The tricky part is knowing how to foster engagement such that employees are motivated, personally invested in their work, and committed to their own success and the success of the business.

Employee engagement is often confused with employee satisfaction, but it’s much more than that. While many employees will say they like their job, their compensation package and the seasonal perks, they aren’t emotionally invested in the company. When a new opportunity arises, they’re ready to jump ship. If you want a motivated and enthusiastic workforce, you need to look beyond the HR department and engage employees at every stage in their employment and in every task they undertake.

Why it’s important to Improve Employee Engagement

Knowing how to improve employee engagement leads to more successful outcomes in almost every aspect of your business. Gallup reports that depending on the extent to which employees are engaged in their work and with their team, organizations can realize significant business benefits including:

  • LOWER absenteeism
  • REDUCED turnover
  • FEWER safety accidents
  • FEWER quality defects
  • HIGHER customer loyalty and engagement
  • HIGHER productivity (sales, support, operations)
  • HIGHER profitability

Clearly, the value of employee engagement can be measured in more ways than just increased productivity.

How to Improve Employee Engagement – you need a starting point

To measure improvement in employee engagement, you have to have a starting point – a benchmark to measure against. Most companies start with a survey backed with benchmark data that helps to puts the results in perspective. Engagement surveys have been developed by a number of analytics and advice firms and they tend to ask questions in a variety of areas that are good predictors of high employee engagement.

Typically, the top three questions (agree/disagree on a scale of 1-5) are:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the information and materials I need to perform my tasks well
  3. My work enables me to do what I do best every day.

The answers to just these three questions can speak volumes about how well the company communicates its goals and vision, and whether managers are successful at equipping and motivating their teams. Knowing what’s expected and having the tools to do the job are among the basic requirements for employees to be engaged at work.

Other questions are designed to probe individual engagement further:

  • In the last X days, I received recognition for good work.
  • My input matters at work (to my team, my boss, the company)
  • I have opportunities to develop and advance at work.
  • I have a say in decisions that affect me (scheduling, staffing, processes, etc.)
  • Etc.

How to Improve Employee Engagement – you need a strategy

Once survey results have been analyzed and the company knows where it stands in terms of employee engagement, management needs to develop a strategy for improvement. There may be several areas or departments that require attention. Rather than shoot in all directions at once, it pays to plan both short-term and long-term tactics and prioritize activities according] to which will have the most impact.

Short-term tactics on how to improve employee engagement

Several short term tactics have been used successfully by companies to product a speedy and positive impact on employee engagement.

  • Focus on Middle Managers and Feedback

An effective way to quickly increase employee engagement across the board is to focus on middle management. Managers determine the work that each employee must do. They make sure that employees have the necessary tools and training to perform their tasks. Ideally, the manager also explains the importance of each job and how it contributes to the success of the team and the organization. The manager’s level of engagement has a direct effect on the engagement of his/her team. Good managers lead by example. According to USA survey, employees say that great managers are enthusiastic and passionate about the work they do. That passion is apparent and it rubs off on their employees.

Moreover, employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3 times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less. Employees want to get and give feedback and it influences their level of engagement. However, there is a fine line between frequent feedback (which is valued) and micromanagement (which employees resent). If middle managers are not adept at initiating conversations, help them out with guidelines and targeted training on how and when to conduct review sessions. If middle managers are already the enthusiastic type, invest in an intelligent platform that helps them engage, provide feedback and measure progress with greater efficiency. The results can be dramatic and immediate.

  • Clarify and Communicate Core Values, Mission

Documenting and communicating the company’s core values and mission can assure that everyone is on the same page and working toward common goals. Core values often inspire and motivate. Every employee should understand the core values and how they impact the way the company does business. A simple and concise training course can be constructed to convey the importance of core values and how each person’s job is tied to the company’s mission.

  • Recognize and Reward Achievements

If you’re not already acknowledging top performers and rewarding their achievements, now is a good time to start. You don’t have to wait until the end of the year, or implement a full-blown incentive program. Sometimes, little things can make a big difference. Managers should be encouraged to make positive recognition part of every day. A simple compliment or email expressing appreciation for a job well done motivates people to continue to do their best. Better yet is when the compliment is made in the presence of others, and the email is copied to senior management. Human Resources can also implement guidelines for acknowledging individual and team achievements to the whole company. While top performers are probably already “engaged,” public recognition and rewards go a long way toward retaining this valuable talent and inspiring others to emulate them.

  • Conduct Pulse Surveys

Pulse surveys encourage employees to voice their opinions in a formal, yet limited way. They focus on much narrower topics and audiences than the original benchmark survey, and are designed to capture immediate feedback about current issues. Beware of the common tendency to overuse pulse surveys such that it becomes impractical to take action on the results. Once employees see that their feedback produces no corrective actions, the pulse survey ceases to be an effective engagement tool.

Long-term tactics on how to improve employee engagement

Your strategy for how to improve employee engagement should include a combination of short-term and long-term tactics. Long-term tactics should address every stage in the employee lifecycle, from hiring and onboarding to performance, development and departure. While long-term approaches are more costly and complex to implement, they establish a more robust foundation for continuous improvement of employee engagement.

  • Onboard with care

First days on the job can be grueling. And first impressions are important. If your new hires find themselves waiting around for a laptop, network access and office space, you need to tighten up the onboarding process. Onboarding is one the earliest opportunities to engage employees with your company culture and their place in your organization. Invest time in presenting the goals and values of the company as well as the purpose of their team and especially the new-hire’s position in the team. Make sure new-hires are introduced to veteran employees who can mentor them through their first months or first year on the job. Establish orientation events for new hires with the participation of executive management from all departments. Prioritize feedback for new-hires just as you would for veteran employees and help them engage.

  • Prioritize work-life balance

What drives employees to be engaged and happy with their work? Work-life balance. Flexibility is fast outpacing compensation and benefits as a critical contributor to employee satisfaction and engagement in the workplace. Many people are willing to make tradeoffs to achieve the work-life balance they desire, claiming they would be willing to trade a tenth of their salary for more flexibility in their work schedule! Flexible scheduling gives employees a modicum of control about when their 40 hours are worked, which makes them more engaged and happier to come to work and to be productive. Flexible scheduling is notoriously difficult. To find harmony between business and employee needs companies should invest in workforce management technology that automates the process and engages both managers and employees in the process of building a schedule that works for everyone.

  • Encourage professional development

Bonusly’s 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report found that “89% of Highly-Engaged employees are satisfied with their professional development opportunities compared to only 36% of Actively Disengaged employees." If you’re not creating professional development opportunities and charting career paths for employees, they may stop investing time and energy in their work. Even the best retention efforts will fail if there is nowhere to “grow.” When employees see a path for growth and are confident in their ability to achieve it, they remain engaged and less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. Some companies find it worthwhile to contribute financially (tuition) or in terms of time-off to individual employee development. When you consider that the number 1 reason employees give for a job change is "career growth opportunities," it behooves every manager to talk to employees about their career plans and help them plan their future.

  • Foster innovation

The “hackathon” has become a popular way for companies to engage employees in out-of-the-box thinking and innovative projects that could be useful to the company. Employees are full of good ideas. When you provide a forum for these ideas to be presented and considered for development, it often leads to solutions that are beneficial to the organization in terms of streamlining processes, reducing costs, improving the workplace, or even creating new products to sell. Tapping the innovative ideas of your employees is a great way to keep them engaged and motivated.

How to Improve Employee Engagement – you need the right tools

No matter which of the short-term and long-term employee engagement tactics you choose to implement, the right tools can help you monitor and measure your progress, and to make data-driven decisions regarding the success, failure, and next steps of your initiatives.

NICE offers a full suite of Workforce Optimization platforms and applications that are helping global businesses manage employee engagement, automate flexible scheduling, analyze employee performance, identify opportunities for performance coaching and manage the entire process. NICE Workforce Optimization solutions provide extensive data and intelligent analysis so you can set up effective metrics for employee engagement and consistently measure them in order to evaluate progress. It’s the only way to truly know if your strategy is working or not, and if not, how to adjust it.

Improving employee engagement is a complex goal. You cannot rely on manual methods or unrelated tools that don’t talk to one another. With a well-planned employee engagement strategy and the right tools, you can achieve a highly engaged workforce that directly impacts your company’s profitability, productivity and retention.