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10 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

Brian Deyo
Brian Deyo

This list could include 100 things. The reality is that employee engagement is a complex topic that has very diverse implementations depending on your organization and the current culture within your company. However, we think there are specific and tangible things company leaders and HR professionals can do to improve employee engagement. The list below is not comprehensive. Some items are known to directly influence engagement, while others are intended to help you form beliefs that will naturally improve engagement as they come out in your actions as a leader.

1. Learn About Employee Engagement

It is unlikely that there is a more valuable action you can take than to pick up a book or two and start reading and learning. There are some great scientific studies on the topic and our other blog posts wouldn’t be a bad place to start. We list this first because employee engagement is like any other topic. To improve it, you must first understand it. There is only so much that we can communicate at a generic level to a diverse audience. Much of what you will need to do to improve engagement will be unique to your organization. There are shared conditions that everyone should create within their org, but you have to figure out how to do that in yours. Cultures are all unique and you need to know yours and assess it in light of what you know about employee engagement. It will be difficult for an advisor to do much for you other than ask questions or suggest generic tips that may or may not fit your needs.

2. Convince Yourself of the Business Value of Engagement

We can’t do this for you no matter how many studies we link to or reference. We believe it’s proven that real employee engagement is a good thing for businesses and employees. We express this clearly in our Employee Engagement Executive Value Guide. However, you need to convince yourself. How will employee engagement impact your business? Is it good for you to invest in? If not, then move on. If you’re doing this just because someone else told you to, it’s unlikely you’re going to stick with it or be able to effectively strategize or execute. There are a lot of pressures to perform human resource duties within a modern company, and in our experience, motivation will shift to the next great thing if you don’t believe deeply that engagement is real and can improve your business. In other words, “don’t take our word for it.” We believe the impact is real and massive, but we also know you must share our belief before you can effectively improve and sustain employee engagement.

3. Form Beliefs About Engagement in the Context of Your Team and Company

What does real engagement look like to your team? Employee engagement is not entirely up for interpretation, but once you understand what it is, you need to have a clear picture of what it will look like in your business. How do you want engaged employees to act? If you had an engaged workforce, what would it look like? One of the key components to engagement is its direction. Engagement can be wasted. You could have a team that is highly immersed in their work and who loves the company, but doesn’t know how to effectively channel that energy into work that contributes to the success of the business. That means you need to figure out and articulate two things to your employees:

  1. Strategic focus of the business. What are the fundamental things you do that help your organization be successful in a competitive environment? These themes must permeate the organization so that employees apply force in the right ways and on the right things.
  2. Measurement of strategic initiatives. How will you know if engagement is contributing to your business? What will you look at to determine if you’ve moved the needle? Emplify can help you measure engagement effectively, and we’re confident it will help your business, but results are nuanced, and we find it’s hard to stick with any initiative if we don’t connect it to the bottom line. Don’t just rely on your own motivation; connect the dots.

4. Know Your Team

Do you have people on your team today that you believe are engaged? Why do you think that is? As you consider trying to improve engagement across the organization, try to figure out what’s working today. Almost every company that we’ve interacted with has engaged employees. These people stick out and are extremely valuable. Find them, and try to understand what makes them different. Is it the nature of who they are and how they act? If so, let that guide your hiring to find people that will thrive in the existing environment. Is it their manager? If so, figure out what specifically drives the employees to point to their boss as an encourager and driver of their engagement.

5. Be Clear About Why the Company Exists

This is the first tactical suggestion that directly influences engagement. The others above are about learning and preparing yourself to invest and foster an engaging environment.

It is also the most critical thing you should do to engage your team. Employees must believe in the business. But, there are still two potential problems here. First, they may not know why the company exists. Second, they may know why it exists, but don’t believe in that purpose. At Emplify, we believe every human longs to know why they exist. Work for most people forms a huge part of this existence. On average, humans spend about a third of their waking life working. Engaging in work is nearly impossible when you dread going every morning. Most people who believe in the mission of the company they work for have a great intrinsic motivation to work and clarity about why they’re doing the work they are. Try starting with the “why” in everything you do. If you haven’t taken that seriously in the past, now would be a great time to form up the foundation of your business so you can build spectacularly on top of it.

6. Connect Every Employee to the Purpose of the Company

Assuming that you have a clear mission and those who are a part of the company are bought in, employees need to know that their work connects with that mission. There are three potential challenges here:

  1. It is entirely possible that an employee’s role doesn’t connect to the mission of the company. If it doesn’t at all, then there needs to be a separate conversation about the purpose of that role in the company.
  2. The role connects to the mission and purpose of the company, but that connection isn’t well articulated by the business. In this case, the connection needs to be made clear. It should be clear to the organization why the role, job, or person is important to the business. Sometimes, roles have very distal connections to the ultimate mission of the company. At the very least, be clear in your own mind (and on paper if possible) about how the person contributes to the company.
  3. The last challenge is that the employee doesn’t believe what they do matters. Maybe an employee doesn’t have the perspective to understand or believe what you say about the value of their role. Even after clearly articulating the connection, they still don’t feel a strong enough connection or meaning to engage. In some cases, there’s nothing you can do about this. There’s no sense casting blame one way or another—just do your best to bring clarity and inspire the team to see why the business exists.

In our opinion, every employee in your company should understand how their role and job contributes to accomplishing the mission of the company. That starts with you understanding it clearly. Don’t treat this lightly—it is critical to engagement that employees understand why they exist in the organization.

7. Understand and Articulate Meaning

Meaningfulness is one of the antecedent psychological conditions that is necessary for engagement in work. The previous two pieces of advice help establish meaning for the employee. But it’s not likely you’ll get engaged employees if you have a mission and good role clarity, but no paycheck. We all exchange effort, time, and knowledge in our work for money, freedom, perks, and meaning. Psychological meaningfulness can be influenced by many different things, and tangible compensation is definitely one of them. But this blog post isn’t about crafting a compensation plan. The point of this tip is to encourage you to articulate your benefits clearly and ensure that the employee knows how good work is rewarded. Every employee should clearly understand what value comes from being in the organization and what meaning they can get if they continue to engage and provide value. This could be promotion, wage increase, more freedom, continued education, social prominence, new experiences, or even something as simple as a celebration with co-workers at the end of a well-done project.

Try to understand what your employees value and articulate things that you do to fulfill this meaning in exchange for the work that they do within the company. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of employee engagement—it is balanced. There is an exchange that happens. You cannot hack engagement to get more out of employees over the long term. It is an exchange of meaningfulness. The more you can foster meaning in your employees, the more they’ll be inspired to engage. Start by articulating and promoting what you already offer.

8. Measure Engagement

This should probably go without saying. If you want to improve something, you need to measure it. Measuring engagement deserves its own blog post, but the point we want you to take away from this is that you need to find an objective engagement measurement that aligns with what you believe about engagement. We have strong opinions on this and are more than willing to assist you in figuring out how to measure engagement, but we beg of you before you invest gobs of resources on “gut” feelings about what you think engagement isplease know how you’re going to measure if you are helping. If there’s one thing we know about human behavior and emotion, it is that they are unique, diverse, and at times, surprising. Group cultural dynamics are hard to understand and very easy to misdiagnose. At the very least, an objective measure takes some of the emotion out of your assessment of how you’re doing. It will challenge what you feel and give you a baseline to compare efforts against.

9. Start With Your Employees

It’s likely that if you’ve not spent an intentional amount of time and resources on engagement in the past that you’ll struggle to find the right areas to apply effort. This is why we encourage you to start with what your employees suggest. You don’t have to implement anything really expensive or extensive. Simply ask the people who are on the ground every day what they think should be done and compile the answers. As long as you are able to articulate clearly what engagement is and what it means to you and the company, then you should be able to solicit their feedback about where to take action. One of the biggest failings of leadership in corporations is the assumption that they know better about how to manage, work, and live in their employees’ roles than those who are actually in them every day. There are insights there that you’ll likely never surface on your own and will lead to tactical actions that will have a higher impact than those you come up with on your own.

10. Start Small

If you believe engagement is real, valuable, and not a fad, then your investment should be sustained and long term. Don’t back down when a big engagement campaign gets cut after the budget tightens. Start small and find a few (we prefer less than three) initiatives that you can implement quickly and without conflict. As we suggest above, let employees help you with some simple insights that you have the power to change. We love the lean startup. It has radically changed how businesses function for the better. We apply the build, measure, learn steps to employee engagement. Start small, make a few changes, measure their impact, learn what you need to, and act again.

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