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The Employee Engagement Strategies No One’s Talking About


You’ve heard it all before.

Seventy percent of employees are not engaged at work. They likely spend more than 260 days a year just looking forward to Friday.

Even at top-ranked companies where people are otherwise happy with their employers, many feel the work they do doesn’t have much meaning.

But that disengagement doesn’t just come about because of poor management, bureaucracy, or generational differences. You could successfully address all of these overlying issues, and employees will still struggle to be fully engaged.

Why? Because often, the causes of disengagement are much more nuanced and specific to the individual. In fact, some of the biggest needs among employees remain largely unmet—not because employers refuse to address them, but because they’re unaware of their significance in the first place.

To understand what I mean, let’s take a quick look at some recent research around what it takes to power productivity in the workplace.

The “Brain Fertilizer” Method

If you had to name the number one method for boosting mental clarity and creativity, what would you say?

Brainstorming? Collaboration? Asking for feedback?

How about exercise?

A growing body of research indicates that, for many people, physical activity just may be the best way to increase mental capacity and become truly engaged with work.

In one groundbreaking study, students who started their school days with high-intensity workouts increased their reading and comprehension levels at nearly double the rate of students who didn’t. Even more telling: They also become the first Americans in history to outpace students in China, Japan, and Singapore on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

That’s because exercise increases production of what’s been dubbed “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, causes brain cells to sprout new structural branches required for learning, processing, and thinking.

This is just one study among countless others that show how much more productive, focused, and engaged people can be when they weave bursts of exercise into their work days.

“If you have an important afternoon brainstorming session scheduled, going for a short, intense run during lunchtime is a smart idea,” writes John J. Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

In other words…

If your employee engagement strategy doesn’t involve a strong wellness component, you could be missing out on a lot of potential productivity—and even more motivation and a stronger commitment to your company’s vision and goals.

The “Flow” Method

For a while, open-office plans were all the rage. Embraced by employers eager to foster a culture of collaboration and camaraderie, the rows of desks and lack of walls promised to encourage the flow of ideas.

Then, a new set of studies started to trickle in—the ones that indicated open offices might not be ideal for everyone. The most telling, summarized in The New Yorker, found open offices to be damaging to many employees’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with traditional office settings, employees experienced higher levels of stress and lower levels of concentration and motivation.

True, some employees are likely to find the open office engaging, particularly those who thrive on more extroverted experiences such as team building activities and out-loud thinking. But others will have the opposite experience. In one survey of 700 workers across industries, 58 percent of high-performing employees said they need more quiet, private spaces for problem-solving.

“The way that many people, and introverts in particular, like to get work done is by focusing for chunks of time and getting into a psychological state called flow,” said Susan Cain, the leading expert on introverts. “The workplace does not allow anyone to get into that state.”

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Cain describes a study where top-performing computer programmers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave them the most personal space, privacy, control over physical environments, and freedom from interruption.

Does your employee engagement strategy offer access to similar settings at work? If not, it may be time to reevaluate.

The “Morning” Method

Here’s another way to help keep your people engaged—and this one is surprisingly simple:

Encourage employees to keep their mornings open. That might mean support for more flexible start times, or perhaps a policy on meeting-free mornings.

The reason: Behavioral Economist Dan Aerily says that most people have a time of day when they’re most productive, and it tends to be two hours after becoming fully awake.

“If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful,” Aerily said.

Which Methods Work Best For Your Teams?

These are just a few examples of the many different needs that may be present in your workplace. Employees each have their own unique work styles, and every company has its own unique mix of personalities.

So … how do you identify what your employees need for your engagement strategy to be effective? You measure. In case study after case study, we’ve found that collecting candid, quantifiable feedback is the most reliable way to understand where you might be overlooking opportunities to make improvements that are specific to the needs of your people.

Wondering where to start? Check out this story from TH-Marine to see how the manufacturer increased speed and capacity after uncovering previously-unknown issues around trust and a lack of energy.

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