Employee Engagement: Your Key to Business Success in the 21st Century

As the number of available well-qualified applicants dwindles, managers and business owners have been struggling with employee engagement. Recent graduates — and even older workers with experience — expect more from their careers than just a steady paycheck. Younger recruits have invested more time into education than ever before. Older workers have become disillusioned by the layoffs and job losses following the economic bust of 2008.

As a result, employees now expect more from their jobs than ever before. They don’t just want a steady paycheck and a clear path to promotion and retirement. And they’re looking for a reason to become invested. Employees want to know they’re making a difference.

And there’s more than just the cynicism in the aftermath of the Great Recession behind this change. More importantly, the digital age makes workers available nearly 24/7. This is even more impactful when you take the modern global nature of business into account. As a result, the line between personal time and work time is more fluid than ever.

Two men collaborate at work: Relationships matter when it comes to employee engaement

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What is Employee Engagement?

You can define engage in a number of ways. To engage means to actively involve someone, or to keep their interest. This means that you have their full attention. They’re focused on the necessary details of their work. They’re mindful of the importance of their role in the company. And they’re paying attention to the quality of their work. Even more importantly, they show emotional investment in the success of the venture.

The polling firm Gallup defines employee engagement as:

“[E]ngaged employees are those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.”

But even within the somewhat narrow confines of business, there’s no one employee engagement definition. Your staff can be engaged in a number of ways. Employees who feel strongly about the company’s mission are engaged in meeting those goals. Investing in company stock shows personal trust in the business’ profitability. Even something as seemingly trivial as cultivating a family-like rapport with off-site recreation and the break room birthday cake shows your employees are engaged.

It may seem trivial, but don’t be fooled. Employee engagement is one of the surest measures of potential success in the current business climate.

Engagement vs satisfaction

Don’t confuse job engagement with job satisfaction, however. Even though they can and probably should co-exist, they’re not the same thing. There’s a big difference between contentment and passion.

Some employees are happily riding their desk job till their 401k matures. Others, on the other hand, have a drive to excellence, and they measure their success with the positive impact they create.

How Does Employee Engagement Affect Your Bottom Line?

According to Analytics in HR (AIHR), only 32 percent of the U.S. workforce is actively engaged with their jobs. This is a concern because engaged employees not only produce more and work harder, they’re also less stressed out and enjoy their work more. And if your business relies on good customer service, it’s worth knowing that engaged employees get 10 percent better ratings with customers.

Happy office worker: employee engagement drives innovation.

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Not surprisingly, employee engagement affects absenteeism and turnover rate. Engaged employees don’t call in sick with existential dread. They don’t take off to interview with other companies. Non-engaged employees take more sick time, too: up to twice as much as those who feel invested in their jobs.

Most importantly, a 2012 Gallup poll showed that engaged employees were 21 percent more productive and 22 percent more profitable.

How Do You Measure Employee Engagement?

Another great definition of employee engagement comes from Snack Nation:

“Employee engagement, simply put, is the extent to which an employee’s personal goals and interests align with the vision and goals of the company at which they are employed.”

But how can you tell who is engaged and who isn’t? How do you measure this intangible but ever-important quality of work-life metric?

Because people express engagement in so many different ways, it’s hard to define. And that makes it hard to measure. Brent Gleeson wrote for Forbes:

“Managers need to look at engagement as a hierarchical structure, starting with basic needs and moving towards personal and professional growth – all of which impact an employee’s ability to help drive change.”

There are a number of HR consulting firms that provide surveys and metric tools for measuring employee engagement. However, what it really comes down it is how managers should view employee engagement: If managers want employees engaged with their business, they need to become engaged with their employees.

Two office workers discuss a customer service app: Employee engagement requires one-on-one time.

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The importance of personal involvement

In a perfect world, managers and supervisors make time to check in with each employee to see that their needs are met. Do they have the tools they need? Does your employee feel like a vital part of the organization? Are they passionate about what they do? Where do they want to see the company go?

Large companies can ask employees to fill out surveys. However, those really don’t provide accurate data. If possible, managers and supervisors should meet one-on-one with employees. In that way, not only can they gauge the employee’s commitment and level of engagement, they can also improve it by letting the employee know their needs are important.

One of the most essential questions to truly gauge your employee’ sense of job engagement? Ask them – anonymously, if necessary — how likely they’d recommend your business to their friends as a place of work. What individuals are willing to do to make a living is usually far rougher than what they’d desire for those they care about. It’s called the Net Promoter score.

Which Companies Are Getting Their Employees Invested and Engaged?

Companies that prioritize employee engagement get their money’s worth every payday. And they invest something both more and less than simple cash; they invest attention.

Zappos increases employee engagement by investing in programs that build relationships. The clothing retailer encourages employees to reward each other with small bonuses. They also have a shadow program so that staff members in different departments get a better idea of how the other side works.

Google, which pays some of the best salaries in the business, also provides employee autonomy. Google allows employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time on the clock pursuing special projects outside their usual work duties. If allowing time for invention and creativity doesn’t empower engagement, nothing will.

Notably, Glassdoor surveys found Boston Consulting Group (BCG) voted to one of the top three places to work. An analysis of the feedback reveals the company’s top ratings for “Employee Development and Care” powered the high rating. That means that to BCG, the growth of their employees is every bit as important to management as the growth of the company.

Women meeting in conference room: Employee engagement means creative growth.

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Tips for Improving Employee Engagement

So, now that you know what employee engagement is and why it’s important to the sustainability of your company, what do you do to improve it?

Communication: Provide timely and frequent feedback.

Most companies have an annual or semi-annual formal review process. However, for many employees, that’s just not often enough. Many companies tie promotions and pay raises to formal reviews, putting employees on the defensive. They’re unable to speak openly, make suggestions, or discuss problems.

Clear Roles: Let your employees know who’s who and what’s what.

Although most Americans balk against a restrictive hierarchy, most organizations work smoother with defined roles for each member. In this way, employees are less stressed out knowing exactly where their responsibilities lie.

They also know who they can talk to and get meaningful action, whether it’s a problem or the next great idea. Providing a defined role doesn’t just let them off the hook when it’s “not their job,” it also lets them know exactly why they’re necessary to the success of the company.

Foster Loyalty: Allow friendships to flourish in the workplace.

Not everyone is a social butterfly, but even the most introverted employees have someone they connect within the workplace. Encouraging friendships also encourages overall loyalty to the team. It provides emotional and even real support in times of chaos. Gallup found that workers who had someone at work that they could describe as a friend were seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their jobs.

Changing social dynamics, including later marriages and births, have wrought changes in the modern workplace. Younger workers, in particular, are more likely to view coworkers as family members. There’s even the “work wife” and “work husband” meme. Workers may find themselves feeling hopeless about work after a bad day or a failed project. However, they’re don’t give up so easily when the whole “fam” needs them to succeed.

Reward and Recognition: When it’s not about the money.

A recent study out of Princeton found that above the benchmark of $75,000 a year, money simply can’t buy happiness. So, while a raise in salary is a performance incentive to a point, it doesn’t always take the place of feeling valued.

Reward success with public acknowledgment and your employees are sure to repeat their spectacular performance. Compliments are a bit of a high; everyone likes the rush of endorphins that occurs when publicly recognized. Positive reinforcement and open gratitude for what they’ve done well will bring you more of the same.

Education and training: Allow your employees to grow.

As in the BCG example above, employees want to know that you will invest in their success. Providing room and tools for personal and professional growth creates loyalty. Maybe even a sense of obligation. Although most will see through any blatant attempts to manipulate their emotions. If you want to engage employees to take your business as far as they can, provide them the tools they need to expand their skills and put them to use.

Engage Managers: Not everyone should be a boss.

In some fields, staff members with the right level of education and experience receive automatic promotion to management. This is often despite the fact that they have little to no people skills. Great managers are those who know how to leverage their resources to make their people shine. By all means, help and encourage your current managers to grow into true leaders. They also want to feel you’re invested in their success.

Most significantly, according to a Dale Carnegie study, the relationship with their immediate supervision determined how 84 percent of workers feel about the company they work for. Managers should be cheerleaders, not taskmasters. When it comes to employee engagement, the ability to nurture talent can’t be overstated.

Office workers have lunch together: encourage friendships for true employee engagement

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Setting a Plan to Inspire and Succeed

It’s very simple. Bottom line, employees what to feel that what they do matters. It’s self-evident that you invest money in them through training, benefits, and salary. What’s less recognized is that they invest time into your success – as much as a quarter of their lives on a weekly basis. And most are willing to invest more if properly motivated.

If you want your business to thrive, make it a team effort. By investing the time and effort to engage your employees, they’ll soon become as passionate about your company’s success as you are.


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