by Nettie Nitzberg
When you think of your ideal employee, what are some of the characteristics you would like him or her to exhibit? Perhaps some that come to mind include enthusiasm, happiness, commitment, loyalty or excitement. In fact, these are the words that also describe engaged employees. Yet most organizations don’t put enough emphasis on ensuring their employees are engaged. They figure that if they’re doing their work well, then obviously they’re engaged with the company. Without realizing it, this complacent attitude could put the company at risk for unexpected turnover and a loss of some of their most highly talented employees.
In fact, employee engagement is a much bigger problem than most companies realize. According to a March 2016 Gallup poll, 49.5% of American workers felt unengaged in their workplaces; another 16.5% identified as “actively disengaged.” That means only one out of every three employees are feeling enthusiastic, happy, committed, loyal, or excited about their job. The other two are more likely to feel dissatisfied, unhappy, indifferent or detached – and therefore to be at the root of frequent turnover, low morale, poor customer service, and a general negative impact on the bottom line.
Unfortunately, human resource officers and other managers can’t just say that employees need to be more engaged – they need to focus on engaging their employees by developing, growing, and retaining them. It’s not a quick fix, but there are ways for companies to create internal opportunities that reignite an employee’s investment.
One way to do this is by focusing on individuals and teams across the organization, and encouraging your employees to do this in the process. By meeting and engaging with remote team members or employees outside of their department or typical area, they are able to see what is happening across the organization and gain a deeper appreciation for their place of work. Networking is a key ingredient to creating engagement; through networking, companies can help to build personal connections, form connections that strengthen team performance, and create networks outside of the team or business unit.
Companies can start to cultivate connection-building by making networking both fun and easy. One way to do this is by offering company-wide opportunities to network through Employee Resource Groups, community service projects, or onboarding, as examples. Make sure that the program is both structured and innovative, improving both its efficacy and engagement. By ditching the typical business networking protocols and creating unique, connection-building experiences, companies can create cultures that enhance engagement, break down barriers toward meeting new colleagues, and ignite deeper relationships.
Additionally, companies should focus on bringing their various teams together to tackle specific challenges. Especially in an era where so many work remotely or on personalized schedules, or work with technology more frequently than with people, team members may not have had the chance to get to know each other as well as they could. Developing an engaging, interactive and possibly competitive program can allow team members to strengthen their problem-solving, collaboration, team-building and communication skills. The outcomes can be both insightful and thought-provoking.
Finally, organizations should help their employees explore internal opportunities and build company-wide connections which strengthen engagement and company connectedness. By providing initiatives focused on the “whole” organization, such as employee resource groups, job shadowing, rotational job programs or mentoring initiatives, employees have the opportunity to explore and learn what is happening outside of their team, department or function. These are all great ways to prevent them from leaving due to a lack of understanding what the company really offers, disengagement or feeling stymied in the job. Additionally, these efforts help employees gain additional experience, skills and knowledge, which directly benefit the outcomes of the company, and support the development of the employee.
Creating these and similar opportunities will allow companies to see enhanced engagement and retention rates and overall lower turnover rates. Additionally, engaged employees tend to improve the reputation of a company, albeit incrementally, by consistently talking about their employer in positive – if not glowing – terms.
Employee engagement has been shown to greatly improve outcomes for both employees and employers regardless of industry or size of company. Encouraging employee engagement by building personal connections, strengthening teams and creating relations across matrixed organizations may seem daunting for even the best companies, but is an incredibly effective and worthwhile endeavor.
Nettie Nitzberg is a recognized expert in helping global companies maximize their people investments, and is founder and principal of Boston-based West5 Consulting, which focuses on solving people problems that impact business success. She can be reached at email@example.com.