Employee engagement is a difficult concept to pin down, no matter how much we want to. We know it’s important (it keeps employees in post and makes them productive employees), but it’s also a sometimes intangible, sensitive notion that seems scarily fickle.
Here we look at employee engagement strategies, why they are important, and how to improve employee engagement. We don’t just leave it there though; we’ve got a selection of 15 employee engagement activities that actually work, so that you can reap the rewards of an engaged, motivated and committed workforce.
Shockingly, only 20% of the world’s workforce is engaged. Chances are you want to do something to make sure your employees are in that 20%.
Pinning down the concept: what is employee engagement really?
Anyone who tries to measure employee engagement will come up with some palpable evidence that is pointed to as employee engagement in action. It’s true, fewer sick days or lower staff turnover are both signs of employee engagement.
However, behind this are intangible concepts that are nearly impossible to accurately measure. Trust, integrity, communication, faith in one another and other equally obscure ideas, combine to create employee engagement. You can’t easily measure what makes one employee spring out of bed on a Monday morning eager to get stuck into their work or what makes another employee demonstrate a decidedly lacklustre approach to an upcoming project.
Why does employee engagement matter?
For something hard to quantify, employee engagement is actually really important. Given your human capital is integral to your success, its engagement is integral to the scale of that success. Let’s condense it to just 5 powerful reasons why employment engagement is important:
Want to boost your bottom line? Companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share.
Holding onto good talent is notoriously hard. But engaged employees are far less likely to up and leave. What’s more, hiring new talent is even harder than holding onto the talent you’ve got, so you want to do everything possible to retain it.
Engaged teams outperform disengaged teams. It’s not rocket science. Want your team to crack on? Engage them.
Lower absence rates
Employee engagement actively lowers absenteeism, to the tune of 41%.
Innovation is the lifeblood of a successful business but it needs fertile ground. When employees are engaged, they go beyond the bare minimum. They come up with creative and innovative ideas.
Given employee engagement matters, we need to strategize how to make employees more engaged. We need to think about how to harness all those lofty ideas of trust and honour, and consider how to facilitate them.
Here’s our list of 15 employee engagement ideas and strategies that actually work. Get a selection of these in your arsenal and you’ll be well on the way to how to improve ing employee engagement.
Employee engagement ideas
Talk to them
Without wishing to state the obvious, but feeling it is entirely necessary, one of the simplest yet most potent employee engagement activities is to simply talk to your staff.
Find out what makes them tick. Uncover their angst points. Figure out that they are reluctant on a Wednesday morning because Bob never takes his turn with the coffee run. Learn that they’ve got a growing desire to be considered for promotion. Ask and ye shall find.
What’s more, chatting with your employees has a very powerful effect if you actually listen too. An employee that feels heard is more likely to reward you with greater engagement. Sometimes all we really need is a rant, and then we can crack on. Sometimes a problem can be solved simply by another mind getting in on the conundrum. Listening is wonderful stuff.
Lead the way
Poor leadership leads to anchorless teams. If you want to improve employee engagement then you need to start right at the top. Your leaders need to be engaged and they need to inspire others to be too.
There are multiple ways in which you can improve leadership with a view to improving employee engagement. Leadership visibility may need levelling up, they may need to be more transparent, and they almost certainly need to be more approachable.
Have some fun
Not every element of every job is going to be a barrel of laughs or solely satisfying every hour of every work day. Unfortunately, life’s just not like that.
But unless you inject some fun into work then your employees will fall out of love with it pretty quickly.
Chances are that sometimes the easiest way to foster fun in your workforce is to take them out of the office and get them doing stuff away from the norm. Team building days are one sure fire way to get your staff having fun together, building commitments and collaborations, and coming back into the office with higher engagement.
Recognise their value
At heart, we’re all still the 5 year old who wants a sticker on their chart. We want to be seen and recognised for what we do. It makes us feel valued. It shows us our worth. It boosts our morale.
Meaningful and consistent recognition is enticing in the engagement stakes. It draws us in and makes us feel like we want to be good at what we do for this employer, not just for ourselves, our paycheque, or for any other reason.
Recognising our employees for their value to us also helps to support and grow the company culture. We positively reinforce the elements of behaviour that enshrine what we want our brand and employment culture to be about.
You can recognise employees through peer-to-peer feedback, passing on client praise, and celebrating success by putting their name in the staff magazine.
Let them balance their life
You might not want to believe it, but your employee’s non-work life matters to them, and it matters to how they perform for you. An engaged employee is one who has a pretty good balance going on in their life.
They know that they can watch their kid’s sports day and as such don’t mind putting in the graft on that late night project. They know that you’re not going to discard them because this week their mental health is in the toilet and so next week they’re there winning you a profitable new client.
It’s about give and take. Getting the balance right for your employees enables them to be more engaged.
Perk them up
When it comes to an employee’s motivation levels, the amount of cash hitting an employee’s bank account each month actually only goes so far. It’s all about Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, you see.
But that’s not to say that the things that you give to your employees don’t matter. Because when it comes to perks and improving employee engagement, you can do some wonderful stuff.
But let’s just go right back to point 1: talk to your employees and listen to their responses about what perks will actually make them feel more engaged and committed. It’s not going to work well offering lunchtime mindfulness and yoga if your workforce are doughnut loving sloths.
Encourage team collaboration
When it comes to work, people are thrown together with a bunch of randoms and are somehow expected to be their best. But we’re only going to be our best if we feel that the people around us have our back and that we can work more effectively with them, than without them.
It’s why it’s really important to encourage team collaboration. Doing everything you can to facilitate a healthy and productive team will ensure that the individual feels a loyalty to them. They won’t want a duvet day simply because they’re feeling bleurgh, because they’ll be letting their team members down. They will want to put in the effort on a tricky project, because they will know that it’s for the benefit of everyone.
Train and develop
It’s tempting to think that dampening your employee’s skills and keeping them contained within a box shaped only like your company will mean they only employ those skills for your company. Wrong. It’s a guaranteed way to make them develop their career elsewhere.
If you want engaged employees then you need to train and develop them, and show them that their future is with your company, not your competitor’s. You need to invest in them so that they invest in you.
It’s no surprise that the organisations with the highest employee engagement levels have dedicated training and development opportunities, which are employee-centred. Employees have autonomy to choose some degree of their own development pathway, and know that the organisation is putting in the effort and expense with them.
No, we’re not back onto money. Yes, it’s important, but when it comes to rewarding your employees, money is a short-lived motivator.
But reward itself is a longer term motivator, and it doesn’t need to be money related. Rewarding your employees with gift vouchers or experiences, Christmas parties, meals out, treat boxes, or whatever takes your fancy, will make them feel appreciated. It’ll make them want to put in the effort, because they know that you’ll not only recognise it, but do something to show it.
Diversity and inclusion are important on so many different levels. But it’s often underestimated when it comes to employee engagement.
Are you aware that your younger female staff feel uncomfortable because they are being rated on their looks by a particular group of men who seem stuck at age 13?
Do you know that your office manager is avoiding making phone calls because she can’t hear and needs some reasonable adjustments made? When your Muslim staff retention rate is lower than average, do you know it’s because they don’t feel they’ve got a safe space to pray?
Don’t just build a diverse workforce. Actively consider how to make it inclusive. If you can nail the inclusivity element then you nail engagement. Employee engagement ideas must include strategies around diversity and inclusion.
And don’t assume you know what this is all about. Refer back to point 1: talk and listen.
There is bound to be an element, in many workplaces, of the individual shrugging off their unique character to fit the mould tof the Ideal Employee. However, there are few professional businesses where the individuality of the employee won’t be beneficial.
An employee who feels they can be themselves will simply feel more at home in the workplace. If they feel at home, they will want to stay.
You can encourage individuality by creating clubs and workplace groups catering to a wide variety of different hobbies.
Facilitate autonomy and meaning
Unless you’re operating a factory floor where the tasks of a job are completely constrained to a set process, you need employees with a sense of autonomy. When someone has autonomy at work, they get meaning from it. And where there’s meaning, there’s a desire to stay and a desire to go ‘above and beyond’.
We’ve seen how this can work in reverse with GPs in the UK. Stripped of autonomy and forced to follow rigid protocols, unable to use their hard-earned knowledge and skills in their way they judge best, they are leaving the profession in droves. They aren’t engaged. They don’t want to stay because they’ve lost the meaning in their work.
It’s the same for every employee. They need meaning in what they are doing, whether that’s a PA understanding that organising their executive’s diary effectively makes their life easier, or a midwife bringing babies into the world.
All work and no play makes workplaces stagnate. It’s no coincidence that the workplaces with high staff retention have vibrant social scenes. They have the Friday night drinks where people actually want to go. They organise days out, experiences, family events and more. When they put a post out about quiz night, there are teams hammering down the door.
An energised and active social scene builds a social network within the business and it pays off for the business. At heart, we are social creatures, and in the modern world, much of our socialising needs are met within the workplace. You can use this to your advantage. It has the added benefit of aiding things like teamwork.
Prioritise health and wellness
Not your responsibility? Think again. The health and wellness of your employees is central to their engagement levels. Well employees are engaged, hardworking, productive and energised. Their absence levels are lower.
It’s actually very difficult for an employee to make good health and wellbeing decisions without the structure around them to facilitate it. For example, if they can’t afford counselling or time off for it when a problem is brewing, they may well miss work or not be firing on all cylinders for far longer. Or, if an employee is trying to maintain fitness but doesn’t have long enough at lunchtime to go to the gym, and they are too tired after work, eventually they will be a less healthy employee.
Helping employees to live a healthier and more fulfilled life pays off in the workplace.
Foster good relationships
Workplaces which create a network of knowledge sharing, mentorship and support also create committed and loyal employees. Whilst creating collaborative and communicative teams is important, helping wider connections between different elements of the organisation is also important.
This can be done through structured coaching and mentorship programmes. But it can also be facilitated through incidental relationship building, encouraged through corporate events.
Employee engagement cannot be left to chance, but by implementing employee engagement strategies and ideas, you can reap the benefits of an engaged, committed and loyal workforce.