An earlier post discussed the importance of retaining quality employees. In brief, employee turnover costs your company money in a variety of ways. There are easily quantifiable expenses, including the cost of placing ads or paying overtime to your remaining employees while you are short-handed. There are indirect costs, including the potential loss of orders if you cannot fill them within a reasonable time or reduced productivity while training a new employee. One way to help reduce turnover is through a conscious program of employee engagement.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement shares many similarities with customer engagement. The basic concept of both types of engagement is to build relationships that improve loyalty, inspire participants to say positive things about your company when talking to friends or posting online, provide a method for open communications, and foster a belief that they are appreciated by and important to you.
Before proceeding, it might be helpful to take a moment to discuss what employee engagement is not.
1. Employee engagement is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. Different organizations may need different approaches. Even within the same organization, the approaches may need to be tailored to each individual.
2. Employee engagement is not a concept that only large companies should adopt. If you have even one employee, you should be thinking about ways to keep him or her engaged.
3. Employee engagement is not about increasing salaries or perks. High wages, a fun environment, extremely lenient employee discounts, and multiple weeks of vacation are not going to guarantee engaged employees.
4. Employee engagement is not about keeping employees satisfied, happy, or motivated. Although these three attitudes can make them more receptive to engagement, employees can have these traits without being engaged.
5. Employee engagement is not dictatorial. You cannot simply demand that employees become engaged or order them to participate in your engagement activities.
What Are Some Ideas for Encouraging Employee Engagement?
Effective employee engagement can be a bit of a challenge. No one knows your company and your employees better than you, so you will need to be the one who decides which ideas would work best. However, there are many companies with highly effective programs that have shared the strategies they used that achieved the best results. Here are some ideas that you might want to consider.
1. Employee engagement should be part of the company culture. From an entry-level employee to the CEO, everyone should be made to feel as if they are a full member of the company’s team. Every employee should have a good understanding of the company’s purpose and goals that goes far beyond a vague mission statement. Give some thought to how you can communicate what your company does and why it exists – be honest. For example, do not tell employees or candidates that the company has a strong commitment to environmental issues unless it is true.
2. Organizations with a high percentage of engaged employees do not pit employees against each other in individual competitions. Having your sales staff competing against each other for a single prize awarded for the highest total sales can backfire, especially if you post a running total of each individual’s sales. Those who are obviously not going to win can become discouraged and unproductive, and employees in other departments who are not part of the competition can feel unappreciated. If you feel compelled to spur sales, create teams consisting of multiple salespersons along with personnel from other departments. You could form a team consisting of an accounting clerk, three members of your sales staff, a production worker, and a receptionist, for example, and another team consisting of three members of the sales staff, a shipping clerk, a member of your human resources staff, and a maintenance worker. Let the teams compete for prizes, but guard against making the prizes too extravagant so that you can make multiple awards.
3. Spend time with your employees. Get to know them, encourage them to offer suggestions, and ask them for feedback on your ideas. However, never try to fake interest or be insincere. Your employees will be able to tell whether you are being genuine.
4. Make sure that your employees have the right tools and are properly trained. No one can excel at a job if they do not know what they are supposed to do and how to do it, and no one can complete a task without the proper tools. Employees who are asked to perform without the tools and training that they need can quickly become disengaged and start looking for another job.
5. Ask employees what activities they would like the company to sponsor. You can do this in private conversations or by circulating a survey that allows respondents to remain anonymous. Common activities include sponsoring a company baseball or basketball team, hosting a picnic or other outing that includes the families of the employees, having a potluck luncheon, or attending a sporting event or concert as a group. Many employees express interest in volunteering as a group to build or renovate homes for people who have low incomes, collect roadside trash, or provide lawn care and home repairs for the elderly or disabled.
6. Encourage employees to discuss their career goals. Some employees may need additional education or training to achieve their goals, but they may feel that it would be impossible. Discuss ways to make the impossible happen. For example, could you allow them to work a different schedule so that they could attend classes? Does the employee need assistance to fill out an application for a grant or scholarship? Is the company financially capable of reimbursing employees for successfully completing a semester of college or a training program? If the issue is childcare, can the company help? Keep in mind that anything you do for one employee may need to be done for other employees in the future. It is also important to remember that not every employee is interested in continuing his or her education, so be sure that you respect that decision.
7. Clarify your expectations so that all employees understand their responsibilities. Employees who are confused about your goals or who do not understand what you expect from them are highly unlikely to be engaged.
8. Show your appreciation regularly. Thanking employees for working late to get an important presentation ready or coming in on the weekend to take physical inventory costs you nothing, but expressing your gratitude can make your employees feel valued and appreciated. Telling a production worker that you are evaluating his cost-cutting suggestion and think that it has possibilities lets him know that you take him seriously and appreciated his idea. If possible, reward all employees periodically by taking everyone to lunch, bringing in pizza, distributing gift cards, or giving them some other type of tangible reward.
9. Establish a program to cross-train employees to promote collaboration between departments. Employees in one department sometimes feel that staff members in another department have easier jobs or receive more attention, or they may complain that the other department is making it harder for them to do their jobs. Typically, none of the employees in either department have much knowledge about what the others actually do. Cross-training and periodic job swaps can provide the knowledge that is needed to be more empathetic. For example, a salesperson might begin to understand why the accounting department is so particular about expense reports, or a production worker might begin to understand the difficulties faced by people in the maintenance department. In addition to breaking down walls between departments, you are building a well-trained team that can help out in another department if the need arises.
Contrary to what some people believe, employee engagement is far more than playing games, and an effective program does not need to be expensive. Two-way communication is at the heart of effective engagement, so if you listen to your employees and provide them with authentic feedback, you are well on your way to successfully engaging them. However, you must prove that your effort to engage your employees is not merely lip service or a passing trend. Be consistent with your message, take action, and keep communicating with your employees in clear, unambiguous ways.
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