Strategies to increase employee engagement in the workplace


November 22, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

Gallup's State of the American Workplace report found that 70% of US employees were not engaged or actively disengaged from work. This lack of engagement can be detrimental for businesses, as research consistently suggests links between employee engagement, productivity and profitability.

It's now important to have an engaged workforce for a business to succeed. In this article, we discuss techniques to increase employee engagement.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement consists of multiple elements, such as:

  • The commitment / willingness and ability to help the company succeed
  • Staff involvement
  • Enthusiasm for work
  • Positive attitudes employees have about the company

Types of employees

As the definition covered a variety of factors, it helps to understand the different types of employee for further clarification. There are three types of employees:

  • Engaged employees
  • Actively disengaged employees
  • Non-engaged employees

Engaged employees (15% of the workforce)

  • Put maximum effort into their work
  • Are loyal and committed to the company
  • Excel at their responsibilities
  • Go beyond the job description and go the extra mile
  • Are enthusiastic
  • Feel connected to the company

These are the people that will help your business grow.

Actively disengaged employees (18% of the workforce)

  • Will harm your company
  • Are always negative
  • Are unhappy at work and they are vocal about this and act out their unhappiness
  • Drive away business
  • Take up managers' time
  • Actively working against the company

Actively disengaged employees undermine what engaged workers do and spread negativity throughout the company.

Non-engaged employees (67% of the workforce)

  • Are difficult to notice as they're doing just enough to fulfil their role requirements
  • Lack motivation and enthusiasm
  • Are relatively happy in their role
  • They do not go beyond what they need to do - they do their hours but lack passion for their work
  • Are not invested in the company's aim
  • Lack concern about productivity or profitability - they lack the care
  • They are thinking about the end of the workday

Most of the workforce falls into the category of non-engaged employees. However, these workers are full of opportunity which can be accessed once you convert them into engaged employees - this is an extremely effective way of increasing performance and helping a business succeed.

Supporting research

Gallup (2016) conducted a meta-analysis on 339 research studies, across 230 companies, 49 industries and 73 countries. 82,248 work units made up of 1.9 million employees were investigated. The findings support the link between employee engagement and significant performance outcomes, such as:

  • Profitability
  • Productivity
  • Customer ratings
  • Turnover
  • Absenteeism
  • Safety incidents

Gallup compared performance between engaged and actively disengaged staff and found that "those scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly doubled their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half."

Companies in the top-quartile for employee engagement outperformed the bottom-quartile in:

  • Customer ratings by 10%
  • Sales/profitability by 20%
  • Productivity by 17%
  • Less absenteeism by 41%

See the graph below for more details.

Engagements effect on key business outcomes

This study reinforces the idea that employee engagement is linked to performance outcomes regardless of the organisation, industry and country.

Techniques for improving employee engagement

Improving engagement is not complex but it requires prioritising. By getting this right you will increase your company's performance outcomes.

Do your research

Management need to look at all staff, regardless of where they fall in the organisation's hierarchy, so they can understand how their staff feel and they can identify what needs to change. If staff are engaged they should:

  • Know what is expected of them and the quality of their work
  • Regularly receive recognition and constructive feedback
  • Have the resources and training to succeed in their roles
  • Know which opportunities are available for their learning and development
  • Have the opportunity to do what they do best most days
  • Trust their managers and believe managers have their best interests in mind
  • Believe that their opinions are valued
  • Understand the company's aim and know how they help with this

Work with your staff to identify opportunities and obstacles to engagement as they are the experts on themselves. If you create an engagement survey ensure that it is specific, relevant and actionable.

Consider setting up an "engagement board" made up of senior staff to encourage engagement. You could also establish "engagement forums" to understand engagement from employee viewpoints.

Select the right managers

Good managers understand that their success and the company's success rely on employee achievement so they care about their employees’ accomplishments. They should want to understand everyone's strengths and give them opportunities to use these strengths.

Good managers empower employees, they notice and value their staff's contributions and seek their ideas and views. Selecting managers like this is necessary to boost engagement.

Train managers and make them responsible for their employees' engagement

Managers should be trained to:

  • Understand the importance of engagement and the benefits and obstacles
  • Actively help create engagement plans with their employees
  • Track their employees' progress
  • Ensure that they are always trying to engage their employees

Starting at the top - lead by example

Improving employee engagement needs to be an organisational approach - it needs to be taken seriously at all levels.

Staff in leadership positions must reflect the characteristics and behaviours they're asking of their employees. By setting an example it shows your team that you are capable of doing what you expect from them. It helps get the best out of your employees without explicitly reminding them. If you won't follow your own rules and messages then why should your staff?

Employees also have more of a reason to trust you when your actions reflect your words. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that in companies where leaders model the desired behaviour of employees are 55% more engaged, 53% more focused and are more likely to stay at the company.

Offer training and development - invest in employees

Research has suggested that the average UK professional has had two years without training, with 13% having no training in over four years. People want to work for companies that invests in employees' career development, in fact, 63% of UK employees would change their employer if they got more training opportunities.

By offering training and development opportunities you are showing your employees that you want them to remain relevant and that you essentially care about their futures.

Read more about training soft skills with VR

Encourage flexible working

Give employees some freedom to adjust their work schedules or location to suit their needs better. Lots of leaders don't trust employees to work flexibly but it has been shown that employees with this flexibility are more productive, happier and engaged than those who have regimented work hours.

Encouraging a more positive attitude from employees will increase employee engagement.

Give employees a voice

It's important for employees to feel that they are being heard and that their opinions are valuable to the company. Ensure that you ask for their ideas and views. When employees feel like they don't have a voice they will speak behind management's back.

Regularly discuss engagement

Good managers openly talk about improving engagement so consider having a special section in meetings to discuss the "state of engagement."

Be transparent

If management are transparent and honest with employees and share sensitive information with them, employees are more likely to feel valued and feel more invested in the company.

It also keeps create a more cooperative team environment rather than employees thinking that management are different to them. Also withholding important information can lead to staff creating their own conclusions which are often negative.

Be visible

Spend some time face-to-face with employees and other members of the company, visit offices, call centres, visit stores and other locations. It shows staff that you are approachable and that you care about them.

Put employees in the right role and delegate meaningful work

Ensure that staff are placed in the right roles so they can do what they are good at most days.

Delegate employees meaningful work because they will see their purpose and remain engaged as they understand how they are helping.

Thank employees and show appreciation

Recognising employees publicly for their contributions and successes is a great way of:

  • Building trust quickly
  • Fixing relationships
  • Increasing enthusiasm and motivation

Employees will feel that their work matters and that you are proud of what they're doing. Employees want to know that their work helps make the company more successful so show that you appreciate their efforts. When employees feel that they aren't doing well, they will feel unmotivated to work hard but when their work is noticed and they are encouraged they become more driven.

For more information, read 40 Ways to Say Thank You to Your Employees

Be genuine

You need to form authentic relationships with employees as this increases trust and comradeship. It’s easier to be genuine if you see things from your employees' perspectives - put yourself in their position and try to understand why they are saying or behaving as they are.

Engage from the start

New employees start their jobs feeling enthusiastic and motivated to learn so use this to put them straight to work, help them get to know their colleagues and pair them with mentors. Make a good first impression as staff will be motivated to work for you and the company.

Volunteer as a team

Companies that support philanthropic causes and get involved with the community directly increases engagement and productivity. It shows that the company wants to make a difference in the community and not just make money. Support your staff in getting involved with volunteering projects as a team.

Bonus schemes

Bonus schemes are traditionally based on financial results but they can also be used for improvements in employee engagement, customer satisfaction etc.

Encourage breaks and a balance

Encourage and remind staff to take short breaks from their desks. They are more likely to feel more energetic and focused afterwards. This also has the benefit of showing the staff that you care about their wellbeing which increases their respect for you and consequently their productivity.

Encourage staff to live a life that balances their work and their personal life. This helps reduce stress and increases their performance as it shows that you care about them and not just their work.

Office environment

Make the work environment comfortable for your employees and if there are any problems with the space ensure that you get these fixed promptly.

Teamwork

Encourage teamwork as research has suggested that working together increases relationships between colleagues which improves productivity.

Regular social events

Frequent social events are an effective way for staff to get to know each other personally. It also encourages creativity and teamwork in the workplace. You don't have to organise elaborate events; you can organise lunches or local drinks. Management must also get involved as this will increase their approachability, visibility and authenticity.

Involvement programmes

Set up employee involvement programmes, for example, you could set up an employee health and safety programme so staff are engaged in these aspects of their work thus increasing engagement and promoting the organisation's safety programme.

Give and receive feedback regularly

Don't rely on annual reviews to give employees feedback - the current workforce wants regular feedback so use informal, as well as formal, check-ins.

Encourage your team to provide feedback on you - use an anonymous feedback system so staff feel more comfortable providing it. Your team will respect you for this as it's a fair arrangement considering that they receive feedback.

In summary

Considering that employees are said to be a company's best asset, their wellbeing and support should be a priority - top companies see employee satisfaction as a goal.

An individual's potential goes beyond their job description and if you change employee experience into a rewarding and motivating one you will be able to access this potential and consequently improve your organisation's business outcomes.