According to a 2012 Gallup report, only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, meaning more than half of employees (70% to be exact) are not reaching their full potential.
Because we know that productivity and profitability are directly related to employee engagement, this statistic represents a significant problem for the economy and the individual performance of American companies going forward.
The good thing is, however, employees want to be engaged in their work – they want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They just need to be provided the opportunity to take their best abilities and blend them with the company’s mission.
In this article, we’ll discuss a few ways to start engaging employees effectively today, and some helpful advice to keep them engaged.
How to Engage Employees
Keep Employees In the Loop
In order for an employee to be openly engaged, he or she needs to be informed and see the value of their work. Ensure that you are communicating the company’s big picture plans and how each of your staff members’ work will fit into these plans. Employees are more engaged when they understand how their individual work is valuable.
Be clear in your expectations. When work is piling up and disengaged employees start to struggle with the workload (and their ability to complete it all within mounting deadlines) take time to meet with them one-on-one. Try to understand their expectations and help them understand yours. Help employees prioritize based on their abilities and project timelines. Ensure they are not spinning their wheels and that they don’t feel they’re working alone in a silo.
The job description you give an employee should represent the ground level (or the floor, so to speak). Let them know it’s up to them to take it to the next level – the sky is the limit. Welcome their contribution and ask employees to tell you how they can add value to the team. It’s also beneficial to involve employees in problem solving. Be specific in what you need and when. Don’t say: “Here’s the problem, I need to you fix it ASAP.” DO say: “Here’s our problem. Do you have any suggestions on how we can fix it by tomorrow?”
Ask Employees What Engages Them
A core management concept is that a manager should customize their interaction with each employee. Asking employees a few simple questions will help narrow down how to effectively interact daily, under high pressure deadlines.
Ask: What motivates you? What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you committed to a team? You can’t engage someone without their permission. They have to be open and willing to engage in their work. As mentioned earlier, employees want to be engaged, but a one-size-fits-all tactic won’t work for everyone. Take the answers they give to these questions and use them to both the company’s and the employee’s advantage.
Step Back and Observe
Now that you know what motivates your employees and you’ve been clear on expectations, it’s time to step back and let them dive into their work. Let them apply their own methods of self-sufficiency. Employees with more freedom to be self-directed in their work are generally more engaged.
Imagine having the freedom to master your own role as an employee, gain more experience and find purpose in your work. Sounds pretty inspiring, doesn’t it? As a leader, you can support individual, inherent motivators while managing employees within the scope of their job responsibilities and the company’s mission. The fact that your manager trusts you to get the job done, without micromanagement, speaks volumes to an employee who is capable of working independently and thrives on doing so.
Create the Culture
It’s important for company leaders to create a culture their employees want to be a part of in order to foster engagement. Tell positive brand stories and share what it’s like to be an employee at your company.
Implement formal concepts (i.e., pledges and written material that manifest the culture) and informal programs (i.e., events or free-form feedback from coworkers) that communicate and reinforce the culture. Create even the simplest corporate culture by starting and keeping traditions, recognizing and rewarding work and enhancing the workplace environment so they align with core company values.
Employees are attracted to a strong company culture. Using this to recruit and engage talent gives companies a competitive advantage. Every corporate culture is different based on a company’s goals and image, but all require a leader who believes in it, talks about it and rewards engaged employees who embrace it.
Keeping Employees Engaged
If you want employees to stay engaged, they need to see you engaged as well. It’s crucial for managers to lead by example and show employees they are excited about the work they are doing and the mission of the brand.
There is a direct link between leadership and employee engagement. If you don’t feel you’re truly engaged, start by asking yourself the questions above to find your own motivators. If you are not engaged, your employees will likely not be motivated.
Give employees your time. Be accessible to help them find their best engagement tactics and support career development. Put employees at a level where they can play to their strengths, which may change as they learn more about their work and your company. Engagement may be an ebb and flow for employees, but it needs to be a constant for managers.
Help employees learn how to take their own best abilities and blend them with the company’s mission. Then let them engage in what ways work best for them. Create a culture they want to contribute to and believe in.
Finally, make sure you stay engaged. If your early engagement tactics aren’t working for you or your employees, don’t give up. Keep trying. You and your company will hit the right stride in time and you’ll be on your way to a competitive workplace of highly employees before you know it.
Janine MacDonald is a professor with Brandman University’s School of Extended Education, the entrepreneurial division of Brandman University, where she provides leadership development training. For more than 20 years, Janine McDonald has specialized in developing and implementing corporate leadership programs and talent management. As an organizational leadership consultant, Ms. McDonald has helped turn new supervisors, mid-level managers and executives into effective leaders. McDonald holds a Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Chapman University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Communication Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.