What makes a good employer? A culture of growth, nicely furnished well-lit office spaces, good coffee, and a competitive benefits package? Yes, those matter. As does decent remuneration – even people who land their dream job need to pay rent, buy gas, and afford other living expenses.
So, I’m not going to vex poetically about how material aspects don’t matter to employees because they certainly do. If this weren’t the case, managers would not offer raises to convince team members to stay with the company instead of pursuing other opportunities.
However, people also care about other things, so if the job gets too stressful or they feel that they’re treated unfairly, they may leave even if the pay is good. Especially the younger generations are very aware of how important well-being is and will not sacrifice it.
What is employee engagement?
I’m sure you have a basic idea, but it’s easy to mix employee engagement, employee satisfaction, and employee happiness. They are similar, but they are not synonyms. According to Forbes, “employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees care about their work and their company. They don't work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization's goals.”
In practical terms, this translates into the customer care representative who takes the extra time to ensure a complicated claim is solved. Or the developer who has a brilliant idea for fixing the code in their own time does so because the product matters to them. Or the salesperson who answers questions after the purchase has been made because client satisfaction is important.
As with all things emotional, t’s a tall order to ensure that employees will reach an optimal level of engagement and consequently have internal motivation to work towards organizational goals.
3 Ways to boost employee engagement
Engaged employees do more meaningful work and even take on responsibilities beyond their job description, just because they care. They also tend to stay longer with an organization, contributing more to its success. No wonder every manager wants engaged employees on their team! So let's explore a few ways you can boost employee engagement rates!
Show trust in your employees
My personal experience as a long-time corporate employee and an even longer-time customer of various companies is that employees usually go the extra mile when they know they can. They need empowerment, the foundation of which is trust.
There are several ways of showing and building trust, and they all require time. Managers need to take time for one-on-ones to know what each team member needs to get better at their job – it may be a specific tool, training, or simply the green light to use their creativity.
Furthermore, micromanagement needs to disappear. It’s highly counterproductive, demotivates employees, and increases the manager’s workload ineffectively. It’s important for managers always to be available to offer support and guidance, but this needs to come from the person doing the job.
Another relevant aspect is how processes are set up. If everything needs managerial approval, it’s not geared towards building a culture of trust, and it certainly does not encourage innovation.
Show employees that they matter
One of the worst lines HR lines I’ve (repeatedly) heard is, “if you don’t want to do this job anymore, there are dozens of applicants at the door who will gladly take your place.” Bad people management in the purest form. Even if that may be true, it’s a wrong thing to say to employees.
Negative motivation does not work long-term, and it’s absolutely disastrous for employee engagement. Even those not necessarily targeted by the statement get a pretty good idea about how the company treated its members.
Employee engagement depends on the feeling that employees are important to the organization, that their efforts are appreciated. If you are in a managerial position, make sure you communicate this often and earnestly. The proverbial pat on the back goes a long way, as does public recognition of merits, for that matter.
Ask and listen to employee opinions
If the first two items are mainly centered around what managers should do or say, this last one is about hearing employees out. Moreover, it’s about putting their feedback into practice.
It’s been my experience that most companies do the first part right – they have surveys, focus groups, monthly meetings, and dedicated online spaces for people to express themselves. However, not much happens when it comes to putting those in action. The suggestions often remain in a sort of venting limbo.
In truth, employees witness various situations firsthand and have very relevant feedback and simple (yet highly effective) solutions. C-suite executives can’t be entirely connected to what’s happening “on the ground,” but if team leaders take the time to gather this information, it will save time, money and boost employee engagement.
When people know that they are heard and see how their input is put into practice, they are encouraged to make that extra effort.
Employee engagement is, for a lot of companies, some sort of HR unicorn. While it’s not easy to achieve high rates in this field, it’s also not impossible. Assuming that the salary base and working conditions are what they should be, showing people that they are important, empowered, and heard is the optimal recipe for engagement.