“What we all want from work is to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission.”
Graham Weston, a co-founder of Rackspace, said those words during a 2010 TEDx talk. This popular quote speaks volumes about how employee engagement can drive organizational success—and how a lack of it can impede progress.
Most companies, and their human resources departments, want to believe their employees are engaged. Yet, some are surprised when employee surveys, performance metrics, retention rates, and anecdotal evidence suggest otherwise.
Part of this surprise stems from the expectation of what employee engagement truly is. Workers might be happy with their jobs but are not truly engaged: They go through the motions and do satisfactory work, but never go above and beyond, even just a little. Other employees may appear engaged but have one foot out the door, seeing no future at their current workplace. You likely go to great lengths to avoid losing valued customers, so why not follow the same philosophy to avoid losing valued employees?
Employee engagement must be more than smiling employees and a weekly margarita happy hour. It involves employee commitment to the organization and its customers. It involves executive and managerial commitment to those employees. It involves dynamic and open communication, as well as nurturing and inspiration. And it involves making employees believe they belong to something bigger than just a means to a paycheck.
Despite that definition, companies still find themselves failing with their employee engagement efforts. Here are five such failures:
Employee engagement goes beyond how workers relate to each other. Sure, employees can hang out together after work ends or at company-sponsored off-site events, but that doesn’t mean they are putting their hearts and souls into their jobs the rest of the time. A company culture must include the connection employees have with each other as well as the connection they have to their work, to customers, and to their place in the organization. Workers don’t need to enjoy a beer together to be engaged, but employees without any sense of company culture won’t seek co-workers for help and support when needed.
Organizations may have mission statements and defined goals on how to achieve success. Unfortunately, those principles are sometimes not adequately communicated to employees, thus leading to a lack of engagement. Often, human resources sparks employee engagement by relaying what’s driving the company’s purpose during the onboarding process—and that’s the last time a new employee ever hears of it. Nobody wants to find out they were doing something wrong after the fact, without any communication of the direction they should have been taking. Over-communication is better than risking not getting your message across in the first place, so don’t hesitate to talk about your organization’s ideals at every opportunity.
Similarly, engaged employees communicate their concerns, goals, dreams, and triumphs to managers and supervisors. Not listening to what they have to say is a sure way to lose that engagement. Sometimes, this problem is just a manager who doesn’t have time for—or fails to see the value of—one-on-one meetings. Supervisors need to spend time knowing their employees and encouraging open and honest communication. In other instances, a lack of deeper relationships is simply a product of processes that leave employees to fend for themselves. In either scenario, employees can gradually become disengaged and leave for another job. Human resources’ strategy to counter this is to never let employees lose that engagement in the first place, because once they do, re-inspiring them becomes difficult.
Companies of all shapes and sizes develop “core values”—the tenets for how they treat customers and fellow employees—and think that’s enough to drive employee engagement. Yet, are your workers following those core values or just paying lip service to them? Reinforce your core values at every opportunity, including:
Hiring by your core values: Ask interview questions that determine how well candidates might fit into your core values.
Recognize employees who truly live by your core values: Give out special awards to these employees at company events, with managers offering public praise and describing examples of how honorees are embracing the core values.
Choose and display symbols that recognize your core values: Place these symbols around the office as a reminder for what your organization stands for. For example, a wall can feature employees who have won an award tied to a core value.
Doing the same job every day, every week, without a clear path to more responsibility, a promotion, or simply some variety can sour even the most optimistic worker. Outlining the possibilities for development from day one and continually following up on such opportunities will keep employees looking forward to something they can achieve by staying engaged. Direct each manager to develop career plans for their employees that outline the path they are currently following and what is necessary to reach the next step. Then, encourage frequent communication and discussion on these career plans with employees.
One final thought: Consider what’s hampering employee engagement at your organization. Is it something that’s inherent to the company culture, or is it simply not having the right tools and processes in place to communicate with and nurture your workforce? Often, small measures can lead to noticeable early results. Asking your employees what they want is a great first step to boosting engagement and making them part of the process.
What steps has your human resources department taken to improve employee engagement?