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Your Employee Engagement Strategies Aren't Working. Here's why.

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Ten Thousand Coffees Team
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
December 7, 2020

Engaging employees—and keeping them engaged throughout their time with your company—is imperative for organizations that want to be successful.

Better employee engagement is tied to higher profitability, lower turnover, and better customer experiences. At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to this: you need highly engaged people to run your business effectively.

We're not (yet) living in an era where robots run the world, so you need talented people working for your company not only to stay competitive, but to keep your business going. If talented people aren't sufficiently engaged, they'll choose to work elsewhere.

Unfortunately, an employee engagement strategy isn't as simple as putting the proverbial ping pong table in the break room or offering free snacks. With distributed teams becoming a longer-term reality for most companies around the world, you'll need to be more creative with your strategies for getting folks excited about working for you.

If you actually want to make team members excited about their roles within your company, and increase your retention rates, you'll have to do more than use paint-by-numbers employee engagement strategies.

Why employee engagement strategies may miss the mark

Much like in chess, strategies guide the overall direction of a company, but it's critical to remember your workers aren't pawns on a board.

An employee engagement "strategy" may imply that once you make a certain move or implement a certain policy, you're done. But people are more complex than that, and a one size fits all strategy may not work.

If you want to have engaged employees, you have to go the extra mile and actively work on employee engagement, right down to the individual level. You have to make sure each and every one of your people feels emotionally connected to the work they're doing, which should naturally increase their job satisfaction. That necessitates more than inking a policy into your employee handbook or offering perks such as a catered lunch and learn once per quarter.

We think Hannah Price encapsulates this idea best when she encourages companies to think about employee engagement strategies as helping team members answer the following questions:

Does this work matter?

How does your organization's work contribute to the greater good or the grand scheme of things? Can you connect your mission to a larger purpose?

Do I belong here?

Do your team members feel like your company's values align with their own? Do they even know what your values are? Your values should inform your employee engagement strategies after all!

Do I feel enabled to do my job?

Do you give your team the right tools and resources to do their best work? Do people know where they can turn for assistance? If needs aren't being met, is there a way for team members to alert someone to that issue?

Do I contribute?

Do folks really know that their work is valued? Do they understand how their individual contributions further the work of your company as a whole?

As Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing." THAT is true engagement.

Do I feel respected?

Do they believe they can speak their minds without hostile backlash? Do they feel seen and heard? Do they feel safe in expressing themselves and conveying their identities in the work environment?

When you reframe engagement as a way to meet people's needs, rather than as a playbook for getting your folks to work harder, genuine employee engagement begins to shine through.

So how do you do that?

How to actively improve employee engagement

If you're actually committed to the employee engagement strategies you say you are, you need to think about how you can meet your workers' needs. Check out some of our suggestions for concepts that are important to your team and how you can act on those concepts.

Make sure every employee knows your values (and that everyone is expected to uphold them)

"Culture fit" is a popular term to throw around when you're looking to hire new team members. But what does that really mean?

As you hire new team members, you state your company's mission and values. and potential new hires have the chance to decide for themselves whether they can work for a company with those values. Hiring managers can then also assess whether they think applicants can uphold those values.

Making sure everyone is on board with your organization's mission and values ensures that people know what they're getting into before they're even hired. That's important when 32% of employees will leave their job within the first three months of starting if they don't vibe with your company culture- and high employee turnover is bad for everyone.

Effective employee engagement strategies that align with your values also help people connect their everyday work to your company's overall goals. When team members can see how their individual contributions contribute to a larger mission, they're more likely to be invested in their own good work, resulting in higher employee satisfaction rates.

Finally, you have to make sure that everyone—from the C-suite to the intern pool—understands your company values and does their best to uphold them. When your team can see that everyone is invested in following your values, they're more likely to invest time and effort in following them themselves.

  • Ask questions about values alignment starting with applications and interviews.
  • Connect the work your organization does to your values, from everyday tasks to your overall mission.
  • Discuss your values frequently, during onboarding of new employees and at company-wide events, or even by creating posters and putting them around your office.

Recognize accomplishments

It's always nice to be told you've done a good job. You don't need to hand out pats on the back for every single task that's completed, but focusing on employee recognition for work that your team is passionate about is important, and should be a key component of any employee engagement strategy.

According to a survey from Harvard Business Review, 72% of respondents indicated that recognition for high performance significantly affected employee engagement levels - and that recognition doesn't need to be huge.

Your recognition program doesn't have to be flashy. Small things, like creating a platform where employees can recognize or shout out their colleagues for a job well done is an easy—and relatively inexpensive—way to enable folks to congratulate their teammates. Mentioning a team's hard work on a gruelling project during an all-staff meeting takes a few minutes and costs no money at all.

What's more, it turns out, creating a habit of saying a simple "thanks" for time spent on a difficult task can even change our brain chemistry. When you extend a kind word to a teammate after they've achieved something, you can help colleagues see how their work connects to achieving the organization's overall goals. In addition, you can also improve their brain chemistry, creating a happier, healthier, more more engaged workforce.

Having said that, if you want to pop champagne or throw a pizza party to recognize workers' achievements, I'm sure no one will complain. Rewards of that sort can certainly help to improve employee retention and engagement!

  • Create a platform for internal communication where workers can recognize their colleagues.
  • Create events where you regularly take time to applaud a job well done.
  • Encourage managers and leaders to habitually recognize workers' achievements and thank them for a job well done.

Help your team grow

If your employees don't feel like you're investing in them, they won't invest their effort or energy in your company.

A lack of opportunity for growth and professional development is one of the top reasons employees leave their companies. When they feel they can grow elsewhere, most people will take that opportunity for self-improvement.

To help each employee feel you're giving them the chance to improve themselves and further their career development, you need to create clear opportunities and training for them to do so. You can create formal training options, like education stipends or mentorship programs, for team members to grow, or hold more casual events, like lunch-and-learns or short, optional employee workshops or training programs.

  • Create a mentorship program that matches team members with mentors who can help them cultivate desired skills.
  • Outline career paths with clear goals, steps, and requirements for promotion.
  • Provide education or training stipends or reimbursements.
  • Create small opportunities for employees to informally learn from each other.

Make sure feedback works and is listened to

Measuring the effectiveness of your employee engagement strategies will require you to survey your employees to get a sense of how engaged they currently are and where they'd like to see improvement. These surveys can be useful tools when you actually listen to and act on the feedback you receive on disengagement. Often, however, organizations decide to move forward with predetermined strategies for improving employee engagement without even using the information they've solicited.

Ignoring what team members have to say is a surefire way to make them feel disrespected. And when folks don't feel like they're being listened to, that can create an environment ruled by helplessness and apathy.

Outside of employee engagement surveys, you should make it easy—and provide encouragement—for everyone to give honest, constructive feedback about your company. That could mean creating a regularly checked email address that serves as a suggestion box, or sending regular surveys to check in with employees. When you receive those insights, you should find a way to let employees know they've been heard. Even a simple, "Thanks for your suggestion," can go a long way.

  • Acknowledge feedback, even if it's with a simple "thank you" email.
  • Explicitly connect what you've received to changes you're making.
  • Create the opportunity for regular 360° feedback so everyone receives constructive suggestions for improvement.

Create a culture that encourages flexibility and respects work-life balance

Are you more excited to work on a project where every step has been dictated down to the last detail by someone else? Or would you rather work on a project where you were given an end goal and had a say in how best to accomplish it?

While some might appreciate guidance and direction when it comes to completing a task, most will appreciate at least some say in how a project gets done. Of course, there will always be projects that require you to follow someone else's instructions step by step, but where you have opportunities to be flexible and allow employees to make their own choices, you should take them.

Especially when it comes to determining what their day-to-day looks like, employees will appreciate the option to decide certain things for themselves. For example, instead of requiring that people show up from 9 AM to 5 PM, you can offer flexible hours where some show up at 8 AM and some show up at 10 AM. As long as work gets done, does it really matter when employees are at their desks every day?

Giving employees autonomy wherever possible—and making sure managers and leadership cultivate and respect that autonomy— encourages wellness and helps employees feel respected. Offering flexibility, especially when it comes to balancing work and personal lives, helps employees in all kinds of different situations find a way to do their best work with your company while also attending to their own needs.

  • Offer flexibility—with work hours and processes—within reason, wherever possible.
  • Respect "office hours" by encouraging employees to turn off their work emails at a certain time.
  • If your company is heading back to the office in 2021, give employees the option to continue to work from home at least some of the time.

Truly meet employee needs to keep them engaged

The bottom line is that, while employee engagement "strategies" might work to keep employees engaged, implementing an employee engagement strategy often results in unenforced policies or empty rewards that no one—not employees, not management, not leadership—actually invests in.

If you really want to engage employees, you need to think about what they need to contribute to work that matters in an environment where they feel included and respected. That means creating a strong, values-based culture where achievements are recognized, everyone can grow, and everyone feels seen and heard.

There are many ways you can meet those needs, but the most critical step is to simply get started. And every organization's approach to engagement strategies will be different. The success of your business relies on seeing employees as people and setting them up to do their best work.

How does your organization keep employees engaged? Do you have suggestions for how companies can meet employees' basic needs? Let us know by tweeting @10kcoffees.

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