Move Over Employee Engagement

Leadership should focus on employee experience in 2018

By Autumn Manning, CEO, YouEarnedIt

When looking at employee engagement, many business leaders, HR professionals and executive teams approach it as a one-off, top-down, generalized program that doesn’t take the employee into consideration. They also see engagement and culture as a project to be owned by the HR department rather than the entire leadership team.

In today’s competitive talent market, businesses must differentiate from competitors, and those companies that put people, culture and engagement first, will have a greater ability to attract and retain the best talent. Companies whose leaders are actively involved in owning their culture create an environment where everyone knows what they’re working toward. These companies don’t push culture to HR and expect them to handle it; rather, they develop it from day one and work closely with leadership and HR teams to ensure its prioritized and lived out across the business.

More companies today are investing in things like surveys, perks and engagement programs — spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year on employee engagement, but despite the investment increase, numbers are still down. In fact, only 1 in 10 employees say their employee experience is a 10 out of 10.

Instead of throwing money at perks and surveys, companies like Google, LinkedIn, Apple and Adobe have noticed it’s more effective when they approach employee engagement as an ongoing effort, looking at the day-to-day activities that will lead to the results they want.

So, what does meaningful, ongoing employee engagement look like? Well, there’s research on that.

Last fall, our company YouEarnedIt conducted market research of more than 750 employees at over 600 companies to better understand what core tenets define a positive employee experience.

In the first-of-its-kind Employee Experience Defined report, we found four key pillars that lead to strong engagement.
  1. Connection: Having strong connections to colleagues, managers, the company, and the community
  2. Meaning: Knowing my company, and the work I do, has meaning and purpose and being aligned to those, and also being rewarded in a meaningful, personalized way
  3. Impact: Engagement is higher when you give rather than receive, and the overall employee experience is significantly bolster from this. Employees want to have an impact on their colleagues and the community in which they live and work. This is a lot about giving back in meaningful ways, and the company helping employees do so.
  4. Appreciation: Receiving specific, real-time appreciation for the work I do from the people that matter most.

While using “employee experience” instead of engagement is relatively new, it’s broader and more in line with what companies need to consider when engaging the workforce. So, let’s make this practical for you as a business leader.

Here are 3 ways you can make these “4 Pillars” come alive in your company today.

1. Regularly recognize behaviors that drive your business forward

Giving regular, positive recognition tells employees and teams which work aligns with corporate goals and what they should be doing. Gratitude builds positive behavior change more effectively than outrage and criticism, because when people know what they’re doing well, they’re more likely to do more of it. And when employees know how these behaviors tie to the values of the company. bonus! Not enough companies have a good process in place to easily distribute positive feedback about people and teams. Fixing it can be fairly simple by starting to make a habit of highlighting the strengths of others early and often. This is the type of day-to-day behavior you want to encourage across your culture, so that gratitude becomes a habit and not a one off 4X/year.

2. Create a culture of continuous feedback

Whether it’s regular coaching in one-on-ones, public statements of goals and values or peer-to-peer recognition — help employees see how their behavior is impacting the team, department and organization. This continuous feedback gives employees regular, ongoing reviews of their performance — so they can change behaviors to have more impact in real time — rather than waiting for a once a year performance review. Holistic technology solutions that enable continuous listening will be vital to make this change happen.

3. Tie recognition to core values

Having a clear set of core values helps employees connect to the company, its mission and the community. And SHRM found that connecting recognition to corporate values results in higher retention rates. One of our customers, Zuroa, shows appreciation to its employees by tagging one of its core values in recognition posts to provide more meaningful recognition and employee engagement. It’s VP of ZEO Success, Karen Gaydon, told Entrepreneur earlier this year that, as Zuora continues to grow, being able to tag a core value helps new employees better understand the company mindset while positively reinforcing its entrepreneurial culture.