Enabling Employee Engagement at the Workplace

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” — Steve Jobs

Most of us have seen this quote before (or at least now you have). As a call to action, Steve is challenging us to stare down the status quo and make a change if we are not feeling engaged.

Why is Engagement More Relevant Now?

Engaged employees are truly a strategic asset for a company to have. These individuals are devoted to the company, passionate about the work they do, and invest much effort into delivering impact. They are more likely to push the envelope and start purposeful initiatives that are in the organization’s best interests. This correlation between employee engagement and company performance has been reported in Gallup’s recent research.

http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/166667/five-ways-improve-employee-engagement.aspx

Clearly, having an engaged workforce is beneficial. But what happens when an individual is disengaged and decides to follow Steve’s advice? For most millennials, it typically involves leaving — the average tenure is two years.

This is especially disconcerting since millennials just became the biggest generation in the US workforce. The same scenario applies to Singapore too. Unfortunately, this cohort is also the least engaged and this probably stems from the different expectations about how their experience at the workplace should be.

Putting 2 and 2 together, what’s on the horizon is a decline in engagement scores as millennials fill up a bigger proportion of the workforce, followed by a decrease in company performance as productivity slips and retention woes bite.

Getting Started

If you don’t already have programs that enable employee engagement, don’t panic. After speaking to several companies on the initiatives they’ve run, we at OtterSense have put together a short list of things you can do right away to kick start your efforts.

Start with your Managers

Introducing a new culture of open feedback across the company takes time. A quick way to spark this process is to begin with the right people managers that can become your champions. The best ones know that their own success depends on the achievements of each member and they may already feel responsible for the engagement levels of individuals in their team.

In one creative agency we spoke with, managers had a coffee budget to take their employees out for a 1-on-1 chat. This encouraged conversations in less formal settings where managers could get to know their reports as people. Each year, training sessions were also held to coach managers on how to hold an effective 1-on-1. Because of these initiatives, employees genuinely feel that there is an open culture where it is easy to be heard out by anyone including the creative director.

Get Feedback more Often

Most companies of a certain size start running annual employee engagement surveys to understand how their staff feel about their jobs and to ascertain if there are any practices they should abolish or employ. However, these tools are often lagging indicators of negative sentiment and are inadequate for capturing fluctuations throughout the year.

Instead, what two online shopping companies did was to launch shorter surveys with about 4 questions every month. This allowed them to diagnose and respond much more quickly to issues their employees bring up. Doing so creates a listening environment where team members feel comfortable with answering honestly.

For one global hotel chain, the annual surveys were complemented with monthly roundtable discussions or luncheons with the General Manager. All departments would have a different representative for each session and this gave plenty of opportunities for the staff to form stronger bonds with the senior managers. It was also highly effective in producing deep discussions and broaching issues not captured in their annual surveys.

Creating and layering several different channels for feedback to arrive allows employees to use the medium they are most secure with and constructs an atmosphere of trust where everyone’s thoughts and opinions are valued.

Have a Bias for Action

A consistent theme we hear from managers across the companies we work with is taking action. Its quite a no-brainer really — With annual and monthly surveys, coupled with focus groups, roundtable discussions, and manager 1-on-1’s, there are now so many avenues of communication. If you are not open about sharing the results or making changes as soon as possible, engagement will be detrimentally affected and your organization will be plagued by survey/feedback fatigue.

To avoid such a scenario, the creative digital agency shared that they would host quarterly ‘town hall’ meetings where the findings, tabulated by the HR team, would be shared with everyone in the company. Items that can be resolved quickly should be placed on the to-do list with potential next steps.

It is also equally critical to communicate items that will take a longer time to review, such as salaries. This safeguards against the “black-hole” perception where employees voice out but feel that nothing was truly addressed.

Reinforcing Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is at the heart of the initiatives we’ve shared so far.

Psychological safety exists when individuals believe that they can “show one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”.

The last item on our list is the team’s — and eventually, the company’s — response to failure. Building up streams of communication is great, but for team members to truly engage with their work, it is important for them to be comfortable with taking risks as well. If each unsuccessful project or decision is seen as a learning opportunity as opposed to a mistake employees will begin to take greater ownership over their work, resulting in elevated engagement.

Now, being openly accepting of failure is not the easiest thing for companies to do (especially bigger ones) which is why we’ve advocated taking the steps above first.

When we engage our team members as people and not just workers, we create a psychologically safe environment where individuals can express opinions freely, invest passionately in their work, and share knowledge confidently.

When this happens, engagement and performance are likely to follow.

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OtterSense is a startup exploring problems in the HR space. We’re passionate about building experiences that help managers lead happier and more productive teams. Check us out at ottersense.com and subscribe to our mailing list. Alternatively, reach out to us at hello@ottersense.com if you would like to chat. We’d love to hear from you!