Employee engagement may appear to be driven by rational decisions. For example, an employee decides not to move to a different company, stays late to help a colleague out, or recommends a talented friend to join the company. But often these are not totally rational decisions – they are fueled by emotions. These emotions are determined by multiple factors to do with how they “feel” about the strategic direction of the company, their affinity to the leadership, to what extent their work is meaningful and appropriately recognized, and their trust in the company’s values and their relationships with their manager or co-workers.
As long-time HR leaders designing programs to drive improvements in employee engagement, in our experience, here are the key considerations to building an engaging working culture:
The Power to Engage Rests with Leaders at All Levels
Leaders play a critical role in employee engagement, and in turn employee experience and the employee lifecycle. While a direct manager may be primarily focused on results, meeting goals, and business line objectives, that’s just table-stakes. From onboarding to perceptions of the company’s rewards, benefits and policies, a direct manager has influence on the holistic employee experience.
"Fostering a culture of engagement takes discipline and focus as well as leadership commitment, on multiple levels and in multiple ways, to achieve sustained improvements."
There is a correlation that can’t be ignored between how employees connect with their direct managers – their feelings of support and engagement – and how that manager’s team performs. Organizations should hone in on uncovering and sharing habits, practices and approaches that engaging leaders adopt to drive their higher levels of engagement and passion. Those behaviors can then be used to build action plans at all levels in the company.
Drivers of Engagement are Shifting
As workplace demographics are shifting, so are drivers of engagement. When we look across today’s workforce many factors are in play:
• Remote workers – To drive a culture that promotes work-life balance and location flexibility to attract top talent, more and more opportunities are available across industries for part- or full-time remote work. With this shift, there needs to be a concerted effort to ensure workers continue to be engaged and connected. Technology plays a huge role in allowing for face time and to promote collaboration and access to systems and colleagues virtually.
• A younger workforce (Gen Z and Millennials) – Now more than ever, generational alignment needs to be considered when determining ideal engagement and communications methods. Gen Z and Millennial workers are the largest growing group and have different preferences compared to prior generations. They are seeking continuous feedback, coaching and development over a more traditional career path.
• Delaying retirement – More workers are delaying retirement, and it is important for companies to help them remain engaged and continue to feel challenged as they shift their roles and working practices. Companies should deliberately develop engagement programs for all employees spanning generations.
Continuous Listening and a Feedback Loop Fosters Engagement
So how do you create a culture of engagement? Creating engagement is one thing, but an ongoing culture with inherent employee engagement is another. Beyond a bi-annual survey, which is a good cross-organization temperature check, here are some additional ideas:
• Pulse surveys – Specific pulse surveys by business unit, department or team are positioned to draw out feedback on culture, business decisions, strategy, performance and more. Transparent communication needs to follow a pulse survey, to share positive gains against previous benchmarks and areas of opportunity for leadership to address. Action planning also needs to go hand-in-hand with the noted opportunities.
• Ambassador programs – Cultural ambassador programs allow an organization to foster two-way communication across locations and business areas. Ambassadors have the opportunity to not only be a communications conduit and change agent, but to also elevate their position with peers and leadership.
• There’s an app for that – Engagement apps are becoming more prevalent in corporate settings and internal social or engagement channels provide employees with an easy spot for getting news and updates at their fingertips, while also being able to share team wins, initiatives, learnings and “just for fun” items from their office or personal lives. Shared experiences are huge when it comes to engagement.
Much like the learning cycle, employee engagement isn’t finite or linear, it’s adaptive and difficult to pin down. Fostering a culture of engagement takes discipline and focus as well as leadership commitment, on multiple levels and in multiple ways, to achieve sustained improvements.