Employee engagement is the key to having a productive team while also making them happy and motivated.
It’s a subjective area that’s hard to measure definitively. As a result, there are those who view the concept as pure nonsense. Granted, there are those who throw the term around higgledy-piggledy, which certainly doesn’t help.
However, considering that disengaged employees cost US companies $450-550 billion every year, it’s not something that can be ignored.
That’s why this post will show you what employee engagement is, why it matters, highlight 8 core strategies for how to improve employee engagement, and why communication is so vital.
If you want to skip ahead, you can do so using the links below:
- Why employee engagement matters
- Employee engagement strategies
- Mastering the recurring workflow
- Communication is king
Why employee engagement matters
Employee engagement dictates how much work your team gets done, how many mistakes are made, and even how many sick days they take. It’s one of the main reasons why good teams work and bad teams fail.
According to Gallup’s 10th employee engagement meta-analysis, despite the crazy rollercoaster of 2020, et al, employee engagement only experienced slight and short-term variations. In the autumn of 2020, about 36% of employees were actively engaged at work, which, in comparison to other years and considering the circumstances, isn’t bad, per se.
However, managers experienced the greatest drop in engagement which may cause lasting difficulties down the road. Managers affect approximately 70% of variance within their teams but only 41% of employees agreed that their manager kept them informed about the organization.
While employee engagement has slightly risen over the past few years (literally only 1%), 64% of employees are still unengaged (51%) or actively disengaged (13%) at work. These unengaged and disengaged employees are much more likely to quit or actively search for other employment, leading to the consuming process of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding replacements. Unengaged employees are also more likely to have lower productivity, missed deadlines, and more errors in their work.
Need I mention just how much employee turnover costs? Nobody wants to pay up to 213% of an employee’s annual wage just to replace them when they leave.
That’s not including how much employee engagement affects the number of mistakes and incidents that occur. Gallup has shown that companies with high engagement had 70% fewer safety incidents than those with low engagement.
So, if you’d like to have a team that’s more productive, less likely to leave the company, more motivated to get their work done to a higher standard, and less likely to make errors, you need to pay attention to employee engagement.
Employee engagement strategies
Being such a broad term, there are far too many employee engagement strategies for us to cover here. However, there are eight which stand above the rest as a solid core for more intricate techniques that suit your employees’ individual needs better.
To have a solid base for employee engagement, you need to:
- Set clear values and goals;
- Show why their work matters;
- Communicate clearly and frequently;
- Create a solid, friendly company culture;
- Help employees with their problems;
- Give room for personal growth;
- Give recognition where it’s deserved;
- Set hard limits on work hours.
Set clear values and goals
Employee engagement is all about getting your team to care about their work. They can’t care about something they don’t understand.
That’s why you need to have clear values and goals set.
A solid set of goals and values helps them to give their work context and show the kind of thought process that needs to go into their efforts. For example, our values here at Process Street are:
- Act like an owner.
- Default to action.
- Focus on the process.
- Practice prioritization.
- Pay attention to the details.
- Over-communicate everything, twice.
Our overall goal (mission statement) is to:
Make recurring work
fun, fast and faultless
for teams everywhere.
This tells our team that they should take action on whatever they can and to take ownership of the tasks that they’re involved with. They should also be following our documented workflows to help them get everything right every time. This makes it easier to pay attention to all of the small details they need to note in their tasks.
Show why their work matters
It’s all too easy to tell someone to complete a task and then leave them to get on with it. The task will usually get done (especially if a deadline is set), but there’s every chance that the result will cover only the bare minimum of what’s needed.
To get exceptional results your team needs to understand why what they’re doing matters.
Take the Process Street blog for example. We produce three blog posts a week, typically of over 2,000 words of thoroughly researched and evidence-backed content that explores the topic in as much detail as we can muster.
We don’t do this just because we have to write three blog posts. If that was the case our work would probably be half the length (at most) and become lost in the sea of content that is the internet.
We go the extra mile because we know that our work needs to be better than anything else out there.
Our team knows that the only way we’re going to get people to read our work is to make it engaging and informative. We know that to rank well in Google (and therefore get an audience) we need to follow strict SEO practices and provide something that knocks the rest of the top results out of the water.
In the same way, your team needs to be shown what effect their work is intended to have. If you want people to read your posts, your writers need to be writing damn good content.
Think of it this way: If you run a garage, your mechanics need to understand that their work directly impacts the livelihood of those who pull in every day. If they don’t perform the maintenance your clients need to a high standard, you won’t get return customers.
Communicate clearly and frequently
Communication is the backbone of any high-functioning team. The more you talk to your employees, the more they will understand their duties, be comfortable with their work, form bonds with their colleagues, and feel that their voice is being heard.
Unfortunately, when 69% of managers are uncomfortable with communicating with their employees in some way, this can be hard to do.
Here at Process Street, we have an entirely remote team. No one regularly meets in person; I only met my employer in the flesh after more than 3 years of working here. Despite that, everyone knows what they need to do, communicates freely throughout the company, and has full autonomy in cross-team collaboration.
This is almost entirely due to our emphasis on communication.
We have at least two team meetings every week which everyone attends, one company-wide meeting per month, a bi-weekly meeting with our head of department, and a weekly call with a random member of the company to get us familiar with everyone who works here.
This is what keeps our team on track.
The frequency with which we meet lets everyone know what they should be working on, who they need to work with, and helps to quickly familiarize new hires with the rest of the company.
Speaking of new hires, employee onboarding lives and dies by your communication skills. That’s why we have our mentors meeting daily with their assigned hire to cover any questions and make them feel like a part of the team as quickly as possible.
Whether you’re talking in person, over the phone, or even in a chat app, speak clearly, frequently, and openly about everything.
Create a solid, friendly company culture
If you’re communicating regularly then congratulations – you’re well on your way to creating a company culture that includes everyone.
If you’re wondering why culture is important, then consider that companies with a strong culture have shown a 4x increase in revenue growth compared to those with a weak culture.
Company and workplace culture is also vital for employee engagement, as it will help your team enjoy their work, get on well with the rest of their team, and work harder out of a desire to do well.
The main way to do this is through communication, setting realistic expectations, giving enough downtime to your employees, and providing opportunities for personal and professional growth. A healthy culture keeps spirits and motivation high while letting your team know that they can speak their mind and give quality feedback.
Help employees with their problems
An employee’s problem is your team’s problem. More specifically, it’s the responsibility of their manager to help them work through the issue.
This is all well and good when the problem is work-related. You can talk to the employee and (assuming you’ve laid the groundwork for frequent communication and a healthy culture) they should feel able to let you know what issues they’re facing.
Once you know what the issue is, you can then suggest a solution. Refer them to a team member if they need outside expertise or figures. Work through their tasks in a meeting with them to show how things should be resolved and what thought process goes into that response. Provide further training resources if they need it.
If, however, the problem is a personal one then, obviously, you can’t pry too much – everyone is entitled to their privacy. Instead, meet with them to discuss their workload and responsibilities, and whether they need to be adjusted in light of this issue.
For example, I had very short notice upon finding out that I was moving house. The property was perfect but had a lot of interest, so we grabbed it as quickly as we could, leading to a mere two weeks to prepare for moving.
I also knew that, with a 5-hour drive between my old and new house and only a small car to carry my things (and the place being unfurnished and without white goods), I’d need time off work to get the place in order.
I could’ve tried to work through the move and probably stressed myself to illness in the process but, instead, I spoke to my manager and the rest of my team and booked a week off to allow me to get everything sorted.
Workloads were adapted, tasks shuffled, and priorities altered to fit the new plan.
Give room for personal growth
One of the best motivators in work is the knowledge that you’re progressing. By completing your current task you’re getting closer to a higher milestone that gives a tangible benefit going forwards.
This is something you need to provide to your employees – they need some kind of personal growth to be invested and engaged with their work.
As for the type of growth that matters to them, this is something that needs to be discussed with your employees. If they’re looking for a promotion to more complex or managerial duties, they should be given the room to show their ability in handling these duties.
For example, I started as a content writer at Process Street. After being given some editorial and review tasks, I found that I enjoyed it just as much as writing. This realization paved the way for me to make the jump to editor.
At the same time, due to my interest in voice acting, I was voiced in a few of our YouTube videos. As it happens, I was pretty good at it, so I was brought in to work on our videos more and more.
Eventually, I ended up leaving the writing team entirely and am now the content editor fully responsible for all of our video production. This only happened because I was encouraged to pursue opportunities within the company related to my personal interests.
Give recognition where it’s deserved
Everyone wants to have their achievements acknowledged. We want to know that others have seen the hard work we’ve done and give some kind of praise or feedback to the results.
After all, what’s the point in giving a task your all if your efforts are going to be ignored?
That’s why you need to give kudos and recognition anywhere it’s deserved. Don’t hesitate to give a team member a shout out in a meeting for performing well, and encourage others to do the same.
You could go one step further and relate their performance to your core values to tie their efforts more into your goals and company culture. We do this during each of our company-wide meetings – we give a kudos shoutout to whoever we think has performed well, describe what they did, and what core value they demonstrated through their efforts.
It’s a fantastic way to get your team interested, motivated, and engaged!
Set hard limits on work hours
While it might seem counter-intuitive, you need to set hard limits on work hours if you want your team to be engaged. No matter how motivated they are, they’ll quickly burn out if you don’t make sure that they’re getting enough downtime.
Employees volunteering overtime isn’t usually a sign of employee engagement. It’s more commonly a sign that workloads are imbalanced, time management is lacking, and stress is mounting.
I’m not saying to punish employees who stay an extra hour because they want to get ahead or knock their tasks out of the park, but make sure that they’re not doing so out of stress or pressure.
Master the recurring workflow
It may seem counterintuitive, but utilizing recurring workflows can actually improve your employee engagement.
At the most basic level, workflows take all those tedious, repetitive tasks off your employees’ shoulders so they can focus on more important – and more enjoyable – tasks.
Let’s take data entry as an example. No one likes data entry. Spreadsheets are fickle and one mistake means you have to go back and reformat a whole column of numbers. So why not automate it?
Adding one of Process Street’s first-party Automations to one of our workflow templates (or your own custom build) allows you to transfer a vast amount of data straight from the workflow and into your spreadsheet – no complicated formatting required.
As you might imagine in the content team of a remote company, we communicate a lot. Every piece of content we create involves multiple people performing multiple roles to ensure the final result is perfect, presentable, and process-y. The workflows we use – from blog post production, to image requests, to meeting agendas, and basically everything else – make it easier for us to keep track of who’s doing what, any obstacles that get in the way, or improvements we could make.
We’ve also got our Process Street workflows synced into Slack. The Slack App takes information from our workflows and posts it into specific Slack channels. For example, after writing the draft of this article, one of my colleagues will get a notification to do the peer review. When she’s done the review, I’ll get a notification but it’ll also be posted in our Slack channel so everyone is included in the process.
Communication is king
Putting the employee engagement strategies above into practice is the best way that you can boost the engagement of your team. However, if all of that seems a bit much for you, there is one point you should never ignore.
Communication is king.
Even if your culture is terrible, roles have no room for personal growth, your team has no set values and they often have to work overtime, communicating clearly and frequently with your employees will get the ball rolling.
Communication will highlight the main problems that your team is having and let them know that you want to do something about it. Similarly, a lack of communication will make it difficult to employ any of the other strategies above – you just can’t go without it.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to creating better, happier, more effective teams!
What do you think about employee engagement? Is it just a buzzword or do you have some strategies to share? Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing. Find him on Twitter here.