There’s much buzz about how to improve employee engagement — and for a good reason. It’s the simplest way to limit unwanted employee turnover, boost productivity, increase safety, boost your employer brand, and support your strategy. When employees are engaged, they have passion, energy, and commitment. They bring their best to work every day, and they’ll go above and beyond for your organization.
Many organizations across the U.S. continue to struggle with improving employee engagement, which is one of the reasons why employees quit. Yet others have done it successfully. And for some — the nation’s Top Workplaces — they’ve been able to achieve engagement levels almost double the U.S. average. We’ll talk about the secret to improving employee engagement, but first, let’s define what “employee engagement” truly means.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a measure of how strongly employees feel connected to their work and their employer. To measure it, the Workplace Survey — the same research-backed employee engagement survey that identifies Top Workplaces — considers three specific things: Commitment, Referral, and Motivation.
Some people think the best employee engagement strategies include a focus on benefits, a cool work environment, and things like “bring-your-dog-to-work day.” The truth is, sustainable engagement is based on intrinsic motivation. These are internal goals like mastery, autonomy, and purpose. External rewards, such as pay and bonuses, only earn short-term benefits.
Learn more: Signs of Employee Engagement
8 ways to improve employee engagement
There are many ways to improve employee engagement. Some are focused on long-term goals, while others are quick, short-term wins for your employees and business. Before you can make a positive impact and achieve real results, it’s important to know the drivers of employee engagement. Here are eight ideas to try.
1. Live your mission, vision, and values
What is your company’s purpose? What do you value internally? Employees want to know that the organization they are a part of sees a bigger picture and provides meaning to themselves or others. A company that incorporates its values into everyday work life helps foster a more meaningful work environment for its employees.
But simply listing your mission statement on your website isn’t enough. To get real buy-in, you need to integrate your company’s long-term vision and values into your business functions. When employees have a strong understanding of company core values and how those impact the organization, they are more likely to feel inspired and engaged.
Top Workplaces companies excel at living their values. When asked to respond to the survey statement, “This company operates by strong values.”, a whopping 88-96 percent responded positively. In average organizations, this score drops to 65 percent. Lower scores on this statement don’t represent unethical behavior. But it does signal a disconnect between a company’s stated values and what is reflected through action.
2. Focus on onboarding
First impressions are vital, even inside the workplace. The onboarding process sets the tone for how the employee views the company and their position. Onboarding employees is a great way to connect employees with your company’s mission, vision, and values. It also helps them to understand better how they fit into the larger picture.
Use the onboarding process to show new employees what makes your company culture unique and how they play a vital role on the team — and the company as a whole. Provide information directly related to their role and set expectations around interacting with other team members moving forward.
3. Train employees to succeed in their role & beyond
According to Gallup, the number one reason people seek a job change is “career growth opportunities.” Creating a clear path for employee development will help to improve employee recruitment and retention. Encourage employees to grow within your company instead of giving them reasons to seek growth opportunities somewhere else. As we mentioned earlier, Commitment is one of the three pillars of employee engagement.
Employees want to feel cared for and supported by their managers and leaders. It’s one of the essential qualities of a good manager. After all, mutual respect creates genuine connections that reveal a path to shared success. High-performing companies know that unleashing employee potential depends on manager support for development.
Focus on building a relationship where employees feel safe to share their unique motivations, skills, and interests. Here are some additional ways:
- Encourage managers to learn and care about their employees’ career goals.
- Help managers watch for cross-training or development opportunities with interdepartmental manager meetings.
- Ensure new job opportunities are publicized within the organization and celebrate employee development.
- Incentivize managers for the growth of their employees, even if it results in transitions across teams.
4. Recognize and reward your employees
To feel fully engaged in the organization, employees need to know that peers, managers, and leaders genuinely appreciate their work. Recognition is also what makes them enjoy their work and feel motivated to perform at their best.
American Integrity Insurance is a multi-year regional and national Top Workplaces winner that is intentional about employee recognition:
“We have a ‘Gratitude Tree,’ and we ask our newest leaders to read every gratitude leaf. It’s a meaningful opportunity to share how much we mean to each other, and it reminds us how fortunate we are to work in a culture that encourages us to value each other,” said Michael Goodman, HR Manager.
Here are some simple suggestions for recognizing your employees:
- Celebrate completed projects, significant milestones, and innovative ideas.
- Avoid celebrating things that only benefit a few while others struggle.
- Celebrate each success at the highest level it applies.
- Give specific credit to the individual or team involved.
- If feedback inspired the action, be sure to make that loud and clear.
And remember: Rewards and appreciation aren’t one-size-fits-all. It’s essential to understand how your employees prefer to receive recognition to maximize your efforts and consider their personal preferences.
5. Communicate feedback the right way
Employees at companies with great internal communications feel good at work. They’re well informed, recognized, and heard, and they work well with other teams. Encouraging a culture of consistent, two-way communication makes this possible.
- Create a safe channel for employees to share honest feedback, and their opinions are heard.
- Ensure employees are well-informed about important decisions.
- Show you, as a leader, really understand what’s happening within the organization.
- Express genuine care for your employees and their concerns.
When your organization establishes open communication as a company value and models it from the top-down, your employees will seek regular feedback and provide transparent communication in return.
6. Promote healthy work habits
Encourage healthy habits within the workplace. Promote taking breaks during work will help employees feel more cared about, but it helps prevent overworking and burnout, leading to more productive work time. Ensuring your office is a comfortable workspace for all employees, creating a flexible work schedule, and encouraging work-life balance are all ways to show your employees you care about their well-being.
7. Volunteer as a team & other team activities
Volunteering as a team or participating in other team-building activities is a great way to build stronger relationships within your organization while potentially helping your community. Activities with team members provide employees with an environment and situation where relationship building is encouraged and can be harbored.
Use your company mission or values to create a team bonding activity such as volunteering for local causes, showing employees that you genuinely care about the causes you promote as an organization. Actions could be as simple as a team lunch or as creative a trip to a local amusement park.
While COVID-19 continues to present challenges with in-person gatherings, consider virtual meet-ups to play games or even host a virtual happy hour. If you’re struggling to connect with remote employees, consider learning more about remote employee engagement strategies.
8. Conduct employee engagement surveys
Measuring engagement is the first step towards improving employee engagement. The research-backed Top Workplaces survey delivers valuable employee survey insights, including a view of the current state of employee engagement as well as the areas where your company could improve and where it excels.
Employee engagement surveys also allow employees to give feedback and feel heard safely. They’re also highly beneficial because they are fully anonymous, allowing employees to offer genuine feedback without fear of backlash.
Premier Medical Associates, an eight-time Top Workplaces winner, uses employee engagement survey feedback to make informed people decisions, offer an anonymous communication channel, and stay ahead in a highly competitive market.
“For our culture to be strong, we need to listen to our employees,” said Kelly Schaeffer, director of human resources at Premier Medical Associates. “With Energage, we can issue one engagement engagement survey to give every team member a seat at the table, equip leadership with in-depth analysis of where to focus our efforts, and earn recognition through Top Workplaces. I see the positive impact this has on our employees, business, and patients. It truly is a win-win.”
Kraus-Anderson, a three-time Top Workplaces winner, collects employee feedback throughout the year to affect change and inspire their teams. By combining the annual employee engagement survey with short pulse surveys, the construction and real estate firm can track progress and see trends.
“We have been able to take a deeper dive into the employee experience, which has led to better engagement, improved efficiencies, and ultimately our position as a Top Workplace,” said Diane Toll, director of human resources at Kraus-Anderson. “We are looking forward to leveraging Pulse even more going forward to keep the lines of communication open throughout the year and ensure our efforts are focused, on track, and impactful.”
In addition to measuring employee engagement, surveying your employees through Top Workplaces program participation also provides valuable opportunities for credible employer recognition that has been proven to attract new talent, limit unwanted turnover, and boost employee morale.
Nominate your workplace to see how engaged your employees are and showcase your company culture.