From office slides to cryogenics, there's no shortage of wild ideas for increasing employee engagement. And we get it. Engaged employees are more productive, less likely to quit and great for a company's bottom line.
But real employee engagement doesn't require an investment in meditation pods or Michelin star chefs. Inspiration, recognition and culture are the essential ingredients, and there's always a way to keep teams inspired and engaged, even if you're not a Silicon-valley startup.
1. Paint the big picture
Trite as it may sound, inspiration is probably the #1 key ingredient to a highly motivated workforce. Take a look at the best and brightest leaders today, and you can see they all have this one nailed.
And it all starts with a meaningful goal. Whether you use an OKR or KPI model for goal-setting, the most important thing is to make sure the goal can be directly tracked back to the individual contributions of every member on your team. And don't be afraid to get creative.
Coors Brewing Company successfully rallied their employees around a business goal through an internal campaign designed to win back market share from smaller micro-brews. Their #ReclaimColorado campaign offered employees a monthly stipend of $35 to buy beer with friends when they were out having drinks. Employees were asked to share their stories on the company's internal social network, and over 200 employees participated.
2. Get personal
Most business leaders expect their employees to be as excited about their goals as they are. But in the real world, that's an unlikely scenario.
Your employees can of course care deeply about the business, but when push comes to shove, that business is someone else's baby. To truly increase employee engagement, you must acknowledge that each of your employees has personal and professional dreams of their own.
That's why leading companies like Deloitte, Asana, and many others, put a big emphasis on learning and development. Don't have the budget for life coaches and employee sabbaticals? Don't worry. If you’re like most offices with a multi-generational workforce, you probably have plenty of in-house coaches on hand. In fact, almost 9 in 10 Millennials see baby boomers as a great source of mentorship in the workplace. Companies like AdRoll are known for using senior staff as mentors.
3. Emphasize progress
Big picture inspiration and personal motivation are important, but they aren't always enough to keep your employees engaged year round.
Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer found that managers of high-performing teams maintained a consistent, daily focus on progress. When we're stressed or under pressure, it can be easy to focus on how far behind we are, or how much work lies ahead of us. But according to the research, that's simply a waste of time. If you want your employees to maintain a winning trajectory, focus your attention on their strengths and acknowledge every step they take in the right direction.
4. Upgrade your tools
On the subject of progress, it's worth noting that if it takes employees 20 minutes just to boot up their computers in the morning, they'll feel like they've hit a wall before they even log in.
Employees need seamless access to the right tools and info, or what experts refer to as an "enabling infrastructure", in order to feel empowered to do their best work every day. Take a look around your workplace. Is there anything in need of an upgrade?
Same goes for your software and systems tools. Where are the bottlenecks? How can you make it as painless as possible for employees to get the answers they need? Removing or replacing red tape may involve an investment up front, but it will definitely pay off in long-term employee productivity.
5. Get real about recognition
Contrary to popular belief, recognition isn't just about acknowledging top performers for hitting the right sales goals (though you should definitely do that).
True recognition is an active appreciation for your employees, both professionally and personally. It's not just about knowing who hit their numbers last month, but knowing whose kid just made the honor list.
Despite Dale Carnegie's best advice, most leaders are too busy to stop and recognize their employees, and most organizations are incredibly siloed. Bridge the gaps between teams and departments and encourage your employees to really get to know each other. This can be as simple as scheduling a company-wide coffee break (like they do over at Slack), or as sophisticated as creating an internal culture platform with a tool like Bonfyre.
6. Turn the tables
Regular employee engagement surveys that flip the script by asking employees to rate the organization are a great way to improve engagement, simply by making employees feel heard.
In a recent article for TLNT, Ron Thomas of Strategy Focused suggests employers follow up with as much attention and frequency as a 5-star hotel—just replace "How was your stay?" with "How are we doing?". And you don't have to do this all the time, once a month is a great start.
Ron also recommends creating an engagement council to consistently request and monitor employee feedback—a move that will not only keep employees engaged, but also give you a great understanding of what is and isn't working over time.
7. Stop micromanaging
The most common advice for improving employee engagement is to implement some kind of weekly performance check-in.
And we agree, frequent reviews can be incredibly effective for keeping employees motivated and on track. But beware. There's a thin line between continuous feedback and micromanagement.
Resist the temptation to use the weekly check-in to dive into project setbacks or details. Instead, take a page from Asana's book and focus your one-on-ones on your employee's personal goals, and the measurable progress they made on the big picture company goals. Rather than telling an employee how to do their job, managers should simply let employees know their doors are always open if they ever need help. After all, accountability is useless if it doesn't come with the kind of autonomy that empowers employees to make changes themselves.
8. Acknowledge mental health
In the wake of Olark CEO, Ben Congleton’s viral email, mental health is finally becoming a priority in the workplace. But unfortunately, most employees are still too uncomfortable to discuss their mental health in the office, which can have a devastating impact on a company's bottom line.
In fact, mental health issues cost 12 billion days in lost productivity for employers around the globe, prompting companies like Barclays, Amex, Starbucks, and many more to create internal initiatives aimed at improving employee mental well being. Employees who feel great inside and out just perform better. And if you lead the way, they'll follow. For example, Amex’s ‘Healthy Minds’ program has a 98% internal satisfaction rate.
9. Get outside
One simple way to offer a quick boost of energy is to let employees take meetings outdoors.
Stale office air can actually make employees less productive, but on the flip side, getting outside is great for mental health. A University of Michigan study even found a 20% increase in short term memory performance for participants who walked among trees, compared to those those who walked down city streets. Employees at LinkedIn take regular ‘Walk and Talks’ to wake up their brains and make meetings more productive.
10. Say more with video
No one wants to read 10 pages of fine print on changes to their health policy. One great way to show your employees you're committed to engagement is to cut the jargon and start speaking their language. And these days, that means video.
According to Hubspot, a whopping 59% of company decision makers would rather watch a video than read an article or blog post. At Wistia, managers cater to the masses by making key announcements via weekly video updates. And no need to fret over production value. Even a simple smartphone-recorded video is a great way to liven up internal announcements and make sure employees actually see important updates. Video can also be used to help get new hires more amped up during the onboarding process, and even cut down on time lost due to frivolous meetings.
11. Be flexible
From star startups to Fortune 500s like GE and Johnson & Johnson, leading companies offer flex scheduling and remote work arrangements to help zap work/life stress and keep employees focused on outcomes.
And this is one engagement tool that will become even more crucial in the near future. By 2030, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce—and more than a million millennials are becoming parents each year.
It's no secret working parents are under extreme pressure and today's leading companies are competing hard on parental benefits—even going as far as offering onsite daycare facilities and free breastmilk shipping for traveling moms. But a simple flex scheduling policy is a great way to attract star talent, even if you don't have a billion-dollar budget. Just work a little extra flexibility into your existing flex scheduling, PTO, or WFH policy. For example, Capriotti's Sandwich Shop allows on-staff parents to take time off to attend their kids’ events and activities, no questions asked.
12. Have more fun
Most employers make the mistake of trying to dress work up as fun. But no matter how creative the ice-breakers, a team-building workshop is still a work activity.
Create events that bring employees together with the sole purpose of letting their hair down. For example, employees at Penguin Random House love books (obviously), so they created a summer reading club. For offices with a more diverse workforce, choose something a little more universal like last Friday pizza lunch. (Because, come on. Who doesn't love pizza?)
Socializing at work has an undeniably positive impact on employee performance. Having a set time and place can help cut down on the distractions of friendships at work, while still harnessing the benefits of increased engagement and productivity. Whether you opt for classic or creative, just make sure there's one clear rule: No talking shop.
There's no shortage of perks and tools out there promising to make your employees feel more engaged at work. But in truth, the single biggest thing you can do to improve employee engagement is to simply show your people you're committed to their success.
Because at the end of the day employee engagement isn't just an altruistic lip service initiative. It's the key to a profitable future for your business, and coincidentally, it's the right thing to do.