High levels of employee engagement are essential for an organization. Not only are engaged employees more productive and committed to their companies, but they also help create an upbeat work environment, positively impacting both their colleagues and their superiors.
Despite the awareness, the majority of employees in the United States are not engaged. Gallup's recently launched State of the American Workplace report highlights that 18 percent of full-time workers in America are "actively disengaged" in their work while a further 52 percent are not involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their work.
This means that less than one-third of American workers are engaged in their work. As Gallup's report puts it, "the vast majority of U.S. workers (70 percent) are not reaching their full potential." This is not only a problem for the affected companies themselves but the economy in general and it's up to organizations to take action to resolve the situation and drive higher employee engagement within the workplace.
As workforce futurist Joyce Gioia, president and CEO of The Herman Group, explains, lack of engagement means that while employees are turning up for work, both productivity and morale are low, leading to lower profits for the brand. Further, disengaged employees are more likely to quit their jobs, leading to expensive rehiring processes for the organization.
Further, while most organizations are putting a lot of emphasis to ensuring their customers are happy, some don't realize that without great employees it is next to impossible to turn this theoretical ideal into reality. "It's almost impossible to have a good loyal customer base with disgruntled employees," notes Karine Del Moro, vice president of marketing at Confirmit. Del Moro adds that sometimes organizations are so focused on customers that they forget about their employees.
According to Jay Forte, founder of The Greatness Zone, with manufacturing increasingly moving abroad, employees have taken more customer-facing jobs. "It's important that they're not only good at their jobs but also engaged," he says.
However, these results require actions from the organization. And this starts from the top. "To have engaged employees you need engaged leaders who continuously strive to encourage employees to become invested in their work, products, or services," says Kyle Walkenhorst, president and CEO of SprocketPRO. Experts share five drivers of engagement that brands should invest in.
- Create the right culture: The first step in improving employee engagement lies in creating an employee-centric culture within the company. Gioia notes that this involves creating a culture of teamwork and encouraging employees, even ones from different departments, to work together for the benefit of the business and customers. This step also involves having the right leaders who will push this employee-centric culture through their actions and decisions. Further, Brendan Dykes, senior principal business consultant at Genesys, says it's also important to analyze the company culture and determine how this is impacting the service being delivered. "This goes beyond simply surveying the associates or even measuring the Employee Promoter Score. It requires deep analysis to understand the causal impacts of employee engagement on the customer experience being delivered," Dykes says. It's also important to identify the behavioral changes needed to bridge the gap between current and desired cultures and then analyze how this can be enabled through people, processes, and technology, Dykes adds. Megan Starr, HR and recruiting manager for Stroll, says it's imperative to have a culture of transparency within the highest levels of the organization, ensuring that employees know what's happening within the company. Further, with about one-third of employees in the U.S. working remotely, organizations need to put measures in place to have better communication with these at-home workers. Forte highlights the need to use technology, for example Skype, to create and retain high levels of connectivity with individual employees.
- Invest in training: New hires will get their first impression of the organization during the onboarding process and it is therefore imperative that this is thoughtfully carried out and becomes a positive experience, notes Lamont Exeter, executive director of learning solutions at TeleTech. "If the onboarding process is a positive experience, it provides the groundwork for the first impression of the company," Exeter stresses. But training shouldn't stop once an employee starts the job. Instead, this should be an ongoing experience, and include guidance on career development. Exeter recommends a progression path, which helps employees see where they can end up down the line. Apart from motivating employees, career development opportunities will also increase employee retention. Further, engaged employees who see a future within the company will be more inclined to speak highly of the organization, acting as advocates with their friends and attracting other great talent.
- Listen to employees: Whether officially or not, employees regularly give feedback about their engagement levels to their superiors. This might happen through body language and even their quality of work can be a good indication of employees' engagement levels. Confirmit's Del Moro stresses the need to listen to employees in a strategic way. This includes having a robust survey methodology. "Define the ways you want to listen to employees," Del Moro notes. The Greatness Zone's Forte highlights the need for business leaders to talk with employees regularly to collect recurrent feedback. Advancement in technology means that organizations have novel ways to collect feedback, for example through special apps that allow employees to take photos of what they see during their work day, highlighting issues that need addressing like an overcrowded dressing room in a department store that makes a sales associate's job more difficult. Del Moro uses the example of a large retailer which empowered employees to take photos of issues which were impacting the customer experience and then linked improvements to NPS scores to actions taken based on employee feedback. According to Dykes, an Australian telecom company was constantly training associates during down times. The organization was able to see significant and measurable improvement in NPS following the training.
- Turn feedback into action: Gathering feedback is only the first step. Business leaders need to establish a system to understand the valuable information shared by employees and then consistently take action to bring about improvements. "Take action based on feedback," Del Moro asserts. Unless they see that their feedback is being taken seriously, employees will simply stop giving it. Just like the best companies are sharing voice-of-the-customer feedback with each and every department that will benefit from these insights, structures need to be put in place to share employee comments with the organization and then take the necessary business decisions. It's also important to close the loop with employees and have one-on-one discussions to determine whether the taken actions have solved the issues highlighted by staff members.
- Hire the right people: Investing in measures that improve engagement is important, but this isn't effective unless the organization hires the right employees. "You need to hire the right people for the right job," notes The Greatness Zone's Forte. He says many companies are still making the mistake of solely looking at whether an employee has done a particular job beforehand, but not really focusing on whether he or she has the right personality to fit well within that position and think about how they will work within the organization. This is necessary for customer-facing employees who, in Forte's words, "are out in plain view" and need to have the right talents and strengths to flourish in that position. Gioia also highlights the importance of offering opportunities for growth to individual employees, ensuring that staff members don't need to look for career satisfaction elsewhere.
Finally, it's also important to let employees know when their work led to business results. It's a mistake for business leaders to only highlight mistakes. Instead, they need to praise employees for positive contributions, including how their work is improving the customer experience or links to positive NPS scores. Further, employee engagement should remain an ongoing and changing priority goal, Walkenhorst notes. "In order to remain successful, the engagement messaging, techniques, and delivery must remain relevant and pertinent," he says.