Employee engagement is for everyone. Everyone can do it. And everyone will benefit from it.
That sort of thinking misses the true meaning, purpose, and benefit of employee engagement. And this can mean losing out on the potential for greater business success.
Most business owners and leaders should be aware of the importance of motivated, valued employees. The link to productivity and performance are well documented. Staff retention figures tell a story. High profile brands are often built or broken based on the treatment of employees.
However, what is often less clear, is what employee engagement is, the difference it can make, and what changes need to be made to bring it about.
Employee engagement is not just about ‘happy employees’ (although of course businesses should strive for their workforces to be happy). It is about employees feeling they:
- Have a voice – the opportunity to speak, influence, input ideas, and feedback.
- Understand the business – the company story – the history and aspirations.
- Are up to date on the business – aware of news and developments, objectives, strategic direction and have access to line managers and senior leadership.
- Are valued – treated with respect and fairness in their performance appraisals, day to day communication and pay and reward.
- Understand their role, what is expected of them and the part it plays in overall organisational objectives and achievements.
- Understand the organisational values – support and share them and would speak positively about their employer to family and friends.
Small steps, big impact
If you are a small business, you may think you aren’t big enough to need to focus on employee engagement or lack the resources to deal with it.
This is far from the case.
In a smaller business, the relative impact of each employee’s contribution to company performance is far greater than in a big company. Therefore, ensuring these employees are engaged is of paramount importance. Let’s say you are a team of ten, with three demotivated employees. That’s nearly a third of your workforce, potentially underperforming. Conversely, investing in ensuring they are fully engaged could turn that around, increasing productivity substantially.
But what of the budget you may need to find as a small business for employee engagement? The good news is this is not about spending lots of money. To invest in a comprehensive employee engagement strategy by an external expert would certainly yield beneficial results. But simple, day to day changes, can work wonders in creating a more engaged workforce.
Don’t leave staff to feel they are a cog in a wheel
In a larger or growing business… there is a risk the engagement principles you may have had in place become difficult to maintain. This may be for logistical reasons, such as being a multi-site organisation or simply due to fast growth, leading to more layers of management and bureaucracy. In this case, it becomes all the more important to ensure the whole workforce is connected, on board with company values and clear on their role in the business. If staff feel distant from the purpose, goals, and achievements of the company, and unable to exercise any influence, you’re more likely to lose them or see a reduction in effort.
Start as you mean to go on
Start-ups have a fantastic opportunity. The opportunity to put in place market-leading, innovative, best practice engagement structures and processes. Embedding these principles early on will be worth everything, as you are more likely to succeed with engaged, connected teams rooting for success and putting in the effort alongside you.
Implement best practice to achieve the best outcomes
A full employee engagement strategy would incorporate a wide range of measures. But some or any of these will make a big difference.
- Ensure your management and leadership are visible, approachable and accessible. The business owners or senior management must be committed to communicating regularly and positively with the whole business; about the aims of the business and the role every individual plays in this.
- Issue an annual (at least) staff survey, analyse the results and ensure you act to address issues and communicate how you are doing so.
- Review internal communication to ensure it’s regular and engaging; even introduce roadshows with positive updates and company news.
- ‘People’ managers must be effective in their role, able to allocate work, motivate, inspire, performance manage and coach their teams so that teams feel valued and supported. They must be given the time, skills and resources to do so. Poor line management is the biggest reason why employee engagement fails.
- Introduce routes and forums via which employees can voice their ideas, be listened to, and encouraged to play a role in decision-making and problem-solving. This will enhance the feeling of individual contribution and value.
- Ensure good practice, ethics, integrity is practiced throughout the organisation, so that all employees trust, respect, believe and share organisational values and behave accordingly.
Employee engagement is for everyone. But not everyone will engage with the same approach.
Workforces are made up of individuals. Individuals react and behave differently. And this also applies to how they like to engage, communicate and what makes them feel valued.
Research has shown millennials (born from around 1980-2000) for example, need a different style and level of communication to their older colleagues;
- They are used to instant gratification, thanks to the communication channels of social media and phones in every aspect of their life. So, waiting six months for a company update or performance feedback, just won’t wash.
- Millennials have been shown in surveys to put social conscience and making a difference pretty high on their agenda. To engage this crucial demographic who are the future long-term workforce, may need a reinvigorated focus on how the business behaves in ethical terms and how it positively impacts peoples’ lives.
- Younger generations like to speak up and offer their ideas. And frankly, it makes great commercial sense to listen. Offer a forum for ideas and demonstrate how they are taken on board. The millennials are the future, keeping your competitive edge many depend on them.
You may need to look at your workforce demographics and introduce a range of channels and measures in order to engage every single employee.
Engaged employees drive business
Does the senior leadership drive the business? Or is it the teams dealing with customers every day, manufacturing products, delivering services. Your employees and their networks, friends, and families are also potential customers. So, don’t underestimate the impact of your employer brand on your corporate brand. With engaged employees truly on board with you, your brand and business fortunes have a far greater chance to flourish.
Employee engagement is for everyone. But some businesses need support to do it as well as they should. If this is you, I’d be delighted to offer you advice and support.
Jo Clifton is an HR Consultant with experience working on people and engagement strategies with all sizes of organisations, from global businesses to small start-ups.