Today’s employees are reevaluating many aspects of their lives, and where they work and the jobs they perform are significant factors in that assessment. For employers, this new approach to work is impacting their ability to recruit, hire, engage and retain employees, and is requiring them to assess what makes their workplaces attractive to employees to come and stay.
One of the first places to look is an organization’s culture. Workplace culture and employee engagement are inextricably intertwined, and organizations can not consider one without addressing the other.
In this guide, we will review the relationship between positive workplace culture and employee engagement, and introduce strategies that can help you build and foster both.
Proof That Engagement Needs to Be a Leadership Priority
Let’s begin with some valuable statistics to provide context. While 2020 represented a major disruption in employee engagement, a Gallup survey found that engagement stabilized in early 2021. In fact, the survey found that:
- 36% of employees reported being engaged in their work and workplace, remaining steady with predictions.
- The percentage of actively disengaged employees stayed relatively level from 2020 to 2021, with only one percentage point difference (14% to 15%).
While employee engagement and disengagement levels did not change significantly from one year to the next, an engagement rate of 36% is still of significant concern.
Also, consider the relationship between employee engagement and retention. The Gallup survey found that of the disengaged employees surveyed, 74% were actively looking for new employment, as compared to 30% of engaged employees. These statistics point to the strong correlation between engagement and retention
With that in mind, how do you create an organization that drives employee engagement?
Strategy 1: Communicate organizational goals
An employee’s ability to understand their organization’s goals and how those goals relate to department goals and their individual goals, can be an invaluable way to impact engagement and create a shared sense of purpose and direction.
The first step is to communicate the strategic goals set by leadership. Identifying how business priorities fit into the charge of each department or team can then inform individual performance plans and how they are linked to company goals. These connections not only create measurable expectations that can lead to individual progress and rewards, but also help tie the employee’s work to company success.
As you develop your plan of action, follow these best practices:
- Share and clearly explain corporate goals to employees. Company-wide communications, such as town halls, can provide an introduction, and team and small groups meetings may be the best method for discussing and understanding how those goals affect departments and individuals.
- Seek employee input and ideas for how teams and individual contributors can take steps toward reaching particular objectives.
- Meet with individual employees to outline clear expectations, timelines, and specific goals that are ambitious but achievable.
- Over time, review individual and team progress. Provide praise and recognition for meeting mile markers. Collaborate with employees to identify specific, incremental changes that could be made to improve performance.
Sharing organization goals and setting expectations for teams and individuals, as described above, is an important practice that contributes to building a positive work culture and serves to foster employee engagement.
Why it Works
The relationship between a business and its workforce is a reciprocal one: the more successful the company, the better the prospects can be for each employee.
Communicating organizational goals can create a powerful engine for continually generating and reinforcing employee engagement. There are several key reasons why:
- Connecting personal and organizational goals ties individual performance to the big picture, giving employees a sense of direction and purpose.
- Tapping into the big picture provides clarity around expectations for employee performance, and the reasons behind management requirements for certain behaviors or levels of achievement.
- The process of actively working together toward a mutual objective helps secure long-term employee buy-in.
- It fosters a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie across the organization.
Employees who receive regular updates on management’s direction for the company and understand the nexus between corporate priorities and their roles, are more likely to feel part of the team and be more productive and innovative. With continued focus and support of organizational goals and individual achievement, leaders can inspire a more focused and motivated workforce.
Strategy 2: Establish routine feedback processes.
Your employees are the best source for understanding what they find engaging about their jobs and work environment. Some of the best ways to uncover this information are:
- Feedback sessions. Ask questions and encourage employees to introduce topics and expand the conversation. To ensure honest participation, employees need confidence that managers will receive their input fairly and they can speak without the threat of retaliation or scorn.
- “Stop/start/continue” exercises. What do your employees think the company should start, stop, and continue doing? Employee feedback should be clear, specific, and offer management actionable items from which to work. This feedback will include a range of concrete suggestions as opposed to simply gathering opinions.
- Climate surveys. Conduct employee surveys annually or every few years to understand what is working, what can be improved, what is important to employees, their level of engagement, and other areas of importance.
Each of these options has merit, and you can implement them individually or in conjunction with another, depending on your organization’s needs at a particular time.
Why it Works
Establishing regular practices that gather and respond to employee feedback is valuable for several reasons:
- It reinforces a positive work culture. Being receptive to feedback shows employees that your organization listens to them, and respects and values their input. By acknowledging employee suggestions you demonstrate openness and receptivity to various opinions. Conducting these activities on a recurring basis will demonstrate a commitment to improving the culture.
- It encourages more feedback and innovation. By encouraging employees to continue bringing their feedback and ideas to the table, you can foster a spirit of critical thinking and creativity across your organization.
- It gives managers insight. Collecting employee input gives managers an understanding of what is on their employees’ minds. This information can help managers learn how to improve employee experiences to drive deeper engagement. Candid responses may also give managers advance warning that employees may be retention risks, allowing them to reach out and respond to these employees sooner.
Transforming employee ideas into new initiatives and then assigning employees to lead these new projects or coaching them through their development, solidifies the company’s commitment to this process.
Strategy 3: Make authentic and widespread recognition a standard practice.
Recognizing employees for their time and contributions should be a cornerstone of any engagement strategy. The key to success is ensuring that recognition is authentic, delivered regularly, and makes the connection between employee efforts and overall business objectives. Follow these tips to build an effective recognition approach:
- Build a culture whereby managers are expected to observe and record employee achievements and deliver feedback and recognition regularly. This informal positive feedback given consistently lets employees know they are recognized and their efforts appreciated.
- Create a process by which anyone can submit shoutouts and celebrate the achievements of their coworkers. Share these shoutouts and bravos from peers, managers, and leadership during regular team-wide meetings and formal communications.
- Consider offering rewards or prizes for standout contributions. Small gestures will show employees that the organization is paying attention to them.
- Praise the achievement of major goals with team- or company-wide celebrations or honors. These rewards should be properly scaled to the accomplishment’s impact on the business. Examples might include a team lunch at a favorite restaurant (or gift cards for remote teams to treat themselves) or allowing employees to choose from a list of pre-selected rewards to be purchased and shipped to them.
These practices should be incorporated into your organization’s culture of recognizing employee achievements.
Why it Works
This approach has major benefits. First, recognition shows employees that their contributions are valued and make a difference. Without acknowledgment of accomplishments and hard work, employees can easily become disengaged over time.
Second, consistent recognition will foster better rapport and openness between leaders, management, and staff when employees experience it regularly. This commitment further strengthens your culture and creates an environment that employees find engaging and that potential employees see as worth joining.
Employee engagement and its direct effect on hiring and retention has become an increasing concern for organizations of all sizes. The changes in workforce models over recent years have only complicated matters.
To foster long-term engagement, it is important for organizations to think broadly and plan. Specifically, creating a culture of communication, feedback and recognition will be key to creating a positive work environment and to impacting employee engagement.
Leadership and management strategies and practices, like the ones shared in this guide, can help lay a solid foundation for long-term engagement and create greater opportunities for business success.