There’s something that’s slowly but surely sucking the life and motivation out of your workforce. And, no, it’s not the fact that your break room coffee is a little weak. So, what is this mysterious epidemic that’s destroying your team’s productivity and morale? Answer: A lack of engagement. An unengaged workforce comes with a significant cost—quite literally. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $605 billion each and every year. And, even further, companies with low engagement levels earn an average of two and a half times less revenue than competitors with highly engaged workers. But, with all of that said, many company leaders still don’t place as much emphasis on engaging employees as they should. “Unfortunately, only 33% of employees in the US are engaged,” explains Nick Sanchez, Chief People Officer at Namely, “Which means that if you’re not proactively working on employee engagement, your company could be at risk.”

Why Employee Engagement Matters

So, what’s the big deal with employee engagement anyway? Turns out, it can have a huge impact on both your culture and your bottom line. “Engaged employees go above and beyond the requirements of their jobs, meaning you get more productivity and output than you paid for,” shares Ben Brooks, Founder and CEO of tech startup, PILOT, “Disengaged employees not only are losers in terms of ROI, they also drag down the larger system, both in terms of team morale as well as customer satisfaction.” The numbers are there to back this up. According to findings published by the Harvard Business Review, 71% of respondents rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success. But, beyond boosting things like productivity, morale, fulfillment, and retention, placing an emphasis on employee engagement also has positive results for managers and leaders — particularly those who have their hands full with team and company growth. Knowing that you have an engaged workforce in place will empower you to trust your team more. That means, you can leave them to accomplish their work and achieve their objectives, without tons of various reviews, processes, and check-ins in place to micromanage their work.

Roadblocks to Employee Engagement

A passionate, fulfilled, and actively engaged workforce isn’t something that just happens by closing your eyes and clicking your heels together. It takes some commitment and strategy from leaders within the organization. “The reason morale is not better at many organizations is because senior executives’ attention is focused elsewhere,” warns Rodd Wagner, Vice President of Employee Engagement Strategy for BI Worldwide, “Most firms do not make managing—regular involvement with employees, not just supervising the particular business function—the high priority it ought to be.” Improving your employee engagement needs to be a point of emphasis — even before you witness morale or productivity declining. Don't wait until you feel like morale is at an all-time low and then send a survey about it. Instead, it's better to be proactive and get ahead of the sentiment. You'd rather prevent a hole from being dug in the first place, than need to claw your way back out of it. Employee engagement quote from Nick Sanchez of Namely

5 Key Engagement Strategies Every Manager Needs to Be Using

What steps can you take to begin improving engagement within your organization? There are a few key strategies you need to start with.

1. Be Transparent

“When employees start to feel like a cog in the wheel rather than vital members of a team, motivation can plateau,” shares Sanchez. As a leader, you need to create a transparent work environment where you can involve your employees in your planning and decision-making processes. Employees need to feel as if they're in the loop on the reasoning behind certain decisions, goals, and other company-wide elements. Instead of sitting behind the curtain and wielding power, leaders and managers need to be present and engage with their workers to prove to them that not only does their work matter—but their thoughts, opinions, and suggestions do too. TIP: Follow in the footsteps of companies like Zappos and institute a regularly scheduled all hands or 360 meeting. This is an opportunity for people from across the organization to get together, share ideas, and get a view of the big picture.

2. Foster a Collaborative Culture

Collaborative and team-focused are additional adjectives you want your employees to use when describing the culture of your office. “Employees are more likely to be engaged in their work when they feel a sense of loyalty to their team,” Sanchez shares, “Facilitating team-building activities can increase an employee’s stake in the success of the team as a whole. Building these activities into the employee experience (and budgets) should be a priority for the senior team.” Not only do these outings and events give employees a chance to connect and bond, but just the simple act of emphasizing teamwork can have a positive effect. “Even if an employee feels slightly disconnected, peer relationships can inspire productivity and boost morale,” Sanchez adds. TIP: Don’t feel like you have time to plan social gatherings for your team? Take a page from the book of companies like Pinterest and form a culture club or committee. This employee-led group will be responsible for coordinating the outings for employees. It takes that task off your plate, and also gives those group members a chance to bond!

3. Set Goals

Setting goals with employees is not only an effective way to take a constant temperature check on their level of engagement, but these objectives can also be extremely motivating for employees. In fact, studies show that (even with the absence of financial incentives) goal setting can improve employee performance by 12-15%. Set measurable and actionable goals with your staff, and then ensure that you're discussing progress on those goals on a regular basis. Because so many individual and organizational goals span a longer timeframe — think 18 months, as opposed to one week — these frequent conversations about progress are important, particularly for a workforce that thrives on constant gratification. “At Namely, we ask employees to set cascading goals on a quarterly basis that are both metric-driven and quantifiable,” shares Sanchez, “If goals are not being met, it may be an indication that productivity and engagement should be addressed.” However, this doesn’t mean that managers should dole out goals and assignments without any regard for the employee. “Don’t forget that engagement can be highly personal and employees should have a part to play in their own retention,” Brooks says, “Managers can do this by encouraging employees to recognize their own unique needs and empowering them to solve and meet them by themselves.” TIP: Need help setting goals? We recommend using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). You can find out more about them right here.

4. Check in Frequently

Employee engagement isn’t something that you can sort out and then promptly forget. You don’t get to slap a catchy phrase about your culture on your office wall and assume that will do the job. If leaders expect engagement, they need to be engaged themselves—in the form of checking in one-on-one with employees on a frequent basis. During these one-on-one sit-downs with employees, present them with one simple and straightforward question:
Do you feel engaged?
Based on the answers to that question, you'll be able to identify any patterns—such as certain departments that are feeling overextended or places where additional resources are needed. Employee engagement: Ask during your 1 on 1: While managers should be sure to get these sorts of questions answered, Sanchez advises that these conversations should be largely employee-driven. “It’s a regular opportunity for employees to share their concerns, stresses, and goals with their management. The regular part is significant. By meeting weekly, managers can track employee engagement over time and follow up on previous issues.” When it comes to these personalized conversations, engagement experts hear the same complaint time and time again: “I don’t have time to sit down with everybody that I manage!” “My response: You have too many people reporting to you,” says Wagner, “If you don’t have enough time to give each one personal attention, you can’t effectively be their manager.”

5. Seek Feedback

Those personalized conversations are sure to be enlightening. But, company leaders should take things a step further by having formal ways to collect additional feedback from employees—whether it’s anonymous or not. Many companies utilize surveys to keep their finger on the pulse of how employees are feeling. But, before you bombard your team with lengthy and overwhelming questions, keep these tips from Brooks in mind to successfully survey your employees:
  • Do it Frequently: “Feedback is a dish best served fresh!” Brooks says, “Don’t wait a year to hear what your employees think and feel.”
  • Keep it Short and Simple: If you ask more questions, you have a ton more work to do after the survey, just in the analysis of data alone. Plus, it lowers participation rates.
  • Do Something With What You Learn: This might seem obvious, but it’s where the majority of companies fail in Brooks’ experience. “If you ask, you must act,” he warns.
Even if you utilize online or anonymous methods for gathering feedback, you might learn that many employees are still unwilling to be completely honest, for fear of it negatively impacting their own careers. But, Kim Scott proposes a tactic to skirt around that issue and empower employees to feel more comfortable providing their insights. Don't ask for feedback on a person. Instead, ask for feedback on a task.Talking about a project or deliverable or form of communication will help take some fear and pressure off your employee and allow you both to take a more objective look at the root of the problem.

Measuring Employee Engagement

There’s no denying that employee engagement can feel intangible -- it seems tough to assign a metric to. However, rest assured, it is something that you can actively measure and monitor. While the Net Promoter Score is typically used to measure customers, Brooks asserts that it can be just as effective for your team. “It’s a well-established and researched methodology that applies equally well to employees as it does customers,” he says, “Plus, since it is used across industries on the customer-facing side, you have less education and confusion, since you’re using an existing measure.” Net Promoter Score: one tool to measure employee engagement Image via Net Promoter Network As mentioned previously, monitoring employee progress on goals, listening carefully in feedback conversations, and sending surveys are also great ways to measure engagement. “One of the best tools is to use regular pulse surveys that help you track improvements in engagement over time,” says Sanchez, “Though a survey may not be as comprehensive as a conversation, it does give you good data points to benchmark engagement.” Metrics are important. But, don’t view them as the be-all and end-all. “I caution my clients against focusing too heavily on the metrics,” explains Wagner, “Too often, the score becomes the end in and of itself, rather than what it ought to be—crucial feedback for improving the work environment so that performance and retention improve. Better operating results are the single most important indicator that improvements to the work environment are taking hold.”

Wrapping Up

Employee engagement isn’t something that’s nice to have. It’s necessary for a productive, fulfilled, and loyal workforce. Fortunately, there are five ways to improve engagement within your company.
5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement
Leaders need to:
  1. Be open and transparent
  2. Foster a collaborative and team-centered culture
  3. Set goals with employees
  4. Check in with employees frequently
  5. Seek continuous feedback
Do those things, and you’re sure to make strides in the engagement of your employees. “It’s important to keep in mind,” concludes Wagner, “That, while companies like to call this state of mind ‘engagement,’ employees simply call it ‘happiness.'”
Author Bio: Kat Boogaard (@kat_boogaard) is a Midwest-based writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. She is a columnist for Inc., writes for The Muse, is a career writer for The Everygirl, and a contributor all over the web.
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