Two-thirds of the American workforce is considered below average in terms of employee engagement. That might not seem like that big of a deal at first glance. But consider the fact that the right culture in the workplace has been proven to have a positive impact on employee wellness, profitability, and productivity.
It turns out that happy, healthy employees are an invaluable resource for companies of any size in any industry. Investing time in employee engagement is a smart move. Whether you’re hiring new employees or want to reinvigorate your current team, consider this comprehensive guide to help you determine your plan. It’ll go a long way towards keeping employees motivated and engaged.
Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
We’ve already mentioned some of the ways in which employee engagement helps businesses. From increasing productivity to ensuring employee loyalty to creating a better work-life experience overall, there’s a lot to love about this proven business strategy. Plus most employee engagement methods are a cost-effective way to help your team achieve their fullest potential.
But don’t just take out word for it. Here’s what experts have to say on the subject:
- For at least half of your employees, money isn’t everything. Survey respondents said they would sacrifice as much as 29% of their salary to work a job they actually liked. And it turns out that things like improved workplace transparency and feedback would make them happier at their current position, even if nothing else changed.
- If employees don’t feel engaged, there’s a good chance they’ll leave. In fact, 81% of job seekers said they decided to head for the hills once they started feeling dissatisfied with their work experience. And another survey found that 80% of respondents would strongly consider leaving their current position for an opportunity that presents a better employee experience.
- Most people don’t think of work as just work. 86% of employees named learning opportunities the most important thing their employers can provide for them on the job, proving that self-actualization is an important component of career longevity. Which means enrichment programs, in-office fitness classes, and peer-to-peer mentorships are more than just a hiring gimmick — they’re examples of engagement-boosting activities that your staff actively craves.
- There’s a good chance your competitors are already prioritizing it. Increasing employee engagement is one of the top HR challenges this year. Nearly half (49%) of all reps in this department will be asked to find ways to improve employee engagement and productivity in 2019.
- Employee engagement helps decrease both stress and absences. Experts say that stressed workers cost employers billions in weekly revenue. No matter what your revenue is, poor employee engagement certainly won’t increase it.
There are hundreds of studies, statistics, and surveys that prove increasing employee engagement should be a high-priority task. But the above facts paint a clear picture: Employees are the backbone of your company, and your success may very well depend on their level of engagement.
Taking a workplace from low or mediocre engagement levels to consistently high scores takes time. But even a small shift can yield measurable results.
How to Improve Employee Productivity
The first step to achieving most goals is education. Understanding what employee engagement is, how it’s measured, and what signs to look for are all a necessary part of this process. Taking the time to establish these basics will set you up for success. Only after you truly understand this multifaceted issue can you then apply more specific strategies to your unique workplace dynamic.
Because really, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Which is why examining the big picture before constructing your approach is so important. So without further ado, here are some frequently asked questions about employee productivity, along with a more in-depth explanation of engagement theory, that you can use to customize your own plan moving forward.
Assess your workforce
To make and track improvements, you have to understand where you’re coming from. Your starting point will be entirely individual since no two workplaces or groups of people ever look the same. Once you know where you currently are, you can also forecast more accurate milestones, as long as you remain realistic and committed to your goal.
How do you measure employee engagement?
There are three main KPIs any business can utilize to establish a holistic view of their current employee engagement.
- Stats & Data. What is the average total percentage of employee turnover at your company? How about employee absences? Aim for less than 10% each and you’ll be golden.
- Direct Employee Feedback. Employee suggestion boxes are a passive (yet still valid) way to collect information on your staff’s relative workplace happiness. But if you want to take a more direct approach, conduct direct surveys with a handful of questions related to employee engagement. You can go the extra step by using their responses to calculate your employee Net Promoter Score (NPS).
- Hiring Third Parties. Sometimes you really need an impartial outside view to get a clear picture of your current employee engagement status. Gallup and Mercer are just some of the well-known providers of these services, but there are lots of options available depending on your budget.
But what is employee engagement in HR?
Think of employee engagement in HR as a method for improving overall employee engagement. This frequently searched-for phrase refers to the leadership role the human resources department plays in the satisfaction and well-being of staff. The goals of employee engagement in HR are twofold: improve an employee’s personal attachment to the company while also encouraging them to fully commit to the brand’s mission and goals.
What is an employee engagement Gallup?
Gallup is a global analytics and advice firm that creates exceptional workplaces through the use of advanced research. Results are specifically tailored to your business, with real-world data collected and measured on a regular basis over a set amount of time. They’ve helped everyone from kindergarten teachers to large organizations drive performance and maximize the potential of their respective groups.
What are the signs of unengaged employees?
Whether you’re an HR director dipping your toes in the employee engagement world or just interested in getting a better understanding of your third-party data provider results, there are some common indicators that you could be doing better in this area.
Whether you notice some or all of these signs doesn’t matter. As long as you are committed to improving employee engagement, you’ll see these symptoms slowly abate. And besides, there’s always room for improvement! Now here are the things to look out for:
- Poor performance long-term in the group or individual level, unrelated to any other obvious distractions.
- Active or inactive disengaged behaviors such as rudeness, taking unapproved or longer than usual breaks, and lackluster attitudes towards challenges or responsibilities.
- Emotional apathy, anger, or extreme boredom towards work and engaging with coworkers on a personal level.
Any of these sound familiar? If so, keep reading to learn more about the scientific and psychological side of this phenomenon.
Employee Engagement Theory
Like most workplace improvement approaches, employee engagement theory is the explanation of which corporate behaviors help or hinder group morale, motivation, and satisfaction. Originally coined by organizational psychologist William Kahn in 1990, the term “employee engagement” brings a human-centered focus to the discussion of business environments. His theory focuses on three psychological factors:
- Contributions made to something bigger than oneself
- Sufficient safety from potential negative consequences of inspired actions
- The ability of an employee to share their physical and mental capabilities with their work
His work (and subsequent research by others in this field) has cited clear job expectations, great communication, and high-quality constructive criticism as engagement parameters all businesses can use to assess their work environment. Engagement theory also commonly uses the opportunity for career growth, the quality of interpersonal relationships, and the employees’ view of the organization (and their role in it) as a whole.
This list of practical guidelines offers hope for any situation — with so many solutions available, the possibilities for improvement are even more actionable and realistic. Now that you fully understand what employee engagement is, why it’s so important, and how you can learn to measure it, it’s time to begin the real work.
How to Improve Employee Engagement
Whether your team is working remotely all over the world or together in one office space, you can easily apply employee engagement techniques to your environment.
What are the best employee engagement activities?
There are a lot of options when it comes to improving morale and productivity. Some are free, and some aren’t. Some take a long time to be effective, while others boast more immediate results. If you want to experiment to see what’s best for your specific workplace, limit yourself to one method at a time so you can gauge success. But how do you choose?
As long as the activity accomplishes one or more of these success indicators, you should be good to go:
- Makes employees happier or more fulfilled. Great company culture helped one company outperform competitors by 20%.
- Puts people first. The key to success with this one? Consistency.
- Demonstrates an active mindset shift across the board. Luckily there are lots of simple ways to gain a positive mindset.
- Creatively encourages better habits. Employee wellness is holistic and requires individuals to help themselves sometimes.
- Improves quality of life. Any activity that improves employee well-being will likely be welcomed with open arms by your staff.
You’ll find that all of the following methods for improving employee engagement and productivity follow the above criteria. It might take a little time, but you will eventually build the engagement strategy that’s most effective and makes sense for you.
Top 12 Employee Engagement Strategies
1. Ask for feedback and apply it.
Welcome criticism on everything from the daily workflow to the workspace itself. Keeping the suggestions anonymous might be a good route for first-timers. Unrestrained by the fear of backlash, workers can speak freely in regards to what would make their work experience better. It’s empowering and makes your employees more willing to respond positively to changes, suggested or not, in the future.
What isn’t empowering, however, is providing feedback to management and seeing zero results. And while some suggestions won’t be practical or within your budget right now, make sure you honor the ones that are to help set the tone going forward.
2. Let employees make their own hours.
The average employee is only productive for 3 out of 8 hours of the workday. It’s not for lack of trying — most full-time employees clock in 8.5 hours or more a day in an attempt to get it all done. Experts say that cutting the workday down (or letting employees choose their hours) would lead to more productivity, a better working environment, and happier employees. Here are some places where they’re already successfully doing it:
- In Italy, workers clock an average of 20 hours a week.
- Women in the Netherlands are in the office about 25 hours a week, while the men stay a bit longer at 34 hours a week.
- And in the U.K., it’s flat out illegal to work more than 48 hours a week (or 40 hours if you’re under 18).
Meanwhile, in America, our culture of overtime is costing us dearly in mental health decline, increased work injury rates, and eroding job satisfaction, to name but a few of the consequences.
All this is to say, if you want to improve employee engagement to retain your workforce, you might want to consider decreasing mandatory working hours. Or at least making them flexible so employees can clock in when they’re at their most alert and focused.
3. Host weekly or monthly social nights where no work talk is allowed.
There are lots of great team-bonding ideas out there, but here are some of our favorites:
- Trivia or game nights. Host themed evenings or invest in some cool indie board games on Kickstarter where participants will often get a free copy before the release date.
- Yoga and mimosa mornings. A Friday morning pick-me-up like this will really cut down on your employee tardiness right before the weekend.
- Holiday decorating contests. Ornaments, cupcakes, pumpkins — you name it!
- For the adventurous, some karaoke. You can rent a machine and DIY it or rent out a booth at your local karaoke bar.
- Volunteer as a team. Choose a cause near and dear to the hearts of your employees or seek out local community programs that would really appreciate some more helping hands.
- Anything food-related like a cookout, catered meal, or pizza party. You can also opt for something more active like a group cooking class or cultural-related event (like a luau).
- City-wide scavenger hunts. Organize one yourself or search for companies that plan them in your city. They can be as long or short as you please, so fitting one in during a lunch break once a month is totally doable.
- Virtual reality gaming. VR gaming arcades are popping up all over the place, and the exciting new technology will definitely give your employees something to talk about.
4. Allow employees to work from home some (or all) of the time.
Speaking of reduced or flexible working hours, if cutting people loose early isn’t something you can do right now, why not consider letting employees choose where they do their work? A 2-year study at Stanford proved that it will actually increase employee productivity, even if it’s just one day a week.
5. Establish transparent business goals and specify how each employee helps support them.
We already know that increasing employee happiness, smoother company operation, and better customer relationships are just some of the things transparency can do for your company. But how exactly do you increase transparency? Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Hold company-wide meetings every quarter. Lay out the facts and figures along with conversations upper management would normally have behind closed doors.
- Display or share a list of the company’s active business goals. Use an old-fashioned whiteboard or add it to your collaborative work management software. Update it at regular intervals and don’t be afraid to share both progress and negative results.
- Enable better communication. Centralized conversations that all employees can participate in (or at least observe) help make sure everyone is in the loop at all times.
6. Make planning easier.
Better work tools — like interactive Gantt charts, workflow templates, and resource allocation — all help employees do their jobs better. Having more confidence in their own abilities can boost productivity and employee engagement by allowing your team to take initiative for their own work.
7. Help get remote employees more involved.
Whether or not you have a physical office space to work with, you should strongly consider outfitting your entire team with a centralized collaboration hub. Context is key in helping employees feel included, and accessing task assignments within larger project discussions will help them feel like they provide meaningful work and improve employee engagement at the same time. It also makes it easier to share and transfer images or video in a platform that allows for feedback from all key stakeholders.
8. Encourage employees to take more short breaks.
Taking breaks of 5 to 15 minutes every hour or so helps employees stay focused and be more productive. Benefits of taking frequent breaks include:
- The ability to think clearer
- Better decision-making skills
- It allows more brain space for genuine creative inspiration
- Taking breaks helps give your mind time to store information so your memory recall is better
- It allows you to refocus on or reassess projects as you go
Encourage employees to take more breaks by sending automated reminder emails throughout the day or scheduling a group break during meetings, and use positive wording around all statements regarding rest, relaxation, and downtime when speaking to employees.
9. Make working conditions more pleasant and comfortable.
If you want to increase employee engagement in the workplace or boost employee happiness without giving a raise, try making the day-to-day work experience more enjoyable through clever office design or home-office support funds. Office spaces that include healthy snacks, on-site childcare, and sound-absorbing walls get high marks from productivity experts.
And if your team is spread out all over the state or country, create a fund that allows employees to submit an application for help sprucing up their own space with plants, updated software, or personal space heaters. Anything that makes them happier at work is a totally justified expense.
10. Create a new accountability strategy.
Sometimes all it takes to motivate employees is the knowledge that their work is seen. Telltale signs of work that gets lost in the shuffle include: lack of formal accountability within the workflow, lost email or chat conversations, and projects that grind to a complete halt because of missing information. Better project management means better accountability, so workers can feel like their efforts are worthwhile within the context of an efficient (and successful) big picture.
11. Establish work-life balance as a key part of your company values.
While media outlets like The Atlantic tell us to just give up on work-life balance, both Mental Health America and the Mayo Clinic posit that it’s both achievable and necessary for fulfillment in all areas of life. Little things like listening to your favorite music while you work and getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on your work life. This is why businesses must strive to incorporate this theme into their value system.
Here are some ways to make it happen:
- Train management to have a “work smarter, not harder” attitude when discussing project timelines and expectations.
- Hold free educational wellness seminars covering topics related to health inside and outside of the workplace.
- Take responsibility for worker burnout by empowering managers to ask workers to go home a little early some days or to split up their responsibilities if they’re overburdened. Employees may be too scared to reach out on their own, fearing negative repercussions for speaking up, so it’s up to you to identify and address early signs of burnout as much as possible. Efficient resource management tools make it easy to visualize individual employee workloads and manage ROI at the same time.
- Allow workers to clock some time on their own creative side projects while on the job (within reason). It’ll motivate them to tackle their main responsibilities first, increasing efficiency by the mere thought of getting to focus on their passion project.
- Set a good example by regularly exiting the office by 5 p.m., taking all allotted vacation days, and saying no to checking emails after hours.
12. Help projects and teams scale with confidence.
Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a project it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. Equipping your colleagues with free employee engagement tools that help them keep the big picture in mind will improve collaboration, keep everyone on the same page, and provide all the motivational benefits of having a finish line in sight. Make sure you use a system that offers multiple views into status updates, reporting, and calendars that can update in real time.
Digging this deep into data can also have some surprising revelations for managers and team leaders. For example, you may find that certain employees are excelling in a specific area. As you move forward with the project, you can reassign related tasks to them.
Make sure you also publicly acknowledge and show gratitude for their strengths. It’ll help them feel seen and appreciated, all while helping the project run as efficiently as possible. It’s a win-win for everyone!
In a Nutshell: Productivity & Employee Engagement
After reading this guide, you now know all about these topics and why they’re so important and have some actionable ways to move forward with real-world application. As you continue on to implement employee engagement strategies, remember to keep these innovative employee engagement ideas in mind:
- Increasing employee engagement is highly profitable, but your workers will greatly appreciate it too, showing their gratitude through increased productivity, being present at work, and remaining loyal to the company.
- Understanding the science and key terms involved in employee engagement is paramount to creating a customized action plan for your own unique team.
- There are many ways to increase and measure productivity regardless of budget restraints or other unique challenges.
At the end of the day, improving employee engagement requires knowledge and the right tools. Put those two components to work, and you’ll find yourself with healthier, happier, and more productive employees in no time.