Keeping Female Workers Engaged—and Why That Matters

It’s no surprise that women bring distinctive viewpoints, ideas, and insights to the workplace. But here’s the more shocking stat: Women lead men in terms of workplace engagement. In fact, 35 percent of female employees are engaged at work, compared with only 29 percent of male employees, according to Gallup’s 2017 report, “Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived.”

It’s common sense that employees who are engaged at work are more productive, enthusiastic, and committed to their jobs. Research even indicates that higher engagement is linked to greater profits and decreased turnover rates. Yet less than a third of all employees say they are engaged in their work.

So, what can companies do to keep female employees happy and productive at work? Here are five tactics to consider implementing.

  1. Train managers to cultivate employees’ potential. Having a female manager matters—employees with a female boss are six percentage points more engaged, on average, than those who report to a male supervisor, the Gallup survey found. Female managers excel at cultivating the potential of the people who report to them, helping them develop new skills and abilities. They also check in with their direct reports more frequently than male managers do—providing the critical feedback employees seek.

To increase engagement, train managers—male and female—to ensure that their direct reports feel cared for both professionally and personally. Managers who take the time to ask about an employee’s sick child or 5k run generate goodwill.

  1. Understand the “employee journey”

Marketers spend billions of dollars tracking the customer journey—identifying every touchpoint their company has with a customer and the “pain points” that drive customers away. The touchpoints that attract women, and the pain points that drive them away are often different than those that impact men, so understanding what works and what does not work for your female customers and prospects is important.

In her TED Talk, Diana Dosik, a principal at Boston Consulting Group, makes the case that companies would benefit from understanding the “employee journey” as well. By fully understanding how employees experience work—particularly your female employees—you’ll be able to fix the pain points that are preventing them from being more engaged, focused and, ultimately, more productive. This may mean providing lactation rooms for new mothers, or offering flex-schedules for female employees with school-age children.

  1. Increase communication with employees

As I’ve written before, communication is critical to improving employee morale.  Create a culture in which female employees are comfortable communicating with their managers. Managers should seek out employees’ opinions on the engagement strategies you are implementing; with employee buy-in, the tactics are more likely to succeed. Helping your female employees, in particular, to incorporate their passions, interests, and talents into their work will reap dividends in terms of employee engagement—and could also boost your bottom line.

  1. Focus engagement efforts on senior-level women

There is a lot of buzz about retaining women in their twenties and thirties when they’re deep in the child-rearing years. However, more attention needs to be placed on engaging high-level women managers; research shows that engagement drops among women as they rise in seniority within a company.

“Companies that get it right for [senior-level] women tend to get it right for everyone in the organization,” writes Claire Tracey, one of the authors of the BCG report, “The Rewards of an Engaged Female Workforce.” Addressing the issue, she explains, can help fix the culture for the entire company.

  1. Provide flexible work models to employees at all levels

Senior-level women who embrace flex time, telecommuting, and a results-oriented culture—and succeed—inspire the younger cohort of female employees, who can see more possibilities for themselves at the company in the future. That’s one of the reasons why, at organizations that demonstrate high levels of employee engagement overall, there is no gender gap; men and women are equally committed to their careers.

Output-based KPIs—which focus on whether the work gets done, not where it gets done—can help. Also, make reduced or part-time work an option for all employees—male and female.

In fact, many of the initiatives aimed at engaging your female employees will benefit your overall employee engagement rates. And that, in return, will boost morale, increase efficiency, and even bolster your company’s bottom line.

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5 Steps To Unleash The Power Of Your People

Let’s be honest. A lot of people are unhappy at their jobs. They feel unfulfilled, unappreciated, stifled and just plain bored. And their performance reflects it.

Many of us have been there at some point in our work lives: crummy boss, lame culture (think logo mugs and posters riddled with “upbeat” clichés), and defeated colleagues who could pass for zombies in a pinch. Everybody loses in a situation like this: the organization limps along, and incredible amounts of employee potential are wasted.

But there are ways to banish zombieland and turn your company into a hive of happy employees bringing their best self to work everyday. The key is to unleash people’s inner intrapreneurship. This is the part of us that bubbles with ideas to improve (or create new) products, services, processes, and policies within the company we work for. Entrepreneurs, of course, create their own companies. The successful ones burn with passion, drive, and vision. Intrapreneurs bring that same energy to their current workplaces. With amazing results.

Here are 5 steps to creating a Workplace that buzzes with energy, creativity, passion, and happy intrapreneurs:

1) Get The Message Out. Leaders must start by stating it, plainly and simply: “We honor, welcome, even crave, your ideas, your creativity, your talents, your passions. Look around the company. If you have any ideas for improvement, or even whole new products or processes, let us know. The door is always open.” Find a thousand ways large and small to reinforce their intrapreneurial mindset. Solicit ideas – from everyone in the organization (sometimes amazing innovations come from unexpected places) – using social media, contests, recognition, etc.

2) Put Tools In Place To Turn Ideas Into Action. It’s no good to get lots of maybe-great ideas, and then just have them sit there. It’s all about action. You must have a mechanism in place (and this means allocating resources) that allows your intrapreneurs to model, prototype and test their ideas. Otherwise, your credibility is damaged and, more importantly, you’ll never know if the idea is good, great, or not viable. Never ever belittle or dismiss an idea out of hand. Give it a respectful hearing even if you feel it’s not viable.

3) Be Honest About The Challenges. Let everyone know where you need help, or where there is room for improvement. When that part-time assistant hears that there’s a bottleneck in inter-organizational communication (and that you welcome ideas for solving it), she may well go home, brew up a pot of coffee, and, using her front-line experience, come up with a brilliant idea for breaking the bottleneck. So stoke the fires of intrapreneurship by asking for help, framing your challenges as fascinating puzzles that ignite the imagination.

4) Offer Education And Career Enrichment. The more engaged in work and in life your people are, the more their intrapreneurial impulses will be encouraged and nurtured. When we engage in activities and learning that feed our passions, we bring that passion to work with us. So pay for courses, classes, and activities that spark curiosity, build confidence, and may well lead to ideas and innovations that will boost performance and profits.

5) Think Happy. I know, that sounds like one of the clichés I mocked earlier, but hear me out. I’m not talking about mindless happiness, smiley emoticons (it’s really time for those things to go the way of the Edsel), and forced cheer. I’m talking about the bone-deep sense of satisfaction that we all get when we’re working on projects that engage our talents, heart and soul. I’m talking about earned happiness. If you want to see what it looks like, check out any successful entrepreneur. Every single person in your organization should know that kind of happiness is within reach. When you see people who can’t wait to get to work in the morning, you’ll know you’ve created intrapreneurs who will radiate a highly contagious fulfillment and happiness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Talent is a terrible thing to waste. Most companies are using only a fraction of their employees’ potential. Intrapreneurship is all about unlocking and unleashing those vast reservoirs of talent in service of your organization. It won’t happen overnight, but if you get started today you’ll see an almost immediate boost in morale and energy. And before too long, one of your intrapreneurs may come up with an innovation that will transform your company. This is exciting stuff. Let’s get going.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes 08/25/2013


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