How to Successfully Engage Employees in 2017

As more and more millennials come of working age, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to prominently exhibit their corporate social responsibility policies on either their website or their employee handbooks—in part because CSR is proving to be increasingly vital to attracting and retaining quality employees.  In order for employees to feel engaged, it helps for them to feel as if the company they work for is working to benefit society in some way.  According to a study conducted in May of 2016 by Ante Glavas, a model building on engagement theory was tested in which “CSR enables employees to bring more of their whole selves to work, which results in employees being more engaged.”

Interestingly, there is also a correlation between employees’ connection to the world around them through community interaction and their connection to each other, in the workplace.  Both types of connections increase employee engagement by helping them feel as if they belong, rather than merely fulfilling their job-related duties, throughout the week.  For example, Four Winds Interactive was losing over $4M a year due to high employee turnover.  Because of this, they decided to invest in peer recognition programs, community engagement opportunities, wellness programs, and employee benefits.  In addition, they invested in an internal visual communication network that visually reinforced employees who participated in wellness or extracurricular activities.  As a result, their turnover rate decreased by half, after a year—which also saved them more than $2M.

In order to save the $2K a year it costs to deal with low employee productivity, increasing an organization’s culture and level of employee collaboration will help minimize disengagement and boredom.  One crucial component to keep an eye on is the level of peer camaraderie, since it is the number one motivator that inspires employees to work especially hard.  Other engaging factors, according to Villanova University, include employee and supervisor familiarity, basic training, employee development, employee recognition, teamwork, employee coaching, and customer-focused teams.  Encouragement and inspiration are key to maximizing engagement.

How can managers encourage the retention and development of an engaged workforce?  One way is to monitor compensation levels, making sure that employees are fairly compensated for their hard work.  If there are very large gaps in pay between executives and average employees, these gaps “Create destructive competition among management and cynicism among employees.”  Therefore, in general, large pay gaps don’t make for strong employee morale.  Moreover, differing opinions should be encouraged, career roles should be considered flexible, all employees should be recognized and acknowledged, and there should be ample opportunity for growth and development.

That last point is key: your employees may be engaged and motivated, but are they enabled? In other words, do they have the tools and training they need to do their jobs?  Are they regularly updated about their performance, as well as corporate policies and how to go about adhering to those policies?  Are they given a reasonable amount of work, and do they have ample time to balance that work with their own life, including activities such as community service?  Only when they have the tools they need will they be able to perform their job duties to the best of their abilities, while still feeling motivated and engaged.

Along with engagement, however, let’s not forget about CSR!  How are the two connected, again?  Well, for one, Employee Benefits found that employees involved in CSR initiatives are generally more engaged with an organization’s culture and values.  Perhaps the more in alignment with an organization’s ethics and CSR policies, the more motivated employees become to stick around.  They probably feel inspired by the company’s dedication and gain more of an interest in committing to the same amount of community engagement, themselves, outside of work-related initiatives.

Similarly, The CRO found that “When employees feel that the company they work for is not only socially responsible by investing resources to improve communities around the globe, but is also equally invested in their professional growth, it results in greater employee loyalty and inevitably translates into contributing to the company’s bottom line.”  In other words, the more stable a company, in terms of lack of attrition, the better—financially-speaking.  Of course, the financial benefits also extend to benefits for employee morale.

Moreover, according to research conducted by Philip H. Mirvis, there are several main methods of engaging employees: via a transactional approach, where “programs are undertaken to meet the needs of employees who want to take part in the CSR efforts of a company”; a relational approach, “based on a psychological contract that emphasizes social responsibility”; and “a developmental approach, which aims to activate social responsibility in a company and to develop its employees to be responsible corporate citizens.”  Liz Bardetti advocates for taking a relational route, due to its ability to create what she calls “a deeper level of engagement” that “acknowledges employees as citizens of the company and community.”

The most prominent point that came up over and over again in my research on what makes for good employee engagement was the importance of a feeling of belonging and relationships to motivating employees to remain engaged, in the workplace.  Interestingly, this need—though unsurprising—is totally within the realm of emotion and not at all rational or workplace-duty-related.  It speaks primarily to a very human, primal need—bypassing professional concerns, entirely.

This brings us back to a question of priorities—not just as business people, but as human beings who must coexist with others within a common community, neighborhood, or city.  In the end, what differentiates us is not as important as the characteristics we hold in common.  We should look to these commonalities while looking into sustainable ways to increase our organization’s level of community involvement.  May we all find ways of being that allow us a greater sense of belonging in our everyday lives—in both our workplaces and our homes.

Image source: Daniel Thornton