Employee Engagement

5 ways to inspire employee engagement today

By Sarah Fister Gale

Feb. 19, 2020

Employee engagement is not something you can achieve overnight. 

It takes time, dedication and leadership commitment for those HR leaders who want their workplaces to become a great place to work. Even Jim Harter, chief workplace scientist for Gallup, admits that seeing a significant change in engagement scores could take years. 

But don’t be discouraged. There are many things that can be done immediately that will start moving the needle on employee engagement. Here are five places to start.

1. Say something shocking. 

“Engagement is like a river,” said Greg Barnett, senior vice president of science for HR consultancy Predictive Index in Boston. “Sometimes you have to do something dramatic to change the way it flows.”

To do that, Barnett suggests leaders figure out what is missing from their culture, then make a grand gesture to demonstrate that things are going to be different. It could be sharing previously guarded company information, publicly celebrating employees for their hard work, or discussing the bad news that everyone has heard rumors about but no one is willing to discuss. “Shocking them with transparency is a great way to get everyone’s attention,” Barnett said.

2. Practice gratitude. 

“Showing employees that you value what they do is critical for engagement,” said Sarah Hamilton, senior director of HR for North America at Workhuman in Framingham, Massachusetts. “It shows them that what they do matters and helps them see how their work drives the company forward.”

Showing gratitude doesn’t require a sophisticated reward system or official gratitude program. It can be as simple as congratulating teams on the company’s social media platform, sending a personal note of thanks, and acknowledging their hard work in every conversation. “It feels good to be recognized but it also feels good to recognize others,” Hamilton said. “It is a powerful experience for everyone.”

3. Help them plan their careers.

Fully 94 percent of employees say they would stay at a company longer if the organization invested in their development. The ability to learn new skills makes them feel engaged and appreciated and shows them that the company is willing to invest in their future, Barnett said. “Managers can quickly make a short-term impact on engagement simply by paying attention to employees’ career development.” 

He encourages managers to build training plans around employees’ goals even if they extend beyond a career at the company. “Start by listening to what employees want for the future,” he said. Then if possible, help them find the training, mentoring and career advice to make it possible.

Some companies are tackling this goal head on. For example, Amazon’s Career Choice program covers tuition for employees who want training in any in-demand field — even if it has no relevance to the company; and McDonald’s new career exploration app, Archways to Careers, offers employees career advice to help them map out their professional career wherever it may take them. 

“Building an entire career development program requires coordinated effort,” he admitted. But taking the time to ask what employees want to do with their lives then offering to help is a great first step. 

4. Provide constant feedback.

The annual performance review is unofficially dead. If you want people to see the connection between their hard work and the company’s success, then constantly talk to them about it, Hamilton said. Workhuman uses the company’s Conversations platform to enable easy regular check-ins between managers and employees and between peers. 

She noted that teammates and colleagues often have a better sense of how work gets done and who is contributing than managers. Encouraging peer-to-peer feedback creates a culture of engagement and ensures hard work gets acknowledged. “A continuous feedback loop motivates and empowers employees, and makes everyone feel appreciated,” Hamilton said. 

5. Don’t stop.

All of these strategies can have a short-term impact on employee engagement, but the change will be fleeting unless you stay committed to these actions. That means continuing to be transparent, support career development, provide feedback and practice gratitude on a daily basis. “Engagement programs often fail because after a few months everyone moves on to the next thing,” Barnett said. 

So don’t do it unless you are willing to make changes that will stick.

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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