Employee Engagement

Why ethics is the crux of employee engagement

By Nicole Alvino

Feb. 13, 2020

Throughout 2019, numerous factors forced companies to recognize the importance of ethical leadership. 

Barcelona, Catalonia. Thousands of people took to the streets as part of the worldwide movement. Global Climate Strike, international, protests and action against climate change.From Google’s employee protests and walkouts to the onset of GDPR and data privacy troubles of companies like Facebook, ethics has not only dominated the headlines but also become a catalyst of both employee satisfaction and business success.

In this climate, employee alignment is simultaneously more important and difficult than ever to achieve. Employers are demanding more out of their employees, but at the same time, face a range of evolving preferences and digital distractions that make it difficult to capture their attention and trust. Business and HR leaders must adopt an ethos of ethical leadership while thoughtfully implementing engagement strategies or risk losing top employees and the ability to recruit the best as the war for talent rages on.

Ethical practices or a lack thereof will give organizations a competitive advantage or become their demise. 

Set the tone at the top

While they may seem insignificant at the time, small actions and decisions by company leadership can add up to big consequences and contribute to the ethical fabric of the workplace. First and foremost, business and HR leaders must prioritize a renewed commitment to transparency — and make it known. Then, they can incorporate tools and strategies to make their values more visible across the entire company, including frontline and deskless workers (i.e., the 80 percent of the workforce that doesn’t sit at a computer).

Also read: 5 ways leaders ruin employee engagement 

An authentic presence of leaders is the most important element in building trust with employees. This not only boosts productivity and performance but also prevents behavior that creates a toxic work environment. Leaders who are genuine and open in their communications can also help thwart digital water coolers from spreading misinformation around the workplace, especially with today’s social and collaboration platforms that make it easy for anyone to spread misinformation.

When challenges do arise, it is critical to get ahead of the conversation through proactive, honest communication, sharing the “why” behind decisions so employees hear it straight from the source. Business and HR leaders should be vigilant in sharing these types of company updates to instill trust and reinforce values. 

Shockingly, only 16 percent of employees worldwide consider themselves fully engaged. And in the face of an engagement crisis, annual or quarterly surveys don’t cut it to ensure employees’ needs are met. Instead, an approach that focuses on data from employee behavior and pulse polls delivered at optimal times can give leaders a real-time temperature on their organization. These insights can quickly be turned into action to most efficiently reach and engage all employees.

The most effective way to align the workforce must take employee preferences into account. For example, some workers may find nontraditional and more interactive forms of communications to be a welcome change from email or chat, which can create an “always on” culture and lead to burnout. 

More vibrant media, such as audio and video methods, makes the quality of interactions far richer, facilitating community-building and allowing distributed workers to feel closer to the business. Whatever their preferences may be, tailoring engagement strategies through a data-based, personalized approach ensures all employees get the information they need to build trust.

Empower employees to speak up

In an era of employee activism, organizations must not only support but actively encourage employees to make themselves heard. Instead of top-down communications, establishing two-way communication channels and mechanisms for feedback gives employees the opportunity to provide perspectives and ask questions in a way that holds leaders accountable. 

With this in mind, organizations should acknowledge and ensure that all employee feedback is heard and proper action is being taken. HR managers should use the data and insights from these channels and programs to reevaluate their diversity, equal pay or other policies and make sure they are as impactful as possible. They should also use these tools and insights to implement valuable recognition programs, whether rewards, promotions, bonuses or other programs so employees feel motivated to do their best work. 

In 2020, ethical leadership will no longer be an option, but an imperative that directly impacts the bottom line, pushing companies to build ethics into policies and practices, place a renewed focus on culture and seek ways to measure the impact of their efforts. 

In a digital workplace, business leaders must adopt tools, technologies and practices to create a more connected, engaged and productive workforce or risk losing trust in an era when it’s needed most.

Nicole Alvino is co-founder and chief strategy officer at SocialChorus, a workforce communications company.

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