To say employee engagement has fallen to the back burner for a lot of organizations is an understatement.
Over the past year or so, if you’re like most business leaders, you’ve been caught constantly pivoting and racing to keep up with the pace of change. But in the wake of this upheaval, a lot of your employees may be experiencing a sense of isolation, disengagement, and burnout.
“Human beings are designed to interact and connect,” notes the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC). So, without routinely engaging with your workers, APQC says you’re “basically asking them to do the opposite of what they are naturally hardwired to do. What HR pros need to be focused on in 2021 is bringing their employee engagement program out of the freezer.”
While yours thaws out, let’s start with an overview of what that employee engagement looks like at organizations like yours right now.
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Where Does Employee Engagement Stand Today?
For more than two decades, Gallup has tracked employee engagement stats, and the movement has been “slow and steady.” That is, until “2020 brought never-before-seen fluctuations in workplace cultures,” according to the consulting firm.
Last year, engagement levels crashed and spiked several times over, from the record-fast drop to 31% engaged in May 2020 to a record-high 40% engagement rate that summer, then back down again.
Despite the rapid change, though, these figures show that more than half of your employees are consistently feeling disengaged, and that’s not ideal.
The messy state of employee engagement raises some important questions: How vital is it really to engage your workforce in a two-way dialogue? Why do so many workers feel disengaged in their roles? And how can you foster a more authentic relationship with your people?
Here’s our take on why and how to reinvest in employee engagement, starting now.
The Business Impact of Employee Engagement
It takes time and resources to strategically improve employee engagement, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
There are three main business benefits to engaging your workforce:
1. Retain Your People and Attract New Talent
Employee churn can cost you a lot of money. When people leave your company, you’ll need to spend the equivalent of one-half to two times their total salary to find and train their replacement, according to another report by Gallup. With the average turnover rate somewhere around 25%, that adds up pretty quickly.
But if you have a highly engaged workforce, you’ll experience lower turnover. In fact, your most engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave. When your people feel that they’re being heard, serving a purpose, and being involved in business decisions, they’re more inclined to stick around.
Plus, when it’s time to bring on new team members, great engagement can work in your favor. An engaged and thriving workforce will be a lot more attractive than a company that’s riddled with negative online reviews from disgruntled, disengaged employees.
2. Drive Productivity
When people don’t feel engaged at work, they’re less productive. And that’s costing everyone.
As a Forbes contributor puts it, research shows that “disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity, and 15% lower profitability. When that translates into dollars, you're looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee's annual salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they make.”
The correlation between an engaged workforce and productivity shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that happy employees also tend to be more productive.
In a 2020 study, 43% of business leaders said their investments in employee experience (EX) programs resulted in higher productivity, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Many employers agreed that these efforts also reduced absenteeism and boosted retention. Plus, SHRM said such programs made employees “five times more likely to be engaged in achieving organizational goals.”
To foster a positive and productive work culture, it’s critical to engage with your employees so you can align on those goals while identifying and resolving roadblocks getting in the way of success.
3. Improve Customer Experience
A superb customer experience (CX) can be a major competitive advantage, which is why a lot of organizations invest in customer listening. But, in an effort to provide a more seamless end-to-end experience, it’s easy to forget to gather feedback from your own employees.
Your employees are an invaluable source of insight into how to improve CX. Seek out ideas and input from workers on the front lines who know your customers best. Putting EX and CX insights side-by-side gives you a 360-degree view of the customer journey to help you pinpoint and fix issues along the way.
Engaged employees are more motivated and willing to go above and beyond others in order to satisfy your customers. This may be why, as KPMG reports, “Companies that lead in CX typically have 1.5 times as many engaged employees as CX laggards.”
3 Tips on How to Improve Employee Engagement
Given its impact on the bottom line, employee engagement requires a deliberate and strategic approach. Keep these tips in mind as you think about how to better engage your staff:
1. Make It a Strategic Priority
When it comes to improving employee engagement, the role of your C-suite leaders can’t be overstated. Sending employee surveys and holding focus groups won’t help you make better business decisions if your company isn’t committed to acting on the feedback you collect.
When it’s time to shuffle resources around in an effort to boost employee engagement, you need key decision makers behind you the whole way.
Plus, perceived engagement—or a lack thereof—can have a trickle-down effect. Higher-ups at your organization should lead by example, modeling what it means to be a committed, engaged employee.
2. Listen and Engage Often
If you’re still relying on annual employee engagement surveys to measure workplace satisfaction, it’s time to shift gears. Annual surveys tend to be far too long—and easier to ignore—because they attempt to explore too many topics in one sitting.
Also, because they’re issued so infrequently, they offer little flexibility, allowing only one opportunity per year to improve workplace culture.
To gain a better understanding of the needs and wants of your employees, engage with them frequently. This approach will help you embrace continuous improvement and make small, quick, but impactful adjustments in real time. And it’s especially valuable during periods of rapid change.
3. Close the Feedback Loop
After employees fill out annual surveys, engagement often ends there. They don’t know how their feedback was used or whether their input shaped decisions around the business. In general, your employees will be less likely to willingly participate in any engagement activity if they don’t understand what’s in it for them, or if they don’t feel like their feedback matters.
It’s important to keep the conversation going. Delve deeper and ask follow-up questions. Go beyond percentages and scales, and determine why your employees feel a certain way. Ask for feedback on how you can improve things.
Also, show your appreciation for your staff’s feedback. Share what you’re doing with their input, and, more importantly, use their feedback to make visible changes to the business. Demonstrating that their participation has had tangible impact increases employees’ willingness to participate, and you’ll continue to get valuable insight on how to improve the workplace.
Following up, enacting employee-inspired change, and reporting back about the results are all great ways of showing your people their voices do matter.
To Win, Start with Your Own People
After the past year or so, you probably can’t engage your workforce like you used to. But, as APCQ says, it’s still important to “find small ways to remind them that they are the foundation of [your] company and [you] care about them.”
As you scale your engagement strategy, make it a business priority rather than a once-a-year project. For it to drive better decision-making, take a more human approach—one that creates a sense of community and builds a culture of authentic, ongoing conversations.