Employee engagement is crucial for any organization since highly engaged employees always bring their best effort to the workplace. When employees give their all, they ultimately help the company achieve its goals. However, most companies don't have a fully engaged workforce. In fact, Gallup research shows that only one in three U.S. workers is engaged. The rest are disconnected from their work to some extent, meaning they're unlikely to live up to their potential at work. So, how can company leaders foster an engaged workforce and unlock their employees' full potential? Studies have identified five common drivers of employee engagement that can guide company leaders in building a fully engaged, productive workforce.
1. Trust in leaders: A cornerstone of employee engagement
The profound impact of leaders on employee behavior
Leaders at every level, from CEOs to frontline supervisors, influence employee behavior, both positively and negatively. Their actions can inspire or discourage, offer guidance, recognition, and support, or create fear, anxiety, and stress. In fact, leaders can be the reason employees stay or leave. Their impact is so significant that research has found the top driver of employee engagement to be trust in leaders. So, it's essential for leaders to set the right tone and foster a positive work environment.
Trust building: A consistent effort
Trust isn’t built overnight; it has to be earned over time with consistent action. An article from Zenger Folkman underscores that exceptional leaders are made, not born. This is an important message to convey to the leadership within your organization. Some ways to build trust and improve employee engagement include:
- Practicing open communication: Ensure transparency in decision-making processes and maintain honest, consistent communication.
- Providing resources: Give employees the tools, training, and support they need to succeed.
- Offering actionable feedback: Provide direct and actionable feedback, and be receptive to feedback from employees, through mechanisms like 360-degree feedback or pulse surveys.
- Trusting employees: Allow employees to have responsibility and autonomy, empowering them to make decisions and contribute to the organization’s success.
How to measure trust in leadership
Measuring trust in leadership can be accomplished through various methods that provide insights into employee perceptions of their leaders. Some ways to measure trust in leadership include:
- Employee surveys: Conduct regular surveys asking employees to rate their level of trust in leadership and provide feedback on specific actions or behaviors that contribute to trust or distrust.
- Focus groups: Organize small groups of employees to discuss their experiences with leadership and identify areas where trust can be strengthened or improved.
- Exit interviews: Gather feedback from employees who are leaving the organization, asking for their honest assessment of trust in leadership and any suggestions for improvement.
- Pulse surveys: Send out short, frequent surveys to gauge employee sentiment and feelings of trust in leadership over time.
By regularly measuring trust in leadership, organizations can identify areas for improvement and implement strategies to strengthen trust and foster a more engaged workforce.
2. Coworker relationships: The fuel of employee engagement
The power of positive work relationships
In our modern, hyper-connected workplace with countless collaboration tools, it's crucial for employees to build positive, productive relationships with their coworkers. Given the amount of time we spend at work, it's no surprise that these relationships affect employee engagement. A sense of camaraderie and teamwork reminds us that we're not alone in this journey.
The role of community in workplace satisfaction
Having good relationships with coworkers lets you bond over shared experiences, seek advice, and brainstorm ideas. Feeling a part of a team with mutual respect can make you more positive about work and motivate you to give your best effort. Recognizing the importance of community and positive work relationships is key to having a happy, productive, and engaged workforce.
3. Learning and development opportunities: The growth engine of employee engagement
The value of on-the-job experience
Learning and development opportunities aren't just limited to classrooms. On-the-job experiences like stretch assignments, cross-functional rotations, and mentoring can offer valuable growth and learning, boosting engagement. Many companies use coaching exercises to strengthen feedback and promote deeper learning for leaders at all levels.
Tailoring learning opportunities to individual needs
To maximize the impact of learning and development opportunities on employee engagement, it’s essential to tailor these opportunities to individual needs and preferences. Some ways to achieve this include:
- Personalized learning plans: Harvard Business Review recommends developing customized learning plans for each employee, taking into consideration their unique strengths, weaknesses, and career aspirations.
- Mentorship programs: Pair employees with mentors who can provide guidance and support tailored to their specific needs and goals.
- Flexible learning formats: Offer a variety of learning formats, such as online courses, in-person workshops, and self-paced learning resources, to accommodate different learning preferences and styles.
- Employee input: Encourage employees to provide feedback on their learning and development needs and preferences, and use this information to inform the design and delivery of learning opportunities.
By tailoring learning opportunities to individual needs, organizations can create a more engaging and effective learning environment that promotes employee growth and engagement.
Impact of upskilling on employee retention
According to McKinsey, investing in employee upskilling can greatly improve employee retention. When employees see that their company is dedicated to their growth and development, they tend to be happier with their job and less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. A few ways upskilling can help retain employees include:
- Increased job satisfaction: Employees who have the opportunity to learn and grow in their roles are more likely to feel challenged, motivated, and satisfied with their work.
- Greater loyalty: Employees who feel supported and valued by their organization are more likely to develop a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the company.
- Enhanced career opportunities: Upskilling can open up new career paths and opportunities for advancement within the organization, making employees more likely to see a long-term future with the company.
- Competitive advantage: Organizations that invest in employee upskilling can attract and retain top talent, giving them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
By prioritizing employee upskilling, organizations can not only improve employee engagement but also enhance retention and overall business success.
4. Company values: The heartbeat of employee engagement
Living company values authentically
Meaningful core values aren't just about displaying them on a wall or the company intranet. They're more likely to connect with employees and increase engagement when you genuinely live by them. In fact, studies have found that up to 80% of employees feel more engaged when their work aligned with their company's mission and values.
Communicating company values effectively
Company values should really come alive for employees to feel inspired. If the mission and values are unknown or misunderstood, they're just words. Employees can get excited about company values they understand and can apply in their daily work. When employees align their behavior with these values, they'll be more engaged, seeing their hard work lead to great performance. Some ways to establish and communicate company values that resonate with employees include:
- Reinforcing values: Repeat company values in writing and in meetings, making them a central part of the organizational culture.
- Incorporating values into metrics: Ensure that company values are integrated into performance evaluations and goal-setting processes.
- Modeling values: Ensure company leaders are demonstrating their commitment to company values and setting an example for others to follow.
5. Feedback channels: The pulse of employee engagement
The essential role of employee feedback
Employee feedback is essential to understanding what else your organization needs to retain an engaged workforce. When employees are empowered to share their experiences, the organization can make informed decisions on how to improve engagement.
The power of direct feedback: A two-way street
Direct feedback is a strong force for engagement, benefiting both the giver and receiver. When employees share their real work experiences through anonymous feedback, they feel empowered and grow professionally from others' input. This validation and encouragement of productive action contribute to building a more engaged workforce.
Encouraging feedback: Building an open communication culture
There are many ways to encourage direct feedback throughout the organization, including:
- Recognition mechanisms: Enable peer-to-peer and manager-direct report shout-outs, acknowledging outstanding work and contributions.
- Anonymous rating platforms: Allow employees to give and receive 360-degree feedback, helping to identify areas for improvement and growth.
- Two-way feedback opportunities: Create forums or town hall meetings that enable employees to provide feedback to senior management, fostering a culture of open communication and collaboration.
Effectively implementing feedback systems
Implementing effective feedback systems requires a thoughtful and strategic approach to ensure that feedback is collected, analyzed, and acted upon in a way that promotes employee engagement and drives organizational improvement. A report from IBM highlights the need for companies to be responsive to feedback in order to improve engagement. Some best practices for implementing feedback systems include:
- Select the right tools: Choose feedback tools and platforms that are user-friendly, accessible, and provide the functionality needed to collect meaningful feedback in a timely and efficient manner.
- Communicate the purpose: Clearly communicate the purpose of the feedback system to employees, emphasizing the importance of honest and constructive feedback for driving organizational growth and improvement.
- Analyze and act on feedback: Regularly analyze feedback data to identify trends, areas for improvement, and opportunities for change. Communicate the findings to employees and involve them in the process of developing and implementing action plans to address identified issues.
By implementing feedback systems effectively, organizations can create a culture of open communication and continuous improvement that fosters employee engagement and drives business success.
Employee engagement is influenced by various controllable factors. When employees can connect with the company vision, their colleagues, and leaders, they tend to develop a stronger emotional bond with the organization and their work, leading to higher engagement and improved performance. Also, giving and receiving anonymous feedback, like through pulse surveys, encourages employees to share their true work experiences, ultimately sparking new enthusiasm for their work. When these engagement drivers work together, the outcome is a more energized workforce that's better equipped to achieve organizational goals and drive success.
Editors note: this blog was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.