Once upon a time, in the years following WWII, when GIs came home to re-enter the civilian workforce and train for the burgeoning manufacturing, construction and infrastructure industries, their goal was to sign on with a successful organization and spend their entire career there. Having grown up during the Great Depression and struggled through a massive global conflict that truly involved every single American, these workers had one goal — the long-term safety and financial security of their families. They achieved that by holding a job, working hard, being a stable and reliable employee and putting money away for their children and the future.
Likewise, those children, having seen the work ethic of their parents, also looked for employment security, but they added one more requirement. Job satisfaction began to gain in importance. During the baby boomers’ formative work years, employees wanted both stability and satisfaction. Workers sought to be involved in employment that would leave the world better than they found it. Employers began discussing things like company culture, employee morale and personal and professional development. Employees wanted to do work that mattered for an organization that made a difference.
For today’s workers in their formative years, these work preferences, along with many others, are generally spoken of as employee engagement. For employers of those workers, there is cause for concern.
Apparently today’s workers are more disengaged than ever before, a situation that hinders creativity, innovation, productivity and profitability. An engaged employee is energetic, eager to take on new challenges, personally invested in the success of the organization, has a sense of purpose in the work and feels appreciated. A disengaged employee is bored, apathetic, focused on inadequacies in the workplace, unwilling to take on new assignments and generally unhappy.
Business owners who compete for well-trained and highly motivated workers can ill afford to have anyone on the team who is just punching the clock. It’s a matter of dollars and cents. Employee engagement is the engine of a company. Engaged employees get things done; disengaged employees are obstacles to getting things done. The vast majority of CEOs think culture and engagement are important, but less than half feel confident in attempting to encourage greater engagement among employees.
A 2016 Deloitte Consulting survey found that companies that work proactively to enhance engagement demonstrate revenue growth that is, on average, 516 percent higher. That same survey indicates that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their peers by 174 percent.
We can see the prominence of this issue in the many “Best Places to Work” lists that propagate online and in the business sections of newspapers and magazines. Many employers have realized the importance of appearing on those lists as a powerful recruitment strategy, particularly for young workers who are less loyal to organizations than any previous generation.
Engagement is not a one-size-fits-all technique. Ensuring a positive and productive culture requires a delicate balance of many factors that need to be fine-tuned frequently. Here are some places to start:
- It’s that time again! That’s how most managers handle employee reviews, most likely on an annual basis. Today’s employees want feedback, and they want it routinely, frequently and often informally. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the process is an annual “check the box” activity. It’s something that has to be done, not something that is used to improve interactions between employer and worker or explore areas for professional growth. You wouldn’t take your blood pressure only once a year, yet there is often no better predictor of one’s health. Companies that have transitioned to more frequent performance discussions see an improvement in employee commitment and company results.
- We are family! Many of today’s workers feel very isolated from their peers. They may work for the same firm, even work in the same unit, maybe even share workspace. But do they know one another? Are they communicating? Do they know what makes their colleagues tick? Just like any family, members get along better if they understand one another. Provide opportunities for your workers to spend time together in other ways so they can learn to appreciate and capitalize on one another’s strengths, avoid behaviors that can be annoying to other employees and celebrate shared interests.
- Way to go! Don’t forget your workers are people. And as is the case with ALL people, they like to be told they did a good job. They like to be recognized. Recent data suggests that employers are doing a very poor job at recognizing their employees, yet it is one of the MOST important factors for employees to feel they have a positive work environment. It doesn’t have to be a big or expensive endeavor. It can be fun. Ask employees what they would like. You’d be surprised to learn that it’s not about money for most employees. It’s about the pat on the back.
- I can see clearly now. If you ask most employers (including yourself) if they have an open door policy and if employees understand how the organization runs and how decisions are made, they will proudly tell you “Of course!” The problem is that employees see the situation very differently and, in addition, see no path to advancement in the organization due to a lack of understanding of strategy and future initiatives. Personnel information must be kept confidential, of course. But try to share as much as you can about company performance and where your group is headed in the future. Employees will be much more engaged if they feel they are a part of something successful and can see where and how they contribute to the organization’s goals.
- And finally, have fun! What is the number one driver of employee happiness and engagement? The ability to have fun at work. Freedom to laugh, joke and share. A culture that emphasizes enjoyment as equally as it values performance. The old adage is very true: Life is too important to be taken so seriously.