by Mary C. Schaefer

3 ways to improve employee engagement

Aug 19, 2016
CareersIT LeadershipRelationship Building

Are you getting everything you can from your focus on employee engagement? You may make more impact by rewiring how you think about it.

Have you seen headlines like these?

  • “5 ways to boost employee engagement with video.”
  • “Want increased employee engagement? Incentives and recognition are the way to go.”
  • “Struggling to find the time for employee engagement? Our e-learning technology preserves your time as a leader and increases employee engagement by 50%.”

There’s a place for videos, recognition programs and incentives. But I don’t know if they are going to lead to improved employee engagement. Employee engagement seems to be a catchall term now. It could refer to morale, or to any number of other employee-related attributes.

Looking at it only as a measure can do your organization a disservice. When I say this, I mean speaking of employee engagement primarily like this: “How are our employee engagement numbers doing?”

When you overfocus on such shorthand phrasing it’s easy to lose sight of heart of the intention — to engage real people at work.

Easy does it

We want programs to be easy, affordable and not time-consuming. Which brings me to an article I saw the other day about managers not having time for employee engagement. The writer suggested it was becoming burdensome. Employee engagement might distract leaders from real bottom-line problems. Really?

What if you engage employees in addressing your real-world problems? Employee engagement is burdensome? What is the nature of your interaction with your employees? What is that interaction if not engagement?

Get on the same page

Let’s all get on the same page about the meaning of employee engagement.

Kevin Kruse, author of the bestselling book Employee Engagement 2.0, defines employee engagement as the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals.

William Kahn, who originated the concept of personal engagement at work in a 1990 paper, defines employee engagement as “the [employee’s] decision to commit to a role, an identity and a relationship that offers fulfillment.”

Employee engagement is not just a metric. Employee engagement does not just represent a percentage of engaged workers.

Who do you think is inspiring that commitment? Who is valuing employees’ identity at work, so that they know their contributions are valued? Who does an employee have a relationship with that offers fulfillment? Co-workers? Yes. Who do you think has the most influence in creating fulfilling interaction? Um. You.

As a leader, you have role in creating an engaging environment, and a role in engaging employees. And it doesn’t have to be time-consuming.

Switch the words around

Instead of thinking about employee engagement, you should be thinking about ways to engage employees, or how you can engage with employees.

What does engaging employees look like? How do you engage with your employees in a way that solidifies their emotional commitment to your organization’s goals, their roles, and their relationships with their work and those they work with? Here are some ideas.

  1. Meaningful one-on-one meetings. Such meetings can happen every week, every month or every quarter. They can last 15 minutes or an hour. It can be a different cadence for every employee. Your interest in your employees should go beyond status reports. Get to know what makes them tick at work. Ask what they like best about the job. What project or assignment was the favorite they’ve ever had? What are they looking for from a good supervisor? And follow up each of those queries by asking “Why?”
  2. Effective team meetings. Prepare an agenda. Be brief. Maintain focus. Plan to facilitate everyone’s participation. How do you get them to interact with each other to problem-solve, for instance? My best meetings were when they forgot I was there.
  3. Resources to do their jobs. Do your employees have what the need to get their jobs done reasonably well? Not having the right resources can lead to active disengagement, and one of the biggest complaints I hear from employees is that they are given assignments but don’t have the tools they need to do the job well or finish on time. Ask about this and listen. Work with your employees to be resourceful in getting what they need.

The right definition

Reconsider your definition of employee engagement. It’s not just a metric, a program or something HR does. How are you going to create an environment where your employees are engaged?

In the words of the father of employee engagement, William Kahn, treat your employees as partners. Talk and listen. Make it easy for them to make improvements.

It’s not just engagement for engagement’s sake. Employee engagement contributes to the success of everyone involved and the entire organization.