If you ask different married couples about the most significant steps in creating a long-lasting relationship, you’ll often hear one word: engagement. And that’s what we want to talk about today—namely employee engagement. So before you get down on one knee in front of your employees, let’s explore what engaging your employees means, why it matters and how you can do it.
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So you found great talent and they had an inspiring first few months, but what do you do if the first rush of emotions subsides? As with every relationship, keeping it fresh and interesting is not as easy as it may sound. That’s why, according to Gallup, only 21% of the global workforce is engaged at work. Make no mistake: disengaged employees bring with them a lot of challenges for your organization. And disengagement can happen for so many different reasons and can take many forms. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about quiet quitting recently (and we have talked about it as well) but it’s basically another form it can take. The results are the same though, no matter how it manifests itself: Your employees are absent more often, have lower productivity and are more prone to leave at the first sign of a more promising relationship.
So, tough luck, right? Not really. Disengagement doesn’t need to be the natural next step in every employee relationship. But changing minds—and hearts—doesn’t come easy. You need to change behaviors, structures and mindsets. We’ve collected 5 tips to help you on your first steps towards a workplace that fosters employee engagement and rekindles the honeymoon phase with your employees.
1. Build a strong foundation by sharing a common goal
In good relationships, you have shared interests. In great relationships, you work together towards a common goal. So let your employees know why they should be more engaged and give them something to believe in.
Make sure they know your mission statement and understand both your company's purpose and how their role contributes to it. If they can identify with your goals, they will be much more willing to do their part—or even go above and beyond. Additionally, if everyone knows why and what they are supposed to achieve they can work more easily and more naturally together, even across departments. More knowledge and transparency lead to more realistic expectations. The outcome: less disillusionment, fewer misunderstandings and more engagement. Imagine you have to come up with new software features: Knowing your company's purpose, what customers tell Customer Success and how Sales pitches your product can help you find the solution that pushes the whole company even further ahead of the curve.
2. Give your employees the space they need
Great, you’ve got the basics covered. You made sure you've given your employees convincing reasons to become more engaged. But what’s next? Like a couple that falls in love, they need the right environment to flourish. And it is in their daily behaviors and responsibilities that they’ll need to figure out if the relationship works—for both sides.
So why not give them a bit more room to express themselves and find out if your relationship works for both of you? Take a step back and let them (to some degree) make their own decisions. They are experts after all. Or make it easier for them to work when they are at their best, by offering a flexible work environment. Because if they have autonomy, they will be able to better do what they were hired for. If they can take ownership, they will be more inclined to ensure things go well. If they can work flexibly, they can adjust to their tasks and do them more reliably. Basically, if you give them the chance, they will rise to the occasion. And in doing so, they will be more engaged.
3. Employee engagement is all about communication
It should be old news by now, but there is no relationship without communication. But not just any communication. You need to be honest, clear and on the same page if you want to make it last. That fact doesn’t change just because you’re at work.
So how does this translate? For one, there should be regular feedback. This helps you align on expectations, growth potential and responsibilities. And if you spread the love around it gets even better. Implement 360° feedback, so managers and colleagues can benefit from more perspectives, see where their potential lies and how collaboration could be improved. Team leads should also leverage the power of transparent communication to involve employees in the decision-making, collect insights and generally show that they value their team members' opinions. Because the bottom line is: The sweetest love song can sound bad if the band hasn’t practiced it.
4. Grow together and complement each other
Do you know what’s great about a relationship? Having someone that supports you, wants the best for you and pushes you to get better. Sometimes all you need is someone who believes in you.
That’s also true for your employees. Focus on their individual strengths and give them room to grow. Offer learning experiences, involve them in projects that meet their interests, or give them special responsibilities outside of their daily tasks. This will build their skills, enable them to learn new ways of working and help them achieve their ambitions. The more fulfilled they feel at work, the more engaged they'll become. Be it professional or personal growth—having the feeling that they are heard and supported makes it more likely that your employees will work harder, smarter and stay with you longer. In return, they will be more vocal about how much they love to work with you, find ways to improve your work relationships and generally use their strengths to push you forward—and like a significant other they might even overlook or accept a few flaws you might have.
5. Keep your employee engagement healthy
No matter how well a relationship goes, everyone needs time for themselves every now and then; to recalibrate, do something new or just relax and come back with new energy.
This balance doesn’t end in our personal lives. Of course, we want employees to be as engaged and productive as possible. But they can only give it their all for so long, so give them room for active disengagement. You could also call it breathing room. After all, we are all human and everyone goes through different challenges. Add to that our private plans, hobbies, or responsibilities and it’s clear that there are a lot of things competing for our attention and energy. Take those things into account and create a balance for your employees. Doing so can stave off burn-out, keeps employees engaged on a higher level over a longer time and overall creates a healthy work environment. Basically, look at it like this: If you spend all day talking with your partner, you need to experience something else or you quickly run out of topics.
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Creating an environment and behaviors that lead to employees feeling like they can achieve something is a lot of work for sure. But it’s also the best way to increase employee engagement. And if you take the necessary steps early and treat it like a structural change instead of a one-off initiative, you can create a culture of growth, engagement and productivity. It will be more consistent, more rewarding and also more insightful. It’s a bit like being an old couple: You are extremely familiar, build on each other's strengths and weaknesses and know it all—or think so at least. If your employees have the space and tools to grow and contribute to a shared purpose, they will give it their all. It will also speed up the time to recognize if a new employee is a cultural fit for your organization.
We believe the best way to deal with the challenges of employee engagement is to create an environment in which they don’t disengage in the first place. Deciding if all this is worth the initial investment is up to you, but as you can see: If you want a great relationship, both sides have to put in the work.