Get engaged by making connections with employees

Becky Ripper
Becky Ripper

What’s employee engagement? It’s the process of getting employees to feel connected to and enthusiastic about their jobs and the companies for which they work. Connection is key. Why should companies be concerned with this? Because this connection is vital to productivity.

Employees engaged in their work tend to make better employees. They’re more likely to be motivated, remain committed to their employers and stay focused on achieving business goals and driving the organization’s future. Disengaged employees, on the other hand, can drag down others and affect everything from customer service to sales, quality, productivity, retention and other critical business areas.

In engaging employees, remember the way business owners and managers behave demonstrates the truth about their companies as much as, if not more than, than what you say.

Engage people from the beginning of employment or you could have a more difficult time down the line. During the initial interview, emphasize how the company conducts its business and why that matters. If you have a formal recruiting process with layers of interviews, don’t say your culture is casual and flexible — it probably isn’t. If your company is casual and flexible, make sure your hiring and interviewing process reflects that. Allow opportunities for candidates to talk with employees as well as managers. Introduce them around so they can see what type of workplace you operate. Help potential employees know what they’re getting into so they have a chance to decline if the culture doesn’t appeal to them.

If employees truly are a company’s best asset, their care and support should remain a priority.

When you hire a new employee, make them feel comfortable. Arrange to go to lunch or find time in your day to talk to them on a personal level. You can do this and still maintain your standard operating procedures and policies.

The most effective managers are viewed as caring and supportive. They bring workers together, provide clear direction, put good measures in place and accept responsibility for maximizing each employee’s full potential. The best managers are those who understand the more they do for their people, the more successful they’ll become.  

Research shows that 40 percent workers are disengaged globally. In the United States, 70 percent of workers dislike their jobs, creating an environment where many workers are emotionally disconnected from their workplace and less productive than engaged co-workers. People leave organizations when they feel disengaged. Worse still, they stay even though they’re disengaged and damage co-workers and companies in the process.

What engages employees? This differs from region to region, industry to industry and person to person. Nonetheless, employee engagement is largely about social connections in organizations and aligning work experiences with employee needs. Some workers place a high priority on financial rewards in relation to how satisfied they are at work. For others, though, it’s about simple connections and involvement — meeting the more basic human needs of feeling connected and being an important part in something bigger.

Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup, put it this way: “Most people come to work well-intentioned and only turn sour when their basic needs aren’t being met. You have to get the basics right if you want great engagement.”

How can businesses foster employee engagement? For starters, conduct employee engagement surveys and get to know employees on a personal level. Encourage employee feedback and then listen to it. Maintain open and honest communications. Remain flexible when possible and express appreciation through monetary bonuses and other types of recognition and awards. Offer employees support through counseling services, mentoring and wellness programs.

According to Harter, managers must consistently do four essential things to improve employee engagement:

  • Put people in the right jobs. Managers must put people into roles that fully leverage their talents and strengths. Too often employees are assigned work to which they’re neither well-suited nor emotionally connected.
  • Set clear expectations. Disengagement starts with having a confusing job. Gallup found that only half of people surveyed know what’s expected of them, and this causes enormous frustration. Organizations also fail in communicating effectively when changes occur or the local manager is unsuccessful in translating to the front line people what the organization is trying to accomplish. 
  • Give people what they need to do their jobs. When employees don’t have the equipment, support or knowledge to do their jobs effectively, they quickly conclude their organization isn’t paying attention to them. Once people begin to feel their work isn’t important or they’re not personally valued, they head down the slippery slope of disengagement.
  • Generously provide praise and recognition. One of a human being’s greatest needs is to feel appreciated and valued. Many people in leadership roles underestimate how essential this is to employees or how recognition lifts employee spirits. One key reason why so many workers are disengaged is they feel their contributions and efforts are overlooked or taken for granted.

Harter advises business owners and managers to over-appreciate people and devote greater attention to praising good outcomes. “People need recognition frequently. We know there’s a physiological response when we get recognition.”

I like this saying: When you do get everyone rowing, no one will have time to rock your boat.

Now, let’s get engaged.