A recent poll from Gallup revealed only 30 percent of employees are engaged at work. Disengaged workers represent a cost to U.S. business between $450 billion and $550 billion every year, according to CEO.com. This represents a crisis state in human resources management. While efforts to increase employee engagement are common, too many fail. Employee engagement ideas run the gamut from perks and parties to trendy initiatives like standing desks. However, without a solid basis in analysis and research, these efforts may not work.
Understand What Employee Engagement Really Is
While having a happy workforce is an admirable goal, it’s not directly linked to engagement. An employee who is engaged is one who feels committed to his organization and its goals. According to a paper published in the Academy of Management Review, employee motivation stems largely from internal factors rather than external ones. Workers whose highest-order goals align with their positions are most likely to be engaged. These goals are of the broadest type and include status, autonomy, achievement, and interacting with others. Savvy recruiters will try to match candidates to jobs using these goals, and managers can help workers become more engaged by highlighting how their work fulfills them.
As this study shows, employee engagement is a phenomenon in the domain of organizational psychology as much as human resource solutions. Insights about what employee engagement is and how to foster it may be found in psychology publications as well as industry-specific channels for human resources professionals. For example, according to the Harvard Business Review, giving employees a measure of autonomy and self-direction can help them feel more engaged, as can an active social support system at work. Adding an academic understanding of how to engage employees may make the difference between a successful effort and one that simply takes resources and time while only producing underwhelming results.
Realize That Employee Engagement Can Be Measured
It is common in the business world to assert employee engagement is neither objective nor measurable, according to CEO.com. Many studies have contradicted this, including the Gallup poll that was able to gather hard data on how many American workers are engaged. Neglecting to measure engagement because of the notion that it can’t be done will hinder efforts to improve it. There are criteria for engagement that are easily measurable—increased engagement can lead to higher morale and productivity, for example. It’s also possible to get a read on engagement itself, whether through anonymous surveying or another method.
Companies should measure employee engagement periodically. Gathering data before, during, and after a particular effort to increase engagement can provide insight on what works and what realistic goals are for the future. It is also important to make all information available to many more people than just executives. Individual managers can help with on-the-ground strategies to increase engagement, but unless they have data to guide them, they may not be able to be as effective as possible.
Make Plans as an Organization
C-suite inhabitants, no matter how good their intentions, may not really know what their employees need to feel engaged at work. For this reason, plans for employee engagement programs should always originate from several points in a company’s hierarchy. Managers who work directly with employees of all kinds should be consulted regarding what they believe their teams need and value. While there is research that supports many types of engagement initiatives, it’s also important to match a program with a company’s employees in order to get the best results. What works for one organization may fall flat at another. Feedback from middle managers and other staff can refine plans and ensure that all employees feel connected with the efforts in progress at a company.
Similarly, initiatives ought to originate from many levels and departments. A top-down program may be seen as an out-of-touch imposition, while one that has a grassroots feel may be more compelling. If it is possible to leverage employees who are among the engaged minority to encourage their colleagues, human resources professionals should consider doing so. Strategic human resource management requires a certain amount of creative thinking and collaboration, both of which would not be out of place in these efforts.
Continue to Measure and Improve Employee Engagement
Fostering an engaged culture in the workplace isn’t a one-time effort. Companies whose engagement statistics improve after a particular effort aren’t done with the task. Rather, it’s important to measure engagement periodically and address the topic before it becomes an issue. Integrating engagement initiatives that have seen success into the day-to-day running of a company is a great idea, as is including ways to keep workers engaged in management training. With research and planning, any company can help its employees become truly engaged, which will benefit everyone.