Insights & Articles
Posted on 6 February 2020

How to improve employee engagement

4 minute read

How can HR leaders improve employee engagement and unleash their people potential?

Employee engagement can be a deceptive concept. When you pause and look up from your managerial duties, your workforce seems a bustling hub of activity. But don’t be fooled. Activity does not necessarily mean engagement. It isn’t even a strong indicator of productivity.

While few workplaces are rife with absent-minded employees scrolling through Facebook when they should be working, a busy workforce isn’t always an engaged workforce. And the bustle of activity you see on the surface may well cover the fact that a staggering 85% of employees today are either not engaged or feel actively disengaged in their work. Engagement is linked to productivity, improved employee morale, and the creation of a unified and harmonious workforce. It’s also the key to employee retention, saving companies a fortune in recruiting, onboarding and training for the replacements of disengaged employees.

Let’s look at some ways to improve your employee engagement…

Target the causes of disengagement

Before you can take steps to tackle employee disengagement, it would benefit you to first tackle the causes of employee engagement. Given that only 15% of the workforce feels actively engaged, it stands to reason that the causes of disengagement are many and varied. However, here are 5 of the most common. Identify the ones that you feel may apply to your workplace and you’ll be well placed to implement an effective strategy to restore engagement in your workforce.

Lack of opportunity
It’s difficult to feel engaged at work when you’re stuck in a rut and feel as though your skills are stagnating. A lack of opportunity for career development, training and even lateral progression can cause disengaged employees to jump ship for an employer who will give them the opportunities they so desperately crave.

Excessive workload/unrealistic expectations
Employees like to be challenged. But even the most ambitious and enthusiastic team member will baulk at challenges that are completely disproportionate to their training, ability or allocated time. In the face of an excessive workload or unrealistic expectations, their knee-jerk reaction may simply be to give up.

Feeling out of their depth
Most managers are familiar with the ladder of conscious competence. When employees reach a stage of unconscious competence, they’re able to do their job with authority and confidence. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be challenged and pushed to new heights of competence and self-confidence. Push them too hard and too fast, however, and they’ll feel consciously incompetent… and that’s a feeling that nobody enjoys.

Feeling understimulated
At the same time, however, employers can go too far in the opposite direction, taking their eye off the ball and neglecting employees’ development to the point where they feel chronically bored and understimulated. And that’s a great way to send a gifted employee straight to your competitors.

Lack of recognition
Employers often assume (incorrectly according to the statistics) that employees would prefer monetary bonuses to a culture of recognition that celebrates their achievements. However, many employees, particularly younger employees, value workplace culture over monetary compensation. A lack of employee recognition is not something that businesses can simply throw money at (more on that later).

Add an ethical focus to your operations

Employees are increasingly motivated not by the thought of their payslip arriving at the end of the month but by knowing that they’re making a difference. The current crop of bright young graduates that could take your business to the next level have a strong ethical focus and expect the same of their employers.

Whether you hold regular fundraising events for a local charity, find ways to make your business more sustainable and/or ethical, or champion important causes in your community, there are a plethora of ways in which you can lend your business a strong ethical focus. This can increase your appeal to employees and consumers alike and help employees to feel engaged and invested in your brand.

Give them the flexibility to live their lives outside of work

Gone are the days when businesses expected their employees to live for work. Employees have come to expect their employers to give them the flexibility to live their lives and honour their commitments outside of work.

A little flexibility can go a long way. Even amending an employee’s start or leave time by as little as half an hour can make it that much easier for them to drop the kids off at school and get to work without having to breach any speed limits. Likewise, if an employee needs to pick kids up from school, care for an elderly relative or simply hit the gym before starting their working day, giving them the flexibility they need can help you get the best out of them.

Of course, being flexible with start and end times is just one way in which you can grant your team members more flexibility. Allowing employees to work remotely from home can also help them to improve their work/life balance by removing the slog of their daily commute (even if it’s just for one or two days a week). Remote working doesn’t just help motivate and engage employees, it also helps you to drive down your operational overheads.

Give them individual goals and Continuing Professional Development

Goal setting is hugely important for employee engagement and sustained motivation. But for goals to work, they need to be realistic, aspirational and meaningful for the employee. They shouldn’t just help them to do their job better — they should be part of an ongoing system of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This should help them to achieve their personal career goals both inside and outside of their current position.

Employees want to feel empowered and confident in their existing role but they also want to know that their employer sees more in them than the specific function they fulfil for the organisation.

As this 2016 Gallup poll demonstrates, 87% of millennials (and 69% of non-millennials) view development as important in their jobs. When employees feel as though you value them as an individual and care about their personal goals, they’re not only far more likely to be engaged in their work, they’re more likely to stay with you for the long haul.

Incorporate an employee recognition programme into your operations

Finally, perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to improve employee engagement is to incorporate an employee recognition programme into your existing operations. There are many ways to do this, but in the digital era, many employers choose to adopt an employee recognition platform.

These are digital apps that work in much the same way as the social media platforms that most employees are familiar with. They allow managers and employees at all levels to share and celebrate employee achievements. Whether it’s a big achievement like hitting a quarterly target or a little personal achievement like a personal best training score. They are a great way to show employees that you recognise and care about their accomplishments no matter how insignificant.

And because they allow for both manager and peer-to-peer recognition, it helps each employee get the kind of feedback that matters most to them personally.

Employee recognition programmes help you to create the kind of desirable workplace culture that not only improves employee engagement in the workplace but also makes you more desirable to the right kinds of candidates. 58% of professionals believe that employee recognition could help to improve their engagement at work. And if you can offer them an established recognition programme, top tier candidates will choose you over your competitors.

Improving employee engagement can not only make your business more productive and profitable, it can make it a much more pleasant place to spend your days.