It’s no secret that teams and companies with highly engaged employees generally perform much better than those with unengaged workers.
They’re likelier to show up to work feeling excited and passionate about what they do and also tend to be much more self-motivated. Neither will they twice about taking the initiative or going the extra mile at work.
Comparatively, an unengaged employee drags their feet to work, does either the bare minimum or only what they’re expected to, and doesn’t care that much about the company’s successes and failures as long as they get paid.
Every organisation benefits from prioritising employee engagement and having a clear strategy for it. Without the right foundations for this, though, these strategies are likely to be ineffective, flounder, and may even backfire in the long run.
With that in mind, here are the three crucial building blocks of employee engagement.
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The most vital element of employee engagement doesn’t involve employees at all: it’s about leadership.
Managers are so often the intermediaries between employees and executives in a company. It’s hard to improve employee engagement at all when those who manage them aren’t sufficiently engaged as well.
Behaviours and mindsets can be very infectious; hiring and selecting the right managers drastically affects the effectiveness of any employee engagement strategy.
People tend to react very differently to leaders who have lukewarm sentiments about their jobs and the company, compared to leaders who genuinely love what they do.
For passion to be truly infectious, though, it cannot exist by itself as a managerial trait; it has to be paired with empathy. Empathy is what allows passion to traverse the empty physical space between two people.
Consider this: a manager can be highly passionate about their job, but if she’s not empathetic, she wouldn’t know how to make her people just as excited about their theirs as she is. It can even alienate people from her if she comes across as holier-than-thou or overbearing.
People need to feel like their managers and leaders care about them as people and not just their performance at work. Building strong personal relationships with each employee is crucial in this regard. They need to see that their superiors can lead by example, and that their superiors are going to fight for them when push comes to shove.
This is what will create psychological safety at work, which is the secret ingredient for high engagement and performance.
For this reason, you need to have leaders who are both passionate and empathetic so that they can infect others positively.
If you want people to feel connected and emotionally invested in the company, you need to show them that their work matters in the larger scheme of things.
When people know that their work is meaningfully contributing to the company’s success and to the broader society, they naturally feel more connected to it.
On a fundamental level, this means aligning your employees’ sense of purpose with that of the company’s. It works in two ways; they need to know:
Both types of purpose are necessary for high employee engagement levels. It’s important to note that contrary to popular opinion, having a sense of meaningfulness at work doesn’t depend on the position or type of work; it’s primarily about perspective.
For example, on President John F Kennedy’s first visit to NASA headquarters in the 1960s, he introduced himself to a janitor and asked what his job was. The janitor’s hearty reply was: “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”
Managers have to be able to help their employees see that their work is meaningful regardless of what the nature of that work is.
That also involves ensuring that there are two-way feedback channels in the company and giving regular feedback through these channels. This is vital in helping people feel valued, respected, and listened to.
It’s especially essential to pay close attention to employee feedback; if people feel like channels for bottom-up feedback are just for show and not for actual change, it could backfire.
People have different reasons for being passionate about what they do. Finding out what each of your employees prioritises in their careers and their lives helps to understand what feeds the flames of their passion.
Capitalise on your relationships with your employees to get closer to them and to be able to coach them effectively.
When you know how to feed each of your employees’ passions, they’ll be more emotionally invested not just in their trust of you as a leader, but also (and more importantly) in their work as well as in the company’s success.
For example, some people are most motivated by learning. If they feel and know that their work is enabling them to learn and improve their skills by leaps and bounds, they’ll be more invested in it.
On the other hand, others are most motivated by career advancement. If they feel and know that there are lots of accessible opportunities to climb up the corporate ladder in the company, that becomes their most potent source of motivation to perform.
Understanding that there’s no single one-size-fits-all recipe for feeding individual employee motivation is key. Subsequently, tapping into each of these motivations plays a huge role in determining how much they care about their work.