One of the greatest fundamental truths in the corporate world is that a company is only as good as its employees. The most successful companies in the world today across industries are those that understand this mantra and have thus made employee engagement one of their top priorities.
Global trends show that engaged employees are likelier to perform better and have greater long-term organisational commitment. They’re also particularly driven and more willing to go above and beyond the call of duty at work.
Unfortunately, employee engagement levels in Singapore are amongst the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region. According to Aon Hewitt’s 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement Report, only 59% of Singapore’s employees are engaged, compared to 71-76% in Indonesia, India, and Philippines.
Clearly, as far as Singapore is concerned, employee engagement remains an untapped source for improving performance and greater organisational successes. Here’s how the world’s best companies do it.
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As indicated by Quantum’s 2018 Report on Employee Engagement trends, one of the key drivers of employee engagement is a strong, positive relationship between employees and managers.
For employees to be hyped up enough to want to dig deep at work, they have to feel as though their managers care about them not just as employees, but as people.
To this end, servant leaders are often wildly successful in eliciting sky-high employee engagement and performance levels. This is no coincidence, since the servant leadership philosophy puts the need for genuinely empathetic work relationships front and centre.
The servant leader ethos is all about serving people by leading through empathy. Simply put, a servant leader always puts her people first so that no one is left behind.
VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, for one, constantly evangelises the idea that motivating your employees to overdeliver is all about giving them more than you get. He maintains that leaders first need to provide 51% of the value in their personal relationships with people before they can expect people to be willing to reciprocate.
The effects of this are clear: research has shown that servant leadership is positively linked to improved organisational citizenship and proactive behaviour, as well as greater motivation.
Additionally, when people know that they (as employees) are your biggest priority in running the show, it grants them psychological safety. This, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson, refers to “a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect.”
It’s the secret ingredient behind successful leadership which everyone from Simon Sinek to Google’s People Operations department has preached about. If you can provide your people with psychological safety through servant leadership, it makes a massive difference to employee engagement.
Micromanagement greatly reduces employee engagement: no one wants to come to work feeling like they’re being surveilled 24/7. Managers who micromanage their people send the message that they neither trust their employees nor believe in developing their potential, which understandably puts a huge dampener on morale.
Delegating authority and giving employees room to manoeuvre is a much more effective way to increase engagement.
Granting employees freedom is so crucial in boosting engagement that some of the biggest companies on the planet have gone so far as to incorporate it into the company culture.
Take Netflix, for example. The company website states that they “believe that people thrive on being trusted, on freedom, and on being able to make a difference. So [they] foster freedom and empowerment wherever we can.”
They do not mandate a specific amount of vacation time or parental leave per employee. The company policy on travel, entertainment, and gifts expenses is simply to “act in Netflix’s best interest.” Simply put, they believe that granting employees the freedom to exercise sound judgment in all situations is the key to engagement and growth.
The result? Netflix’s turnover rate is 2% lower than the annual average for tech companies, and its annual revenue has been growing steadily by a up to 35% every year for the past three years.
Giving employees the freedom to seek their own sources of inspiration while at work is also crucial in improving engagement. Increasingly, companies are discovering that allowing employees the freedom to pursue passion projects at work is a great way of increasing motivation and bolstering innovation.
Google, for instance, has its famous 20% policy: each employee can 20% of their work time on a personal project. Some of its most successful and widely used products have germinated from it, including Gmail and Google Maps.
Similarly, 3M’s 15% time birthed its most ubiquitous product thus far: the Post-It. Facebook holds all-night hackathons every six weeks; these have spawned the creation of everything from the like button to the Facebook news feed.
As Prasad Setty, VP of People Operations at Google said it: “If you give people freedom, they will amaze you.”
The caveat to granting people so much freedom: hiring the right people who will do the right things with that freedom.
It’s a no-brainer that the world’s best companies only hire highly self-motivated people; Netflix’s famed company culture deck states tenacity as one of the traits it looks for in potential hires.
What’s equally important, though, is that these companies also only hire empathetic people.
From Barclays Capital to Mars, companies are increasingly specifying empathy in their job postings, according to a 2014 Fortune article. Empathetic people create safer environments for risk-taking and open communication in workplace collaboration. This, in turn, engenders greater engagement and performance.
Time and again, Netflix has reiterated its anti-“brilliant jerks” policy, noting that the cost to effective teamwork is too high.
Its slide deck echoes the same sentiment; employees are required to seek the best solutions for Netflix, not for themselves or their teams. Additionally, they’re required to set aside time to help their co-workers out and treat everyone respectfully.
Interestingly, while demand for empathetic employees is rising, the ability to empathise is becoming increasingly rare among the general population. Where once the corporate world may have relied so much on hard skills and technical know-how, the future is looking more and more like it belongs to the empathetic ones among us.