The pandemic has had a profound influence on the global economy. Throughout the world, people reconsidered their relationship to work and made significant changes. Some decided to work from home permanently, others focused on maintaining work-life balance, and millions more joined the “Great Resignation” — a record-breaking number of people quitting their jobs after citing concerns like burnout, wage stagnation, and dissatisfaction. Even as workplaces return to pre-COVID protocols, many feel emotionally exhausted and isolated at their jobs.
For a business to retain and support talented individuals, leaders need to focus on improving employee engagement across the board. Without a dedicated workforce, businesses suffer lower profits, higher turnover, greater absenteeism, and other setbacks.
Why Employee Engagement Matters
Employee engagement is the emotional commitment employees have to their organization and its goals. Engagement goes beyond happiness or satisfaction. Being engaged makes people feel enthusiastic about their work and aligned with a company’s mission. The results include greater productivity, increased retention rates, and happier work cultures. For instance, a highly engaged employee is 87 percent less likely to leave a company than a disengaged employee, according to a study by the Corporate Leadership Council.
While these benefits are widely known, Gallup reports only 36 percent of U.S. employees were engaged in their work in the first half of 2021. At the same time, 15 percent were actively disengaged, meaning they felt miserable and at odds with their employer’s values.
The pandemic plays a role in these rates, but similar numbers have been reported for the last two decades. As remote work becomes the norm, leaders can leverage technology, experience, and research to remain connected to their workers and demonstrate the relationship between their work and larger business outcomes.
Successful companies have zeroed in on the following practices to boost engagement: active listening, transparent communication, employee recognition, career growth, and a commitment to firm work-life boundaries.
Active Listening: Tailoring Engagement Strategies to Employee Needs
Below are several proven methods for fostering a happier work environment and leading a more productive team. But prior to implementing changes in the hopes of improving employee engagement, it is important to understand your employees’ specific needs. For example, scheduling casual one-on-one virtual check-ins may make one person feel appreciated and another feel distracted from their work.
To prevent this, a leader should consider sending out a survey or hosting a town hall to listen to employees’ needs, concerns, and suggestions. A monthly employee engagement survey is one way to encourage constructive responses and tell employees their input is invaluable. Receiving feedback early on can make all the difference when it comes to employee engagement.
Transparent Communication: Be Honest, Proactive, and Understanding
Eighty-five percent of respondents to a study on employers’ responses to the onset of the COVID crisis said they felt leadership effectively communicated their company’s ongoing response to the situation. In times of similar uncertainty, it is crucial to relay information effectively and avoid surprising employees with sudden policy decisions.
An added benefit of keeping workers in the loop is an increase in trust in leadership. Employees who receive regular communications from their workplace, whether through emails or meetings, are more resilient in the face of change. Furthermore, when channels of communication are open, employees are more likely to share their concerns without fear of a negative response.
Employee Recognition: Celebrate Initiative, Teamwork, and Jobs Well Done
Everyone likes their hard work to be acknowledged. When expectations are met or surpassed, or career milestones are reached, leaders should respond with enthusiasm. Besides being a nice thing to do, one study shows personalized recognition makes 37 percent of employees more likely to produce better work.
Recognition can manifest itself in various forms: acknowledgments in a weekly summary report, tickets to a Broadway play, or a yearly awards ceremony. Such recognition can also strengthen the connection between an employee’s daily tasks and a company’s overarching mission.
One caveat to fostering a celebratory workplace is knowing the right way to display appreciation. Some employees prefer private kudos, whereas others wish to be acknowledged in front of their peers. A good rule of thumb is to double-check on an employee’s preferences before wheeling out a sheet cake with their face on it.
Career Growth: Clear Opportunities for Promotions, Pay Raises, and Bonuses
Many people who leave their jobs mention a lack of personal advancement as a key factor in their decision. The “Great Resignation” is fueled by such uncertainty: a significant number of employees are unsure of their chances to succeed in their workplaces.
To counteract this, companies would be wise to set specific standards for promotions and pay raises. The more transparent the process, the easier it is for an employee to imagine their future.
Turnover can be costly, especially in entry-level positions. Setting clear expectations for new employees can get them started on the right foot and more willing to remain for the long haul. Some ways to do this include creating a career roadmap, offering unique learning opportunities, and pairing them with mentors higher up in the company. A passionate and engaged employee can quickly become disengaged if they believe there is no room for growth.
Work-Life Boundaries: Avoiding Burnout, Inbox Anxiety, and Unhealthy Habits
Platforms like Slack and Zoom have made it easier than ever to communicate and conduct business, but their ubiquity on personal devices has blurred the lines between work and other aspects of life. Highly engaged employees are more susceptible to burnout than others because they are so engaged in their work. Offering employees robust paid time off, summer Fridays, or diversifying their workload can mitigate the effects of burnout.
Another source of concern for employees is the state of their email inbox. Unread messages, all marked Urgent! or Just Following Up, can be overwhelming. Workplaces may benefit from setting a policy to limit after-hours emails that disrupt a person’s downtime. France even passed a “Right to Disconnect” law in 2017 to prohibit such emails at most companies. Businesses in various industries already go a step further and reimburse employees for club memberships, therapy sessions, and other activities aimed at improving wellness.
As we move into the new year, people are likely to reassess their workload and long-term career goals. For employers, reflecting on employee engagement strategies can attract and keep a motivated workforce for a long time to come.