The term employee engagement has become ubiquitous in today’s organizations. Leaders may talk about engagement, but with so many different models, concepts, and definitions, it can be hard to understand what engagement actually looks like.
BlessingWhite’s model of employee engagement is simple and pragmatic. We define engagement as a mutually beneficial relationship between the organization and its employees, characterized by contribution and satisfaction. Organizations are looking for maximum contribution from all employees in order to achieve success. Employees are looking for personal success, which is defined differently for each individual. Some may want meaningful work; still others may be looking for recognition or work-life balance. Regardless of how each person defines it, all employees are looking to derive a maximum level of satisfaction from the work they do. Engagement happens when organizational and individual paths to success meet and employees are able to experience maximum satisfaction from their jobs while contributing at a maximum level to the team and organization’s goals. You can see this in an organization when more employees are having “great days at work.”
BlessingWhite research shows that employees in organizations with the highest reported levels of engagement outperform those with the lowest levels when it comes to two things: clarity on immediate work priorities and thinking of their work as more than a job.
While the concept may be easy to understand, how do we move engagement from a concept to a daily priority? For many organizations, the journey will start with measurement—implementing a survey to better understand the state of engagement. However, knowing what engagement is and how it looks for your employees is not enough to transform workplace culture. Many organizations measure engagement but fall short of reaping the benefits. Bersin & Associates research shows that while 71% of organizations conduct some type of employee engagement survey, fewer than half felt it was leading to positive business outcomes.
Surveys and measurement tools are simply not enough. What’s needed is a framework for holding the organization accountable and taking action on survey results. We look at this framework as a model of shared accountability. Shared accountability means that while engagement is the primary responsibility of the individual, managers and senior leaders play a vital role in creating and maintaining an engaging work environment.
Creating this environment might at first feel like another thing on a leader’s to-do list, but you are probably doing many of these things today. Doing them more consciously and with intention can only enhance the work environment and contribute to driving a culture of engagement. Build. Give. Create. Link. Commit. Recognize that clear-and-simple actions can make a meaningful difference. Here’s what it looks like.
- Build solid and personalized relationships with your team. Having a close professional relationship with your employees allows you to better understand what success looks like for them and what they need in order to do their best work. Have frequent 1:1 conversations in order to get to know each team member better and share information about yourself, especially your work style.
- Give regular feedback. Don’t wait until performance review time to give feedback! Nothing can drive performance quite like a timely conversation on how employees are progressing on specific projects. This can be the time to give well-deserved recognition or realign priorities and goals when employees seem to be getting off track. If you have negative feedback to give, make sure to provide employees with specific guidance on what they need to do to improve.
- Create a high-performing work environment. Make sure the team and the organization’s priorities are clear for all—you won’t be able to get much done if everyone is going in a million directions. Moreover, look for processes that may be getting in the way of doing the work, and advocate for resources that will help your team accomplish their work more effectively.
- Link the work to a larger purpose. Employees need to understand what their priorities are, but it can’t all be about output. A myopic focus on performance won’t inspire employees and unleash the discretionary effort you need to accomplish your goals. Describe in vivid detail your vision and understanding of the organization’s future, and share stories of the impact the organization has on customers and the larger community.
- Commit to action. The most powerful thing any leader can do to drive engagement is quite simply to commit and take action. Have a team meeting to discuss the team’s engagement, and agree upon actions that everyone can take to improve the working environment. And don’t forget that engagement happens at the individual level, so make sure you talk to employees 1:1 (even if you only have 5 minutes) to better understand what drives their satisfaction and contribution.
Remember, the survey isn’t an evaluation of leadership; it’s a great starting point to encourage the type of dialogue with your employees that will inspire connection and change. Surveys don’t change things—people do.