Why are employee engagement best practices always chopping and changing?
Well, for starters, employee engagement is an international crisis.
Engaged workers keep the world turning, but recently it's been left to few poor sods to push start it every time it comes to a creaky remission. And it's only getting slower.
Because employee engagement levels are improving at a more than sluggish rate.
In the US alone, employee engagement has increased by just three percentage points between 2012 and 2016 and, in the three years since, by only 1%.
34% of American employees are engaged, meaning nearly 70% are either not engaged or actively disengaged.
Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.
Both of these statistics are informative, but whilst the first one is incredibly concerning, the second one is far more promising. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel and, if you are a manager, it’s a great big finger pointing right at you.
The power lies in your hands. You create the conditions in which an employee engages or does not, and it is up to you to maintain those environmental conditions.
Engaged workers are diligent. They work hard and strive for quality for their own gratification, not yours. However, these traits do not come about naturally, they are brought out of employees by managers who encourage them to channel their strengths.
Whilst they do not need or necessarily want a boss, they will exploit the opportunity to ask for managers advice to skill up and improve their personal development. According to Gallup:
“These empowering relationships nurture the behaviours of engagement”
So… let’s help them, so they can help us.
Employees having the opportunity to excel in their individual areas of strength has been proven to boost employee attraction, engagement and retention.
Coaches individualize, and bosses generalize.
Every employee will have an area that they excel in and allowing them to explore that will have extraordinary outcomes for engagement.
Wanting to push people out of their comfort zones only goes so far, and can actually be counter-productive, causing employees to feel incompetent. Remember, engaged employees are diligent and diligence is about pride. It’s much easier to be proud of something you did that utilised your best assets as opposed to something that forced you to use skills you’ve always been weak in.
Even if you’re giving the same employees the same task, allow them to approach it or deliver it in a way that suits them individually e.g. utilising their design skills.
The best managers don’t just see engagement as a quota or box they need to tick by merely sharing an annual survey but consider it to be one of their primary responsibilities. The way to fulfil this responsibility without it taking up all of your time is by fully integrating it into the casual conversations you have with employees, as well as their set goals.
This method involves intelligently constructing your questions and statements in a way which aids employees to articulate their own specific engagement needs, it is called the Socratic Method.
By stimulating reflection and critical thinking, a coach will ask the type of questions which help workers to consider the challenge, what the solutions may be, their performance and what approach they want to take going forward.
Traditionally, employee engagement best practices are based on the principle that employees know how engaged they are. This is idealistic.
Employee engagement best practices should incorporate the following elements, whether it be directly or obliquely, to connect workers to their own engagement.
Need an example?
Instead of simply reminding an employee of an overdue task, a Socratic manager would ask the following:
"This blog has been on your to-do list for a while now. Are you having trouble getting the information you need to complete it? Are you confused by the brief or what is expected of you? Do you feel that it is lower-priority so you can afford to ignore it? Do you need any help, perhaps your John from marketing can help?"
Whilst these are all process-oriented questions, they encourage the receiver to reflect on their own engagement and evaluate what is holding them back: lack of materials, focus, purpose or value.
Don't just encourage excellence, take every opportunity to demonstrate what excellence looks to you. Publicly praise those who exemplify it and lead by example, always emphasising how it benefits the entire company.
New software, equipment and accessibility tools are released every day, there's no way you can know of all of them. And remember if it’s going to help them, it will probably help you in the long run.
Different employees like being recognised and reinforced in different ways, with enough conversation, who is who will become clearer.
This doesn’t mean telling them their job saves the planet if it doesn't, but rather demonstrating the wider implications of the companies output - what problem does it solve? Who does it help?
Never underestimate the power of social pressure or conditioning. If others in the team are working hard, this will undoubtedly improve the work ethic of those around them.
This one may come as a surprise, but research really does indicate that it predicts performance. This does not mean you should manufacture or force friendships, as this would certainly damage engagement, but you can create situations for people to get to know each other and engage in out-of-work activities.
Your company can’t have all the answers so encouraging your employees to outsource information and training will only develop your team’s skill base (or areas of strength) and in turn make them more engaged.
Regular check-ins, formal or informal, mean employees “believe they get paid fairly, more likely to stay with the company and more than twice as likely to recommend the company to others as a great place to work”.
Relationships are hard, so is work. But luckily, when it comes to employee engagement best practices there are some more black and white approaches that you can apply to boost engagement.
Nevertheless, as disappointing as this is, engagement isn’t something you can teach or demand from employees. You will have to work on making meaningful and insightful interactions with your team and, with time, the results will show.
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