Here’s what most leaders are getting wrong about employee engagement… and what to do instead.

Posted in Research Thoughts & Culture

With 60% of employees reporting that they feel emotionally detached at work, and 19% saying they’re downright miserable, it’s clear that we have an engagement problem in the workplace.

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And this problem will have significant impacts on companies, both financially and otherwise —

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that it costs, on average, 6-9 months of an employee’s salary to replace him or her, but, more than just hiring and onboarding costs, employee turnover causes greater challenges for businesses, such as keeping up with training demands, maintaining company culture, sustaining productivity levels, and generally keeping the rest of the current workforce engaged.

But, while it’s easy to point to a number of causes that have had massive impacts on the workplace environment and perspectives on work in the past few years, the fact of the matter is that we’re here, now, and our companies are relying on us to find a path forward.

Have our encounters become too transactional?

If you Google ‘methods to increase employee engagement,’ you’ll find a lot of great tips —

For example, SHRM lists the following:

    1. Supply the Right Tools.
    2. Give Individual Attention.
    3. Provide Training and Coaching.
    4. Listen to Employees.
    5. Get Social.
    6. Serve Others.
    7. Recognize Proudly and Loudly.

Forbes echoes some of the points above, and also adds tasking meaningful work (by making sure people are in the right roles and understand the impact of their tasks in the greater company mission) and even discussing engagement outright.

Again, these are all great strategies, but they’re all missing a couple of key points:

1) Engagement transcends employment

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Most of the strategies offered by the leading publishers and HR experts focus on the employee while he or she is currently punching the clock and reporting to work, but the truth is that engagement starts before your employee’s first day and continues after their last.

(Don’t believe us? Business Insider reports that poor onboarding experiences account for 43% of employee turnover during the first month!)

Yep. Your new hire is actively watching your entire onboarding process unfold (including all of the communications you send before they report on their first day), and they’re quietly making judgments about how long they see themselves working with you.

In fact, within the first 6 months of employment, 86% of new hires have already decided how long they’re going to stay at a company...and 10-25% of them leave.

At the other end of the spectrum, Glassdoor reports that 86% of employees research a company’s online reviews and ratings before they accept a position, so it’s imperative that your offboarding process leaves employees feeling heard and appreciated.

The employees who leave your company today influence the employees who will (or won’t) join your company tomorrow.

2) Engagement transcends strategies

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Hiring people for the right roles and helping them understand the meaning behind their tasks is helpful, but even if you employ these strategies to a T, you’ll likely still find yourself facing an engagement problem.

And that’s because there’s still something missing:

These strategies and tactics will be empty and disconnected if they’re not underpinned with a solid foundation of genuine human connection.

The results of our latest research show that a full 82% of employees say they’re more motivated to work on a project/program (and 84% of employees find it easier to do their best work) when they feel close to their team.

And it’s not just project work that’s influenced by interpersonal connection — 71% of employees agreed that, to learn something new or change their thinking (success criteria for an HR program), they need to discuss it with someone.

The past few years of work from home and online meetings have made human connection more difficult than ever, but we need to ensure that, whatever the programs or strategies we’re working to employ, we include opportunities for connection through a buddy system, learning buddies, teamwork, or any other means available.

Our people accomplish more and function at their best when they work together. Creating this connection must be a priority.

3) Getting an engagement mindset

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Employee engagement extends beyond the 9-5 your employee gives your company, so be engaged and proactive with all of your onboarding and offboarding efforts as your team grows and changes.

Send helpful hints and encourage your team members to send welcome notes to your new hires before their first day, and be quick to set up buddy systems to encourage meaningful relationships early on in the process.

Also, don’t reduce your offboarding process to a “We’d love your thoughts” email survey. Show your employee that you appreciated the time they devoted to you, and genuinely show interest in their new endeavors.

At this stage, it may not feel like it, but you’re actively helping build an advocate and actively investing in your future team.

Finally, take a look at your teams today, and ask yourself:

      • How connected do my employees feel to their peers and teams?
      • Do they feel seen and heard and like they belong?
      • Do they feel like their work is important, appreciated, and recognized?

Don’t just scroll past that list quickly, but really pause and think about each of those questions from your employees’ perspectives (or even ask them directly!).

Then, when you find holes or voids where an employee feels that any of these are lacking, work to improve those areas, keeping in mind the importance of human connection.

Nail this, and you won’t have to worry about any cheap engagement strategies ever again.