8 steps for building better employee engagement at work

We all work in a fast-paced environment.  Even the most bureaucratic structures have made significant changes in their work styles.  Some of the changes made have affected employee morale and companies or other structures’ performance and result achievements.  In this situation, senior leadership teams in the companies have started campaigns for how to attract and retain best in class talents.  According to research, published by Gartner in 2019, the US companies have spent more than 9 billion USD on employer branding initiatives, which caused less than 6% increase in their recognition as employers and 4,5% in their efforts for retaining the best in class talents in their structures.

While working in such a challenging environment, leaders need to rethink their strategies for how to sustain and upgrade results and lower the level of investment in meaningless, or with insignificant effect initiatives.

Leaders and HR Departments must finally learn that being an employer of choice does not mean only to offer all the perks your employees want but to offer meaning and purpose,  led from the company values and high ethical standards.  The secret formula does not lay in the money, but well-supported employee engagement. And in a world, led by emotions, it is hard to build a sustainable and engaged team, who knows where the balance between high-speed performance and madness or disengagement is.

Building a strategy to retain the best talents has evolved into an annual goal for every leader and all of them write some goals every year, just to hope for a positive outcome from all the actions they have planned. 

In 2018 I have started research on how companies plan and execute strategies to support high-level employee engagement.  With colleagues’ psychologists, we researched 820 companies in 16 countries, across Europe and now in 2020 we have the results.  After almost 2 years of research we have found that there is a pattern the high engaging companies have built, to answer the instability on the labor market and endure great results through working on employee engagement. What evolved as a model is shortly presented in the next 8 points.

Invest in becoming better than your competitors

With the rise of the term employer brand, leaders have started investing time to show what competitive advantage their company has built among all other companies in the market.  But if you make a small research you will easily find that more than 90% of the perks offered have the same basis.  What can make you different is even one thing that makes you different?  This thing must be something unique you can create for your employees, instead of something you want to give them.  The best companies do not offer a wide variety of perks, but a wide variety of unique experiences that make people stick with them for a long time.

Recruit diverse but right talents

Some companies hire for cultural fit, others hire for skills.  Some leaders focus on bringing people in their teams who look like the current team members.  Others count on what they call diversity to some extreme highs. The best leaders try to find the balance and hire meeting balanced expectations for diversity. What that means is to bring someone to the team, who thinks similarly as the team members, but can bring different experiences, able to help the team move ahead trough the challenges.

Promote your most engaged employees

The first 20 years of the current century have changed attitudes and understandings.  What was an approach for politicians in the 20th century has turned into a normal reality for most of the largest companies?  Corporate policies have become so complex, that most people were not able to understand them if they were outside of their area of expertise.  Companies have moved from experts hired on the most significant positions to those who can lead the political talk and balance some kind of “correct behavior” toward the decisions or mistakes made from the senior leadership teams.  In light of that new life, companies started promoting those who can lead the political agenda and turn from those who can bring expertise and knowledge.  That often led to people, who were mostly engaged and accountable turn their look into other directions and even leave companies.  To change that pathetical situation, leaders must look again at those people who live the company values and help them grow to roles, where they can make a positive impact, instead of promoting people who cause the most engaged employees to leave.

Promote Imagination

We started talking about creativity.  The 21st century has evolved the idea of implementing creativity at work.  Procedures, rules, and internal models have been broken down to open space for creativity.  The term has become a norm in recruitment, in day to day activities, in demands for accountability from senior leadership teams, etc.  But the complex environment, full of distress has caused people to block.  And then companies invented the new “constructive feedback” to help people focus on creativity.  No matter what you think, the element that is missing in the creativity demands from the environment is not creativeness, but the imagination.  What leaders must learn is to stimulate team members’ imagination.  Stimulated imagination brings to the table better results and is the key to building a successful approach to creative results.

Understand that innovation (creativity) does not come easy

Innovations have become the new normal.  We see them in every small thing we change at our workplace.  You can often hear people talk about technical innovations to reposts and analysis which are simple formulas they have learned. And even worse, leaders have become demanding about innovations.  In some of the companies, people have planned time to be creative and bring some innovations.  But this is not how things work.  Look at Richard Branson for example and his idea of bringing people to space. |from the first idea, somewhere in the ’90s in the 20th century have passed more than 20 years and there are still no people flying into space.  What looked like a well-developed business plan is still waiting for the next innovative thing that will make the dream of flying in the space into reality.  People cannot be limited when they create innovation.  Putting some limits turns innovations into regular day to day activities and limits the possibilities   

Pay everyone fairly 

Looks easy, right?  Well to be honest it is the most difficult thing to accomplish while leading a team. To pay fairly does not mean to pay equal to everyone, but to pay for the efforts people have invested and the results achieved through these efforts. Leaders need to focus on the fair payment, together with a detailed explanation of the pay models.  Annual goals are a good basis for structuring the payment scheme, but still, leaders must focus on explaining how the personal goals impact the wider team and company goals.  Then, and only then leaders can move to build high-class accountability toward tasks and ensure that people will engage themselves with achieving their personal goals, as part of something much bigger.  The payment will then become a reciprocal element to the level of achievement. 

Plan for succession

Many companies and leaders do not know what they will do if a key employee leaves the company. 

Leaders must invest a lot of effort into building a working succession plan.  While planning for the next big success of each employee in the team, the leader can support engagement and productivity.  Bringing a plan in the sight of the employee makes him/ her feel valued, accepted, and supported to take the next step in its development.

Create and have fun

People need freedom.  They need to show their feelings, to see that their behavior is understood and accepted from others and that the workplace allows them to be themselves while working on their next assignment.  This directly impacts the level of their engagement toward the team and the company.  The role of the leader here is to ensure that people can create and experience fun, while working.  Its major responsibility is to support the creation of an environment that allows people achieving results while working calmed and happy as they are in their personal life with their closest relatives

IN CONCLUSION:

There is no right or wrong formula for building sustainable employee engagement.  What works in one environment can be completely inadequate in another.  That difference comes from the different levels of each company and leadership team. To do your best to ensure high caliber engaged employees, the leader must focus on finding the elements in the environment that need attention and invest the needed resources to change the current situation.

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