Today’s employees yearn for both personal and professional development, and they expect their employers to provide it to them, or they leave for greener pastures.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that employee retention has risen to problem number two in the minds of business leaders (second only to the challenge of building global leadership), and organizations are going out of their ways to improve employee satisfaction.
Yet there is a common misconception that employee satisfaction automatically implies engagement. Here’s the thing: some employees can be very well satisfied by collecting a paycheck for doing as little work as possible, and thereby achieve an individual equilibrium that won’t benefit the company.
However, many studies clearly show that there is a strong link between the two, and that some factors contribute more than others in creating a high level of satisfaction and engagement.
“Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of talent is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage.” (Greg Harris, CEO Quantum Workplace)
What are the key engagement factors that employers can leverage in their organizations?
1. Job-employee fit
This is a must-have before considering any other happiness or engagement incentives. Employees that have meaningful jobs where they can benefit from clear goals, a higher level of autonomy, and where their expertise is fully used are - and will stay - the most engaged.
It seems obvious, but this is a major challenge in many companies especially considering the fast evolution of new technologies and its impact on employee performance. Employees need to be constantly challenged in a job they like in order to perform.
2. Workplace culture and company values
According to a 2016 study published by Robert Half, the most important driver of happiness at work is the feeling of pride employees can have about their company.
This kind of pride is not only linked to the company’s achievements and the quality of its leadership, but also to other key elements like its culture and shared values. Among others, mutual respect, appreciation of the work done, and being treated with fairness, are direct contributors to a positive work environment.
3. Career and growth opportunities
Identified in most studies, ongoing learning opportunities - combined with talent mobility - are among the most important engagement and retention drivers in companies.
This is especially true for top talents. In order to perform at their best level, talents need to continuously learn and benefit from internal career opportunities that match their level of ambition, else… they end up leaving.
Of course, needless to say that all employees within a company greatly benefit from ongoing training and coaching: developing employees helps the best companies build a sustainable competitive advantage over time. Still, training everybody or even allowing people to take time to take care of their personal development comes with a cost that many companies believe they cannot afford. But the benefits from investing in people development are legion and outweigh their cost, as demonstrated in many research studies on the topic.
What do you have to lose if you test motivation and productivity increase on small groups of employees by allowing the most skilled employee in each specific area to transmit his knowledge to his colleagues? Those types of internal trainings, organized by co-workers and managers, also make them feel rewarded and recognized for their skills while allowing in-company networking and collaboration. You can always scale the initiative if successful, or fine-tune it based on the small group’s feedback. The risk is limited and the reward can be huge!
4. Networking opportunities with colleagues
Sharing your happiness outside of work is mainly a way to build relationships, but the converse is also true: building relationships makes you happy. At work, positive relationships with co-workers can foster a sense of belonging, loyalty, camaraderie, and moral support. It can also speed up problem solving by leveraging the power of many. For instance, when individuals are stuck on specific issues, they no longer hesitate to ask for support from their peers.
5. Compensation packages and benefits
Although it’s very important for many employees when looking for a new job, compensation is not the number one factor that drives happiness. A 2015 Glassdoor study even showed that a 10% salary increase only contributed to a 1% increase in overall company satisfaction.
Each employee has specific needs that might not be shared with his colleagues. Some might prefer high compensation, others a better work-life balance, even if it means earning less. The research shows that compensation is perceived as a retention tool rather than an engagement tool: you can hate your job and be well paid to do it. The material comfort will lower the risk of employees leaving, but it won’t make them significantly more engaged.
Crossing the line between happiness and engagement: what’s in it for companies?
In its research “State of the American Workplace”, Gallup shows that companies with a high ratio of engaged to non-engaged workers have:
- Significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings
- Better employee retention
- Reduced absenteeism
- Fewer safety incidents
Engaged employees will also put more discretionary effort into their work. Discretionary effort is the level of effort one would ideally yet voluntarily give, and is above the minimum required.
Last but not least, engaged employees will boost your net promoter score: if the work environment is sufficiently motivating, and your employees are satisfied and committed to their job, they will be more inclined to spread the good word about you. This means that they will encourage more talents to apply when the company needs to hire.
How to get started with employee engagement today?
We can clearly see that there are major differences between employee happiness and engagement. So how can you build a more engaging work environment?
Here are a few quick wins that you can implement relatively fast:
Collect employee feedback in a structured way
It all starts with knowing where you are. Gathering insights is key to better understand the needs and pains of your team. Happy employees = happy customers.
Organize internal collaboration and learning
Networking combined with training will foster energy as employees will be able to take a step back, get to know each other, and benefit from peer mentoring all at the same time. It can be done easily and through the help of a user-friendly app.
Train managers about the importance of employee recognition and respect
Encourage managers to adopt a “thank you” attitude. Having the support of top leadership is key to the success of the initiative. Lead by example!
Encourage employees to stay healthy
Promote stress lowering activities within lunch breaks by organizing, for instance, running groups, yoga sessions, creative activities, supporting charities together with your team, etc.
Make your employees feel like they are not just a number by celebrating their birthdays, work anniversaries, childbirths, etc.
Organize cross-departmental working experiences
So employees can discover how it feels like to be in their colleagues’ shoes.
“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” (Douglas Conant, Champion of Workplace Learning and Performance Award)