Engaged employees willingly contribute their time, talents and abilities to the success of an organization. They not only commit to achieving a company’s goals, engaged employees often proactively extend their “discretionary effort” to go above and beyond their employer’s set minimum performance standards.
As leaders, we know intrinsically that employee engagement and discretionary effort are both critically important components to high performance and bottom-line results, and research supports our insight.
Research shows negative impact of disengaged employees
The Gallup Organization, well known for its work in gathering and interpreting data from opinion surveys, is also a noted and respected researcher on employee engagement and its impact in the workplace. According to Gallup, 54 percent of employees are not engaged, 17 percent are actively disengaged, and only 29 percent can be considered as engaging their time and talents in their respective organizations.
Gallup’s research also reveals how disengaged employees adversely impact a company’s performance and profits. The research findings show: 27 percent more absenteeism, 31 percent more turnover, 51 percent more “shrink” or inventory loss, and 62 percent more accidents.
In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey discusses the impact alarming numbers like these mean to business results. Covey cites Gallup’s finding that employee disengagement costs American businesses between $250 billion and $350 billion annually—and he actually calls those figures conservative.
Capitalize on the promise of employee engagement
There is good news in the Gallup research. Findings also report that engaged employees account for 12 percent higher customer satisfaction scores, 18 percent higher productivity, 12 percent higher profitability and 17 percent higher earnings per share.
Just how do organizations capitalize on those numbers? Throughout my 40-year career, I’ve found that the performance of leaders carries the most influence on the actions, behaviors and, yes, the engagement of employees in the workplace. There’s truth in the adage: “People join organizations, but they leave their bosses.”
This means the responsibility for engaging employees falls squarely on an organization’s leadership team. So it’s up to you, as a leader, to build a culture that promotes and encourages higher levels of employee engagement. Fortunately, there are several low-cost, low-tech and high-touch ways you can build higher levels of engagement into your culture.
Three proven methods for improving employee engagement
Three of the most effective methods you can use to increase employee engagement include:
1) Demonstrate you genuinely care about your employees.
Focusing on employees’ health and safety remains one of the best ways to show your employees on a regular basis that you genuinely care about them. You can address health and safety in many ways, such as scheduled safety meetings, and a robust process for following up on accidents and even minor incidents that could lead to an accident in the future. Be sure any approach you take toward safety includes the active involvement of employees in the process. Also keep in mind, safety impacts all operations, not just the shop. Many ergonomic improvement opportunities exist in office settings, as well.
You can also show you care about your employees by practicing management by walking around, or MBWA, as many refer to this practice. So step away from your laptop and the “demands of the desk.” Get out there among your employees. Listen to their concerns, and, just as important, respond proactively in a timely manner to any issues they raise.
2) Recognize employees for their achievements.
Companies with high levels of engagement typically earn high scores from employees in response to the survey question: “Has one of my leaders recognized me for my contributions in the past seven days?” If you want to score the same high marks with your employees, you can adopt a second low-cost, proven approach for building higher levels of engagement. It involves simply recognizing people whenever their behavior or actions tie directly to your organization’s goals and desired results.
You’ll want to make sure the recognition you offer holds specific meaning for the individual. The recognition should also occur quickly following an event or achievement, and it should specifically tie the employee’s contribution directly to a key company goal. Keep in mind too that recognition doesn’t have to cost money to be effective. For example, if an employee suggestion will improve safety, you might consider recognizing and applauding the employee’s contribution “publicly” in your next safety meeting.
3) Show true interest in your employees’ development.
A third low-cost approach you can take for improving employee engagement is to demonstrate a sincere interest in your employees’ professional growth and development. You can do this in any number of ways. Overall, you’ll want to engage in frequent, structured and realistic discussions with employees about their development interests and plans. By actively assisting and supporting employees with their plans at every opportunity, they will recognize your attention to their professional growth and development as genuine.
As examples, you may want to give employees lateral job assignments to help them gain greater insights and a broader understanding of your business. Seminars and workshops can be good training paths to growth, as well. To avoid any post-training learning “loss,” I recommend using an effective feedback process to help employees practice what they learned and to measure any key changes. You can do that by scheduling periodic follow-up sessions with employees to review their progress. Mentoring and coaching are also valuable training follow-up tools.
Remember, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to foster a culture of engagement. Using these proven techniques can help you make that happen. If you practice these actions on a regular basis, your employees will recognize and appreciate your active engagement with them—and they are likely to respond by becoming actively engaged in return. Once they’re truly engaged, and giving your organization their discretionary efforts, you’ll enjoy increased customer satisfaction, lower absenteeism and turnover, a safer workplace, increased productivity and an improved bottom line. iBi
Certified Executive Coach Mike Crompton founded the Excel Leadership Group, LLC in February 2008. The company offers executive coaching and a variety of leadership development services. Visit ExcelLeadership.net for more information.