5 must-do employee engagement strategies

Keep your people happy, inspired, and delivering

Illustrations of three people drinking coffee

You know that employment is a two-way relationship. You can’t expect your employees to give their all day in and day out if they aren’t getting any sort of commitment or appreciation from you in return. 

Way more than just a trendy buzzword (although, we’ll admit it’s become that too), employee engagement is the level of dedication your employees have to your company, your values, and your goals.

It’s become an area of focus for leaders like you who want to recruit and retain the best talent for their teams. After all, the more engaged employees are, the more likely they are to do great work and stick around for the long haul.

Yet you’ve probably heard the terrifying statistics that the majority of the workforce is completely disengaged. The good news is that employee engagement is on the rise – the percent of engaged workers has now reached 34%.

Engagement isn’t something that you should think about once a new team member is settled in. You need to prioritize it from day one.

If you’re thinking, “Wait, only 34%?! That’s hardly anything to get excited about...” we certainly can’t blame you. We’d all like that statistic to be higher, especially when you consider the numerous pitfalls of a disengaged team.

Research from Gallup found that disengaged employees have:

  • 37% higher absenteeism
  • 18% lower productivity
  • 15% lower profitability

On the flipside, engaged employees offer heaps of benefits, including improved employee satisfaction and happiness, higher productivity, and lower turnover

With all of that in mind, let us throw one more statistic at you: only 12% of companies are happy with their current level of employee engagement.

If you’re one of those companies that’s thinking, “Hey, engagement is obviously important and I think we could be doing more here!” you’re in the right place. We’re breaking down five different strategies you can use to improve employee engagement and experience all of those awesome benefits yourself.

1. Tune up your onboarding process

We’ve already mentioned that increased levels of employee engagement can reduce your turnover, but here’s something else you might not know: up to 20% of employee turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment.

That speaks to the importance of your employee onboarding process. Engagement isn’t something that you should think about once a new team member is settled in. You need to prioritize it from day one. 

Unfortunately, only 12% of employees strongly agree that their employers did a solid job of onboarding new hires. But, if you work to become the exception instead of the rule, you’re sure to see it pay off (literally). A whopping 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.

Take action

What exactly does it mean to finetune your onboarding process? Put a few (or all) of these tactics in play to develop a process that hooks your new team members right away.

  • Gather feedback from existing employees on your current process to find out what’s working and what isn’t, and use that to make tweaks (or even larger changes) to your onboarding process.
  • Onboarding doesn’t just happen in the first week of an employee’s tenure. Build a program that stretches through at least the first 90 days.
  • Throw in some get-to-know-you social activities in the first few days, so new hires aren’t just drowning in paperwork.
  • Include plenty of on-the-job training (and not just company policies and procedures) so that new hires get a good grasp of what their day-to-day job entails. That’s important when you consider that 48% of workers have left a job because it didn’t align with their expectations.
  • Pair new hires with a more established employee to be their buddy or mentor. This improves the new employees’ sense of belonging right from the get-go, and also gives them a casual contact they can approach with simple questions, like where they can find more coffee filters.

2. Offer opportunities to try new things

Graduation cap

Companies that invest in their employees by offering opportunities to pick up new skills reap plenty of benefits, especially related to employee engagement and retention.

Businesses with a strong learning culture (meaning, a constant focus on the importance of learning) enjoy employee engagement and retention rates around 30–50% higher than those that don’t.

And hear this: 36% of workers and nearly half of millennials would consider quitting a job that didn’t provide learning opportunities. 

Here’s the even worse news: they’ll head right for companies (perhaps even competitors) that have a learning-focused reputation. 70% of U.S. employees would be at least somewhat likely to leave their current companies and take a job with one that is known for investing in employee development and learning.

Build a learning culture

A true learning culture requires more than leaving a few old books in the break room. Prove to your employees that you’re committed to expanding their brains and their skills with these practices:

  • During your strategic planning, include cross-functional projects where it makes sense. This will create opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing between different roles and departments.
  • Give shoutouts and kudos to employees who are always taking on new challenges to show that the company rewards this behavior.
  • Host regular lunch and learns, seminars, book clubs, trainings, and other formal learning initiatives so that employees don’t have to go far to expand their horizons. (Bonus points for including free snacks!)
  • Lead by example by consistently learning and tackling new challenges yourself.

3. Give high fives and regular feedback

Nobody likes to feel like another cog in a wheel. We want to know we’re doing a good job and that our hard work is appreciated.

That’s why regular, genuine recognition is so important for your employee engagement. In fact, 84% of HR leaders claim that having an employee recognition program in place improves employee engagement levels.

Employees vouch for this too, with 37% of employees citing recognition as the most important method of support their companies could offer.

You may be surprised to know that employees not only appreciate the review season, but want more of it. An impressive 92% of workers say they favor being reviewed more than once a year, with 49% preferring weekly formal feedback conversations and 72% preferring monthly. 

Keep in mind that feedback isn’t a one-sided conversation either. Definitely share helpful criticisms and praise, but remember that you’re a model. Ask for their input too either through formal review cycles and surveys or casual conversation. 

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it: listen and act on what they’ve told you. 

A total of 34% of employees worldwide think that their company doesn’t listen to their ideas for improving the business, so opening up this conversation is another way to prove to your employees that you value them and their suggestions. That’ll help create an open culture that welcomes honest dialogue.

Show the love

Even the occasional, “Nice work!” can go a long way in making your employees feel appreciated. Here are a few more things you can do to let your team members know that you notice their great work and want to celebrate it.

  • Start with candid conversations with your employees about how they prefer to receive feedback and recognition. Some people love to stand in the spotlight, while others might prefer praise during a one-on-one meeting.
  • For employees who appreciate public recognition, start or end your team or all hands meetings with positive shoutouts and compliments.
  • For employees who prefer to be honored behind the scenes, spare some time in your one-on-ones or during your smaller team meetings to call out accomplishments. 
  • If you aren’t already doing this, kick off a more formal review process every six months where you can talk through how they’re doing and specific goals.

4. Offer a ladder to climb

We already talked about how much workers value opportunities to learn and develop. While some people just like to learn new things, some want to use that new knowledge to level up in their careers. 

Sadly, only 29% of employees are very satisfied with current career advancement opportunities within their companies. At the same time, only a little more than half of workers (52%) think that their companies give promotions to the deserving.

WIth that on their minds, some employees might think that the only way up is out. That’s why 17% of respondents in one survey said that increased responsibilities was what attracted them to that new job with a new organization — ranking only behind the opportunity to do more meaningful work. 

You should be outlining advancement opportunities within your company. Where can employees go? What hoops will they need to jump through (uhh...steps do they need to take) to get there? 

This shouldn’t be a secret. Employment is a two-way street, which means employees should be kept in the loop on what they need to do in order to achieve their career goals.

Create career roadmaps

Career advancement shouldn’t be a guessing game within your company. You should be equipping employees with the road maps they need to understand where their careers are headed, and exactly what they need to do if they want to reach that destination. Here are a few ideas to make that happen.

  • Have honest and upfront conversations with your employees about their career ambitions. After all, you can’t support them in getting somewhere if you don’t know where they’re headed.
  • Work together on a career development plan.
  • Use your regular check-ins to chat with the employee about their progress on plan, as well as any feedback, questions, or sticking points they have.
  • When promotions happen, be transparent with your whole team about the decision-making process and why that specific employee was chosen for that bump up the ladder. The more secretive you make this, the more frustrating it becomes.

5. Give the day-to-day a higher purpose

Magnifying glass with diamond

Imagine heading into the office day in and day out to crank through your to-do list without any idea why the work you’re doing actually matters. Maybe it’s not that hard for you to imagine.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone. While only 5% of employees don’t think their contributions make any kind of difference, 44% don’t understand their impact or are unaware of business goals.

Your employees don’t just want to end each day knowing they earned their paycheck. They want to feel fulfilled and like they made a difference. Need proof? The Global Talent Trends Study by Mercer uncovered three factors that employees look for in a company: workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and well-being, and working with a purpose. 

It’s that very search for meaning that sends many employees on the hunt for a new job. In fact 27% of employees said the opportunity to do more meaningful work is why they accepted a new position. That even ranked above the 25% who cited a bigger paycheck as the top reason for quitting.

Here’s what to do

It can be tough to help your employees see the bigger picture when you’re all caught up in the daily fires. Put the hose down for a minute and try these tactics.

  • Kick off each new project or task by connecting that initiative to a larger business goal. Maybe updating that contact spreadsheet seems mundane, but you couldn’t pull off your largest fundraising event of the year without it. 
  • Use a collaboration tool or have more frequent project meetings (or both!) to provide transparency through the entire project process so employees can better see how single tasks fit into the larger initiative.
  • Have honest conversations with your employees about what they would like more of. What would personally give them a greater sense of meaning?
  • Remember that fulfillment doesn’t only have to happen during working hours. Start a volunteer group or various social good initiatives that employees can get involved in to make a positive difference in your community. 

Employee engagement should be at the very top of your priority list

Obviously, there’s no shortage of statistics to prove the importance of employee engagement (hey, we used a lot of them here!).

That doesn’t change the fact that getting this level of commitment and passion out of your team can be a tough code to crack. Fortunately, the above five strategies can help you cultivate a positive work environment that helps you get the very best out of your team.

Do those things, and you’re bound to notice a difference in your employees’ outlooks. After all, you get what you give.

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