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Why Employee Engagement Matters and What You Can Do About It

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Thu Jan 31 2019

Why Employee Engagement Matters and What You Can Do About It
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Government leaders, your employees’ engagement should matter to you. Why? Employees are your greatest asset; without them, operations halt and mission success becomes impossible. Greater engagement means lower absenteeism and attrition, higher quality and productivity, and less risk and fraud—all elements of an effective, thriving agency. Think of your organization’s most costly technology—perhaps an ERP system or an airplane; would you assess it once a year, glance at the executive report, and tuck the report away? No. It would be cared for daily and tested regularly, and you’d act on the results. Apply this same mentality to your people.

This is more important than ever; 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results showed employee engagement declined at more than half of federal agencies, and the political climate continues to impact employees’ attitudes and livelihoods. This suggests employee engagement will continue to decline. Count on seeing more days off, higher turnover, and quality suffering, not to mention noticeable differences in motivation.

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As a leader, you can do something about this: Measure your employees’ engagement and act on the results with your people. What follows is a set of tactics you can employ with minimal resources other than your own intentionality and authenticity, including what to measure, how, and what to do with the results.

What to Measure

To determine what to measure regarding your employees’ engagement, begin with what not to measure. Common missteps include measuring factors that give little indication of an employee’s engagement level, such as employee satisfaction (including quality of salary or benefits), productivity (hours logged or volume produced), and subjective evaluations (an individual’s rating of their own engagement level). Avoid monitoring your employees’ schedules or asking your direct reports to tell you how engaged they are—this won’t lead to any insights. Overall, these factors measure satisfaction and workload, not engagement, and are biased.

Instead, measure what embodies employee engagement. Engagement arises from purpose-driven work, supportive work environments, growth and learning opportunities, and the ability to connect with others and build relationships. You can measure true engagement factors in an objective way.

  • Purpose: Ask your staff to recall a recent experience where they affected or felt connected to the agency’s mission or contributed to your unit’s goals. Ask yourself how you are sharing your staff’s mission impact with them.

  • Supportive work environment: Ask your staff if they have the resources they need to be successful in their roles and how they know what is expected of them. Ask yourself how you are making expectations clear to your people.

  • Growth and learning opportunities: Ask your staff to share a recent lesson learned or how they overcame a challenge. Take time to reflect on the number of career discussions you’ve had with or training opportunities you’ve supported for your team members.

  • Connection and relationships: Ask your staff to share how they collaborated with a colleague to get something done. Take time to reflect on what opportunities you’re creating for your people to work together.

How to Measure

You have the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results, but this is not enough. Pulsing employees only once a year nearly eliminates any ability to quickly take action on opportunities and risks identified in the results. Online surveys are an effective mechanism to reach large populations and enable benchmarking. However, employee engagement is complex, and a one-way survey cannot gather the context you need to truly understand engagement levels.

Instead, measure on a continuous basis and via multiple, varying methods—don’t wait for the annual viewpoint survey! Build measurement into ongoing activities to gather feedback regularly and enable quick, timely action. Measuring continuously can be as simple as:

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  • Pulse checks at team meetings: Have team members share how they solved a problem for your customers, or ask an employee to brief the team on what they learned at a training.

  • Observation: Reflect on the last time you’ve given your direct reports stretch assignments, or how your unit celebrates (or doesn’t) life events.

  • One-on-one meetings: Discuss with your employees what resources they need to successfully complete a project and how an assignment aligns to the agency’s strategic goals.

What to Do With the Results

Surveying and collecting feedback is just the start. If nothing happens after an employee engagement survey—results aren’t shared widely, or you take no action after soliciting your team’s feedback—you undermine your efforts, create doubt and skepticism among employees, and lower trust. Plus, you strip employees from owning the results, which is critical, because it’s not just you who is responsible—your people have a share in their engagement, too!

What happens after an assessment is what can truly impact employee engagement. One of the first steps following collection is to share the results. Some considerations when sharing results are:

  • Timeliness: Share soon after a survey or after you pulse your team members. Don’t wait months to communicate results.

  • Audience: Share widely. Every single employee has a role to play in engagement, not just you. Your people can own the results and take action only if you share what you observe with them.

  • Transparency: Avoid hiding or dismissing what surfaces. Some results may be undesirable, but concealing them won’t actually address what’s hindering engagement. Plus, your people will know.

Finally, act on results and engage your employees in the action. Include them in next steps, such as identifying what to focus on, creating action plans, and implementing them; doing so promotes ownership over the results as well as what is done to address them. Support your employees in their efforts: protect time in their workday to implement agreed-upon actions, ask what they need for success, and have them share progress and achievements with each other—a team building practice that will itself contribute to improved engagement.

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