Employee engagement is an organizational performance strategy. It’s also a highly personal equation—every person has a unique relationship with their work and employer. This is the reason increased engagement has eluded so many well-intentioned enterprises. You can’t fix low engagement with broad-brush programs alone. The magic happens on the frontlines, one employee at a time.
With headlines like “Will a Robot Take Your Job?”, conversations with leaders often turn to discussing what needs to be done to create an engaged workforce in the future. I think the following five strategies will make a difference as your organization flexes to reflect changing markets and workplace realities. These strategies can also work for you today.
Pay Attention to MeaningMeaningful work remains a key driver in employee engagement and is a primary goal in career management. The challenge also remains that meaningful, like challenging and interesting, is an intangible term defined by individual employees, reflecting their personal values, interests, and talents.
Despite the proliferation of self-improvement gurus and career resources (The Muse is a favorite of mine), too many people still take on roles for external markers of success (for example, money or prestige) without reflecting on what matters most to them. That can lead to a bad job fit, which can lead to misery. You need to provide tools and training for people to clarify what they’re looking for. Keep encouraging managers to talk to their teams, so they can better understand each person’s interests and aspirations, and help align those interests with your organization’s needs.
Build Connections to Purpose and PeopleConnection to a shared purpose builds on meaningful work by cementing an employee’s relationship with the organization, not just the work. You don’t need to be curing cancer; you do need to consistently remind people that what they do makes a difference.
Connections that employees have with their managers and colleagues matter too. They don’t have to be best friends. They do need to feel like they’re part of a community. When people get to know one another, they establish respectful, trusting relationships. They achieve understanding and commonality, which will become even more important as workforces become increasingly dispersed and diverse.
PrioritizeEngagement can’t happen if people don’t know which of the 20 to-dos on their task list matter most. Changing priorities and ambiguity are frustrating as well as barriers to the level of achievement required for full engagement. Although technology for supporting workflow and goal attainment has improved, many organizations remain paralyzed by the inability to focus on the few things that will deliver the biggest impact. Your question needs to consider what you are agreeing not to do if you decide to do this.
Develop for Today and TomorrowDevelopment needs to be part of your future engagement strategy. Research consistently links career development opportunities and personal growth to high job satisfaction. Your organization also needs people to have the skills to do whatever you need them to do, including those jobs that don’t even exist today. For more tips on this topic, check out my GP Strategies colleague Keith Keating’s podcast episode, “ Preparing Today’s Workforce for Tomorrow. ”
Provide Tools and ResourcesWhen our engagement surveys ask people about what could most improve their contribution to the organization, tools and resources often top the list. Before you invest the big budget to replace your systems, you should know exactly what people mean. Reasons can vary by department, role, or location and may be something that local managers can address. If you realize your systems are inadequate for the demands of the digital workplace, do your homework to find systems that not only work but work with one another. (We have some guidance for HCM systems here.)
How and where we work may change in the future, but employee engagement will always be a personal equation. Your challenge will be, as it is now, to move from clichéd “employees are our greatest asset” statements to investing the leadership commitment and funding needed to help people connect with work that works for them and delivers what you need.