Organizations with highly engaged employees routinely outperform those with greater numbers of disengaged employees.
They not only post higher earnings, but also recover faster from market-induced setbacks. It seems self-evident, then, that companies would have a vested interest in taking every step possible to keep their employees actively engaged and committed to their work.
Despite this, research has shown that over two-thirds of employees are either disengaged or indifferent. Low engagement rates contribute to diminished productivity and increase the likelihood of turnover, causing many promising employees to depart for favorable opportunities elsewhere.
Fortunately, organizations have many options for boosting engagement. Consider these four:
1. Provide a roadmap for success.
Knowing that they have a clearly defined future is a major factor in whether someone leaves an organization for a new opportunity. This is especially important for millennials, who change jobs more frequently than previous generations and routinely identify development opportunities as a key factor in their career decisions. By holding regular career discussions with employees and asking them where they see themselves in the future, companies can create plans that help them develop the skills they need to take on additional responsibility in the future.
In addition to boosting retention rates, this emphasis on development also boosts engagement, because employees are more likely to see their role in the organization as important and valued. They take greater ownership over their responsibilities while keeping an eye on the future. Knowing that the work they do today will benefit their career tomorrow, employees who feel they have a clear advancement path in the organization can avoid feeling that they’re stuck in the same position with no end in sight.
Also, facilitating development helps to build trust, because it demonstrates that the company values and appreciates its employees. With that sense of trust comes a greater commitment to the organization’s mission and improved engagement.
2. Recognize good work.
It’s one thing to show support for employees through development opportunities, but companies can use many ways to demonstrate that they value employees. Cheering on successes and highlighting accomplishments might seem like a minor gesture, but it goes a long way toward showing employees that their work matters.
Gallup research has demonstrated that two out of three employees feel that their good work goes unrecognized. Employees who feel underappreciated are twice as likely to quit. Considering that recognizing good work is a low-cost tactic that can be implemented daily, it’s remarkable that so many organizations fail to do so.
Encouraging employees and celebrating accomplishments don’t have to come exclusively from leadership. Positive feedback and recognition from colleagues can also help boost engagement by creating a sense of trust and camaraderie throughout an organization. When employees have a positive emotional investment in the success of their teammates, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work to further that success.
3. Establish two-way communication.
No one likes being kept in the dark. Organizations that operate under a veil of secrecy and keep employees on a strict “need to know” basis tend to struggle with low engagement and retention rates. People want to know about decisions that affect them, what is expected of them, and information that may be relevant to their tasks.
Simply sharing information isn’t enough to promote engagement. Employees want communication to flow both ways. If they can’t take their concerns or ideas to leaders, they will feel ignored or unvalued. This goes beyond simply having an open-door policy. Being able to voice concerns is one thing, but knowing that someone is there to listen to them and take them seriously is quite another.
Effective leaders encourage people to speak out, and they let everyone know they’re willing to listen. They make themselves as accessible as possible and don’t treat information as leverage to further their own ambitions.
4. Provide a sense of purpose.
For many employees today, especially millennials, it’s not enough to simply show up for work, perform a task and collect a paycheck. They want to feel that the work they do matters, that it has some purpose beyond simply turning a profit. In addition to their own contributions, they want to know that the organization they work for is committed to values and goals that they share.
If employees can’t reconcile their personal values with those of their company, they will become disengaged and begin their search for a position elsewhere. It’s incumbent upon leaders to communicate the organization’s values and mission statement clearly and explicitly.
Furthermore, they must show employees how their contributions make a difference in whether the organization accomplishes its goals. When employees connect their workplace to their personal values, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work and invest themselves in the company’s success.
For leaders to retain the respect of their employees, they must treat them with respect and fairness while holding themselves to the same standards. Employees want to know that they will be judged primarily on performance rather than factors outside their control.
They also expect that rules and procedures are there to be followed, not discarded at the first inconvenience. This is especially important for leaders, who often set behavior standards by example. If employees get the impression that the rules do not apply to some people, they are more likely to become disengaged and refuse to hold themselves accountable for their actions.
Top leaders and middle managers also must keep their expectations realistic. Though engaged employees will often take on a heavier workload than their less engaged peers, leaning too heavily on them can burn them out or lead to resentment. Similarly, if even routine tasks seem overwhelming, employees can become frustrated and seek more reasonable opportunities elsewhere.
A version of this post first appeared on the OnPoint Consulting blog.