A step-by-step guide to better employee engagement

You want to build a team of engaged, motivated employees. Where do you start? Try these ideas and tips to bring them up to speed.

Employee engagement is much more simple and inexpensive than people make it out to be. Unfortunately, most organizations still get it wrong.

Managers are busy, employees are afraid to speak up and the culture ends up taking a hit.

Leaders hear and read about the importance of engagement and all of its benefits to the organization’s bottom line, but they simply don’t know where to start.

What employees really want is respect.

Treat them the way you would treat your own mother or your best friend. That’s a very simple rule of thumb that you can use that will guarantee your employees are engaged.

Here are nine employee engagement ideas that your team will appreciate, along with some tips on how you can easily implement them in your organization:

1. Help with personal growth

Personal growth is one of the most important aspects of employee engagement. Employees want to feel like they’re constantly growing and getting better at what they do. Some tips:

  • Offer coaching. This may be the hardest one to implement simply because of the time required, but it’s so worthwhile. You can coach in groups, set time aside once a month for a “training session” on a subject you know that an employee wants to master, or hold frequent lunch-and-learns. This will lead to engagement by building up employees’ confidence.
  • Pay for courses. Encourage employees to take online courses to help them grow and get better. One important tip—don’t ask employees to pay for the course themselves even if you’re willing to reimburse them later. Set aside a budget for training (don’t worry, most online courses are free) and keep offering to invest in your team.
  • Encourage development. Some of the biggest problems at work stem from a lack of communication about development. Take the lead and encourage employees to grow and keep learning. It will make them feel like you genuinely care about their career.

2. Implement continuous feedback

Employees are eager for feedback that lets them know where they stand and how they’re doing. You can’t wait for an annual review or a monthly one-on-one. Some tips:

  • Give constructive feedback. The biggest issue with feedback is that it has such a negative connotation to it. Employees have to understand that feedback is OK. Make employees see that feedback is meant to help them grow and get better.
  • Collect feedback. As a leader, you should always be looking to improve and get better. Your No. 1 job is to serve your employees, so look for ways to do that better. Ask employees how you can help them do their jobs better and what you should start—or stop—doing
  • Act on feedback. One of the biggest problems with collecting feedback is that many times managers don’t do anything with the feedback they receive. Not only is this insulting to employees, but it’s not fair to you. Your employees have ideas that will help your whole organization grow. You might as well listen to them.

3. Make work fun

Work shouldn’t be entirely monotonous and routine. It’s discouraging to come to work at a place where you’re just working.

Ambitious goals and getting work done is important, but you should seek some balance. The trick to making work “fun” is removing the fear that exists in so many workplace cultures. Some tips:

  • Have fun yourself. To encourage fun at work, have some fun yourself. Employees have to see you having some fun to know that they’re allowed to cut loose a little too. You don’t have to do anything fancy—something as simple as a team lunch can help break the routine.
  • Organize team-building activities. Try to find ways to get the team to get together outside of work. This can be tough for people with outside commitments (kids, school, etc.), so organize different activities. Some that have worked really well for us at Officevibe are happy hours, karaoke nights, pancake breakfasts and paintball.
  • Plan an event. Give employees something to look forward to, such as a BBQ or a breakfast/lunch where you take a break as a team. This usually works as a way to celebrate hitting a big milestone.

4. Give employees a voice

Employees want to feel that they’re permitted to express what’s on their minds. You have many ways to do this, but here are a few tips:

  • Have monthly one-on-ones. One-on-one meetings are your best tool for really getting to know your employees and letting them express their opinions and concerns. This blog post about how to have better one-on-ones will help (and includes a useful template).
  • Give frequent praise. Don’t make all of your feedback negative. Remember to give frequent recognition to your employees when you see they’ve done something good. The key is simply paying attention to what your employees are working on.
  • Conduct frequent surveys. Employees want to feel listened to. If you collect anonymous feedback from them, you’ll have much more data to work with to make your feedback effective.

5. Promote wellness

Managers want more productivity, but overworking employees isn’t the answer. This is a huge problem. You don’t want your employees to burn out. Some tips:

  • Give gym passes. This is a surprisingly easy and cost-effective perk to offer. When employees are healthy, they take less sick days and are more energized and productive at work. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
  • Offer healthy food. Fun fact: In an internal Officevibe survey about which perks employees enjoyed the most, healthy food in the kitchen was the No. 1 answer. This is another simple and effective perk to show employees that you care about their well-being.
  • Encourage mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness are incredible. If you encourage mindfulness at work, your employees will be happier, healthier, less stressed and more productive. (Headspace is a great app for practicing mindfulness.)

6. Live your core values

Values and a mission are vital to employee engagement. Don’t try to fake it. Some tips:

  • Hire for culture fit. Don’t just hire someone because you need to desperately fill a role, and don’t hire someone solely based on his or her skills. Skills can be learned. Hire people who share your values.
  • Preach core values. You should be preaching your core values over and over again. Employees have to be reminded why what they’re doing is important. Make posters, T-shirts or whatever you want, but make sure that the message is present in everything you do.
  • Optimize onboarding. Employee onboarding is one of the keys to engagement. If done well, you’ll have a productive, engaged, powerful employee. If you don’t, you’ll have a confused, insecure employee. Remember that onboarding takes time. Dedicate at least three months to it.

7. Respect your employees

At the core of employee engagement is respect. All employees want to feel that they matter and that they’ll be treated like adults. Some tips:

  • Be flexible. Show a little flexibility when it comes to things like working from home or showing up late. Employees’ intentions are generally good. They shouldn’t feel unnecessary stress about minor issues.
  • Encourage work/life balance. Employees need a life outside of work. Be a good role model for them and practice work/life balance yourself. Let employees know it’s OK for them to take time off if they need it.
  • Give employees autonomy. When you give employees the autonomy they want, you’re showing them the respect they deserve. Trust them to do their work without micro-managing them.

8. Encourage experimentation

Employees should know that it’s OK to make mistakes and try new things. They should feel comfortable admitting their mistakes, and everyone should be open and honest about failures.

As a leader, emphasize as often as possible that mistakes are forgivable and failure is not an irreparable issue. You want to encourage your employees to be creative and let them run with their ideas. The more you stifle creativity, the less engaged they’ll be. Some tips:

  • Set clear goals. Establish concrete goals with employees from the start to make sure everyone is on the same page. This helps avoid any disappointment down the line. Spell out exactly what the criteria for success will be, and offer to help in any way you can.
  • Celebrate failure. The best way to do this is to keep reminding employees that they won’t get in trouble for making honest mistakes. Be vulnerable and admit to mistakes of your own to show them it’s okay.
  • Practice transparency. For the best ideas to occur, everyone should have all the context and information possible. Be as transparent with your employees as you can be. Include them in the process and they’ll be more likely to be engaged.

9. Build relationships at work

Employees shouldn’t feel like they’re alone at work. Team-building activities are great, but you should also optimize how employees collaborate with each other.

Does everyone have a voice in the process? Are the workflows as smooth as they could be? These are the types of questions you should ask yourself and the team on a regular basis. Some tips:

  • Involve everyone. This is more about being mindful than anything else. Watch for signs that employees might be feeling left out. Try to include everyone as much as possible, and explain things so that all employees are on the same page.
  • Encourage collaboration. A great way to help build relationships at work and empower employees is to assign them to work on projects together. One thing we often do at Officevibe is set a team goal for the week that we can all contribute to. It gets us all working toward the same thing.
  • Tell people not to be shy. Most people at work are naturally shy. They don’t want to overstep and they’re not sure if they have the authority to speak up. You can help remove that fear by encouraging them to speak up without the fear of retribution.

Jacob Shriar is the director of content at Officevibe. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn. A version of this post first appeared on OfficeVibe’s blog.

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