Why employee engagement matters—and how to cultivate it

Sure, they’d love a Caribbean cruise as a reward for meeting sales goals, but there are cheaper ways to engage your staff.

There your executive vice president is, stirring up warm feelings among the wee folk by handing out bobblehead dolls of herself to your top salespeople at a town hall meeting.

Much though the awards are appreciated, however, did your bigwig handle the event right? It’s not just the recognition that matters.

Every time you honor an employee, make it an opportunity to educate, says Michelle Smith, vice president of marketing at O.C. Tanner.

In the Ragan Training video, “The evolution of employee engagement for corporate communications,” Smith explains how recognition can help train staff—and affirm your organization’s values.

Here some other takeaways from Smith’s highly rated talk:

Praise boosts retention.

Bosses who are stingy with their praise could be harming their own cause. The top 40 percent provide five times the contribution of the remaining 60 percent, Smith says. Yet a lack of appreciation is the key reason for 79 percent of the people who leave. Furthermore, 65 percent of employees say they received no praise or recognition in the past year.

Turn awards into lessons for all.

Sure, everybody loves those bobblehead dolls so much, they’re fighting over them. It’s not enough to hand them out if you aren’t broadening the lesson, though.

Explain, for example, that one of your values is exceeding customer’s expectation, Smith says: Here was the problem; this is how Salesman Tom solved it. That way Tom feels superb, and others get a lesson in exceeding expectations.

“Don’t assume that everybody understands exactly what they need to do to achieve the goals that you have asked them to achieve,” Smith says. “We have to give them tangible examples.”

Make thank-you messages personal.

Smith tells of a hard-charging company that offered lavish gifts to sales staff who met and exceeded their sales goals. Caribbean cruises. Big-screen TVs. Diamond jewelry. You name it.

So the bigwigs were baffled—and must have been a little miffed—to find that their employee engagement scores were low when Smith’s firm conducted an employee survey.

All that loot the company was showering on employees? “We love it,” they said. But something was missing. When executives gave out the awards, they never mentioned how many of the kid’s soccer games the parent had missed to fulfill the goal, nor how many weekends the employee had worked through.

Make it personal.

Explain the pizza and popcorn.

Another company was holding events to thank staffers just about every day. There was root beer float Monday, beer and pizza Tuesday, bowling Wednesdays. Yet again, employee engagement was poor.

“How can this be that we have poor engagement scores?” they told Smith. “We do something every single day. We have our leaders come around and make popcorn for them.”

When she asked employees why they didn’t feel appreciated, they said they didn’t realize they were thanking us by giving us muffins and pizza and popcorn. “We just thought it was the way it was around here,” they told Smith.

It was an easy fix—but the bosses had to know that it was important.

“You’re doing all the right things,” Smith says, “but are you telling your employees why you’re doing it.”

Make use of low-cost options.

Did you know that properly acknowledging achievements has the same effect as a 1 percent pay raise? These key assertions are important for employees, according to Smith:

  • My opinions seem to count.
  • I know what is expected of me.
  • In the last seven days, I’ve received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor cares about me as a person.
  • This past year, I’ve had opportunities to learn and grow.
  • My company’s purpose makes me feel my job is important.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  • This past year, someone has talked to me about my progress.

That means you don’t have to dole out all the bling and Caribbean vacations to boost engagement—and hard work—among your staff.



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