Employee engagement has risen to prominence as one of the guiding concerns of effective businesses. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to leave your enterprise.
Engagement represents a level of emotional commitment with positive effects on the entire workplace. Yet research from Gallup has shown only about 34% of U.S. employees are engaged.
Far from good news (employee engagement is “tying its highest level” since 2000) this should be regarded as a challenge. Unless your company culture is built with engagement at the forefront, two-thirds of your workforce may represent potential that will never be realized.
The problem: KPI development around employee engagement is notoriously difficult. Many businesses focus attention and resources on perks with no lasting benefits. That’s especially true in startup culture.
Employee engagement isn’t about ping-pong tables and kombucha on tap. While those things might distract a disengaged employee for a while, they won’t produce a fundamental change in the workplace experience.
So, how can businesses adopt an effective, measurable approach to engagement?
Today’s Changing Work Environment Demands Reassessment Of Employee Engagement
Many discussions of employee engagement focus on external factors, with none more prominent than the individual employee’s relationship with his or her boss. The adage “employees leave bosses, not companies” has become so commonplace it is invoked to explain virtually every failure of workplace motivation.
Yet, in the coming era of remote work, immediate positive reinforcement from management will be even more difficult to come by than it is today. And in the long run, that may be for the best: Harvard Business School has found that the average workday increased in length in the early days of COVID-driven remote work, due in part to unfocused and unnecessary meetings.
That increase was more than 8%, an average of nearly 50 minutes. In the very near future, businesses that pivot to remote work may find themselves with a choice: Managers can spend lots of time steering the ship or they can plot the course and let their crew handle the work—but they can’t do both.
Luckily, when it comes to employee engagement, they don’t have to.
Management recognition of achievements is one of the biggest external factors in employee engagement. But recent research shows it may not be as important as believed: It accounts for only 21% of an employee’s self-reported motivation level at work. Having ideas considered by management has about the same impact.
What matters more? Internal factors that you can cultivate through a more autonomous company culture.
For A Better Company Culture, Shift Employees To An Internal Position Of Control
The word optimism can easily be misunderstood, conjuring thoughts of empty platitudes. But research shows more optimistic personnel are more motivated—and the effect on their performance is even greater than the traditional marks of a good employee-boss relationship.
Making employees more optimistic may be a tall order on its own. Optimism can be learned, but innate temperament and life experiences both play big roles.
What you can do is guide employees away from an external locus of control—looking to the boss for “inspiration”—to an internal one. Or, to look at it another way: Make employee autonomy a core pillar of your company culture.
In a company culture marked by autonomy:
- Employee focus shifts from winning kudos to reaching beneficial, mutually-understood goals
- Managers function less as taskmasters and more as mentors to connect teams to resources
- Communication is built around results, not “checking in”: That means fewer, better meetings
Autonomy has long been understood by psychologists as foundational to a sense of achievement. Yet, below the director level, modern company culture often places limits on autonomy and the innovation it produces.
What changes can businesses make right away to encourage autonomy?
1. Clarify Goals And Timeframes
The end goal of any project should be clear to the team before they work on it. What’s more, they should be empowered to see how their work affects and improves operations in other areas. Look at project timelines in terms of their wider strategic implications, not merely as a tool to ensure “accountability.”
2. Be Mindful About Incentives
When businesses use games or competitions to motivate performance, cooperation suffers. With an external motivation, personnel will only move forward as long as the prize is attractive to them. This refocuses their attention away from the meaningful goals they can achieve within their area of influence.
3. Enable Performance
Pressure to perform can be demoralizing, especially when teams do not have access to all the resources they need. Managers should work to get teams to the starting line, equipped and informed. From there, solicit feedback on challenges and help course correct as necessary.
When teams focus on autonomy, they interact with the organization in new and different ways. This often calls on them to build cross-functional and even cross-departmental ties that didn’t exist before. As they learn about processes that impact them, like budgeting, they may have additional feedback.
All of these changing approaches can be connected to measurable KPIs based on closed loop feedback. Consistently reviewing KPI performance trends and creating opportunities to raise results ensures your company culture moves in a productive direction over the long term.
If you want to implement employee engagement strategies in a data-driven, visible, actionable way, call Equal Parts today. We help companies like yours spark transformative change in company culture–going from good to great through informed, collaborative decision-making.