For the first time in a decade, every industry is facing a downturn in employee engagement. According to a 2022 Gallup survey, the ratio of employee engagement has steadily declined over the past couple of years, resulting in 17% of actively disengaged employees, an increase of one percentage point from 2021. Different employee engagement reports show that this isn’t an anomaly, but a continuing downward trend since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Honestly, the immediate future doesn’t look much brighter. Upcoming risks of economic uncertainty, political disruptions, international conflicts, new COVID variants and more threaten to collide with changing expectations of work to distract, discourage and stress out employees at every level. To meet these challenges, companies need to implement employee engagement programs to effectively win their employees’ loyalty as well as a commitment to their work, their employer and the organization’s mission.
If you’re looking to develop an employee engagement plan, here’s what you need to know.
Why Employee Engagement Matters:
We’ve written previously about what compromises employee engagement; to summarize why it matters — how much an employee feels engaged with their job directly impacts how hard they commit to their work, the level of enthusiasm they bring to the workplace and how dedicated they are to innovating, problem solving and making positive contributions while at work.
Employees with higher levels of engagement not only contribute more, but they also tend to stay in their jobs longer, which means lower levels of employee turnover and a higher chance for the organization to retain valued skills, knowledge and talent. As a result, the company experiences less loss of revenue due to drops in productivity or from the costs of replacing employees.
Other benefits to high levels of employee engagement include:
- More innovation and commitment to better product quality
- Improved productivity and performance, increasing efficiency
- More employees who step up as leaders, resulting in more unified teams
- Better interdepartmental communication and collaboration
- Faster recovery time after recessions or industry setbacks
- Increased organizational growth potential and likelihood to attract talented applicants
- Improved morale, happier employees and better business outcomes
As great as these benefits are, the potential risks of having disengaged employees are even more severe. In the U.S. alone, an estimated $350 billion is lost every year due to disengaged employees. These losses come as a result of:
- Decreased productivity and loss of efficiency
- Low morale disrupting team coordination and increasing burnout
- Higher turnover rates and greater difficulty in finding talent
- An increased risk of safety violations and accidents
Did you know that, as an employer, your response to accidents or injuries has a snow-ball effect on engagement? If employees don’t see an appropriate response to address safety issues, whether it’s support for affected employees or change in company procedures, they can experience even further levels of disengagement and burnout. According to a study in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, employees who have a negative view of the safety of their work environment are more likely to engage in unsafe acts.
So what wins employee engagement? The employees who report being 31% less likely to quit their jobs and more likely to put a vested effort into their work are those who say they:
- Feel supported by leadership
- Have their concerns heard
- Are engaged and challenged by their work
Having an employment engagement program can show employees that the company is committed to creating a positive work environment, promoting success and responding to feedback.
Elements of a Successful Employee Engagement Program
To develop an employee engagement program, or revise an existing one, consider the key elements and major pain points that directly impact your employees. While there are a lot of components that contribute to engagement, the major key elements include:
- Promoting company culture. Start by considering your organizational values and culture. Employee engagement is often a reflection of how well your company holds true to what it professes to believe in and the efforts it makes to reinforce those values. A Glassdoor survey found that a majority of employees consider an organization’s mission, ideals and priorities to be even more important than salary when it comes to being committed and engaged with their jobs.
- Fair compensation. While salary is a consideration for employees, studies have shown that employee engagement is more tied to the perception of fairness and level of transparency around wages, rather than how much they earn. Do your employees understand the process of how wages are determined? How do they view the perks, bonuses, commission and other benefits that make up the company’s compensation plan?
- Effective training. Employees who don’t feel prepared for their jobs are going to have a very difficult time engaging with their work. You’ll likely need to audit your workplace training program to ensure it’s meeting the needs of your newly hired employees. You have to ensure that training addresses not just the “what” of work — it also accounts for the why and how. Emphasize how training is tied to your employees’ personal and professional development, and that it’s not just about delivering better business outcomes or increasing revenue.
- Team building. Are you budgeting for engagement-related activities in order to foster the company culture? Holding team building activities is more important than ever in the age of hybrid work, as remote employees can feel isolated and detached from the rest of the company. Establishing an employee recognition program can help employees feel more appreciated — though be careful that formal recognition doesn’t become more of a popularity contest between employees.
- Supporting wellbeing. Do your employees feel supported and looked after? Health insurance is the bare minimum for companies to offer their employees. What health and wellness programs do you provide to help promote a healthy work-life balance? You should have strategies to respond to overwork and burnout in addition to providing resources that support your employees’ overall wellbeing.
- Soliciting employee feedback. When employees feel heard, then they’re more likely to be engaged. You’ll need to have ways to measure current levels of engagement, such as regular engagement surveys. It’s important that these surveys are not done just for the sake of having them — your employees need to see that every survey is tied to a larger strategic goal. What questions are being asked, why are they being asked and how will they be acted upon?
- Promoting open communication. Part of that two-way feedback is having open lines of communication between employees and management. You have to show that, not only are surveys being done, there’s also timely follow-up on feedback to implement changes. Set and communicate the company goals for improvement and ensure they’re SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Invite employees from different areas to participate in offering suggestions and providing feedback for how the company is operating.
Challenges to Employee Engagement
Aside from accounting for the above elements, there are some common challenges that can harm your employee engagement program and undermine your efforts. Keep these challenges at front of mind when developing and executing your engagement plan:
- Not living up to the company values. Your company can’t promote company culture if its actions (or the actions of the leadership team) contradict its missions and ideals. If it appears that the company is just paying lip service to any one value, then employees will lose trust that any of the professed values are sincere.For example, if a company professes to promote a healthy work-life balance, then it needs to make an effort to support its employees:
- Are employees allowed to take vacations without having to respond to emails, or are they told they’ll still need to work while they’re away?
- Does the company support hybrid working conditions, or are remote and hybrid workers treated differently from other employees?
- Are employees supported during sick or medical leave, or is there an expectation that they’ll continue to work even if they’re not feeling well?
- Failure to account for the expectations of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). Companies have understood for years that increased levels of diversity brings higher levels of innovation and greater inclusion results in higher financial returns. Yet, efforts to achieve DEIA continue to fall short of established goals. Companies need to make an effort to determine if certain groups are left out or feel disengaged. Do they not feel welcome or included within the workplace? Sincere DEIA efforts need to account for all possible demographics, from background and culture to age and accessibility needs.
- Having a toxic work culture. Failure to take action to prevent or discipline workplace behavior that violates the company’s values and/or code of conduct is a sure way to lose all employee engagement. Toxic work environments can arise from:
- Failure to take action against harassment or discrimination
- Tolerating disrespectful and abusive behaviors from superiors
- Promoting an expectation of overwork and “crunch” culture
- Not providing proper training or followup to employee concerns
Any of the above can lead to burnout, high stress and frustration among employees.
- Reduction in workforce events. Layoffs and downsizing are sometimes inevitable, but any reduction in workforce (RIW) event is going to have a negative effect on your employees and their level of engagement. Anytime an employee loses a coworker, the perception of their company and its leadership may change. To reduce the impact of an RIW, the company will need to have plans in place to support the remaining employees and keep them motivated.
How to Build an Employee Engagement Program
Whether your company is building an employee engagement program from the ground up or looking to revise its current program, there are some recommended steps to help ensure success.
- You’ll need to start by evaluating the current state of your organization, outlining the steps you’ll take toward increasing engagement and then determining how you’ll measure progress. Start with an assessment of where the organization is at:
- Where is the company culture currently, and is overall engagement close to where it needs to be? Are certain departments more or less engaged than others?
- Are you accounting for diversity, equity and inclusion and accessibility? Are some demographics within the company showing lower levels of engagement?
- Is leadership following through on promoting the company’s values and ideals?
- Does the professed company culture align with the overall strategic plan, or do some elements need to be changed?
- Have you set the standards and realistic expectations of how the company defines its work?
- Determine where the company will start and which elements of engagement will be prioritized. Trying to tackle everything at once can result in not being able to do anything well, whereas focusing on areas that are critical to employee engagement can provide you with initial success that the company can build on over time. Make use of organizational tools like Gantt charts to establish priorities and layout and update timelines and progress.Understand that the timeline for implementing an employee engagement program is highly variable. You’ll need to account for the size of the company, the commitment and capacity of the leadership team, possible adjustments in workforce and scope of the changes.
- Provide clear communication about the process and solicit feedback from employees. Different groups and departments are likely to have varying levels of engagement and unique perspectives on what drives engagement and different priorities. Not only is it critical to design effective surveys that will get employees to engage, you’ll need to have to plan for the company’s response to their concerns. As the implementation gets underway, consider taking shorter, pulse surveys to stay on top of how employees feel things are progressing and if they believe their concerns are being met.
- Take the time to regularly evaluate the outcomes and make adjustments as needed. Review data points such as employee Net Promoter Scores, turnover and attendance metrics and compare them against employee feedback. Have plans in place to determine how the company will respond to issues and concerns. For example, if an employee indicates that they’re not happy with their level of training and are likely to leave the company, is there a process in place to follow up with them in a timely manner?
Remember that employee engagement is a continuous process where you have to always be mindful of how you’re creating value for your employees. It may take more time and effort at first to launch, but supporting the program over time is essential for its success.
Partnering with experienced trainers like those at TWI Institute can help your teams build sustainable, successful programs that improve employee engagement long-term. Starting with an initial assessment will help determine the fundamental elements of your company’s standardized work and identify your employees’ actual on-the-job needs.
Contact us to learn more about how implementing training programs can direct managers and supervisors on how to communicate with employees to make them feel heard and work together to drive employee engagement.