There’s a lot of talk in the market about “Employee Engagement” and all these tactics and tools an organization can use to improve in this area, but the fact is – engaging your employees is much easier to do than you think and doesn’t cost a penny.
The problem many companies – and even volunteer groups – are facing is that employees have lost that “drive” that they once had when they first joined. Regardless of whether they have been a long-term or even short-term employee, that “spark” they had has dimmed: the excitement of being part of a new organization, the nervousness yet eagerness to learn all they can about their new company and position, the desire to feel like part of the team and that old “giving 110%.”
For a while there, the HR community called this “retention”…how do we keep our employees from leaving? But the word itself – if you really think about it – is restricting. To “retain” something (or someone) is to hold on to them, usually using boundaries or by force. Not exactly what we want to do with our employees! Last thing we want them to feel is back into a corner and complying with what we try to do just to make us stop and go away.
The shift to talking “engagement” instead is because, in reality, the only people we want to try and keep within our organizations are the ones that want to be there. Remember that phrase “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink it?” Well, that’s what many organizations have been trying to do…just nicely.
Think about your own job. Are you still as enthusiastic about getting up and going to work in the morning as you were when you first started? Do you feel a sense of personal success or satisfaction when you leave at the end of the day or are you just happy to go home? Do you start to compare yourself to others more and more in how the company treats or rewards them? Is this the job you see yourself content to spend the next several years with until you are ready to retire? It’s a reality check – isn’t it.
Bottom line: Dis-engagement stems most of all from a breakdown in two-way communication. Employees loose the desire to engage in their job because: 1) things become too routine with companies only rewarding for work results, and 2) they don’t feel appreciated or they feel taken advantage of.
To truly get your employees re-engaged, they need to self-motivate themselves…but there are simply things that Managers and HR professional can do to set the ball rolling on this:
- Observe and note: Take a walk around and just watch the employees while they are working. What mood do you pick up from them? How are they engaging with others? Are they always looking down and annoyed or do they look up and smile from time to time? Does one complain louder than the others or seem to get the others riled up as well? Just take in your observations about what the work environment looks like to someone from the “outside” and make notes of what you observed.
- Have an informal conversation: Don’t schedule a meeting but rather take the time to walk up to each employee, regardless of their position in the company, and have a chat. Tell them that you are just wondering how they are doing. It starts right there – you want to make it casual so that their guard comes down and they talk openly. Then start asking them about what they like or don’t like and what changes they may want to suggest. Tell them you are trying to get a feel for where the company is right now and where the employees would like to see things go so that you can review with management about adding some programs or making some changes.
- Have a meeting with management: Now its time to get serious and get down to business. Employee morale does more than just affect tenure of an employee, it affects how they interact with customers. A disgruntled employee will already be annoyed with a complaining customer and maybe not go that extra step to make them happy because, well…they aren’t happy. Explain your observations as you walked around, comments you received and suggestions you have to introduce some positive changes to the workplace. The biggest resistance management usually has it to anything that will “cost money” but not all changes have a price tag attached to it and most, if not all, can actually decrease overall cost as time goes on and these changes become the norm. Want a sure-fire way to get them to listen? Talk about the dollar amount associated with recruiting a new employee, labor lost in the meantime, cost to onboard and train that new employee and the potential of having to do it all again if the pattern continues…that usually gets them to at least stop and listen.
- Follow-up with the whole company: If you really want employees to open up and share the good and the bad, they have to know that what they say – regardless of what it is – will not fall on deaf eyes “as it has in the past.” Hold a company meeting. Let them know some of the observations that were made and the changes that management would like to make based on that feedback to help improve everyone’s job. This is where you have to build trust and it all has to start somewhere. The next time you repeat this process – and I would do it at least twice a year – you will find employees more open to talking when you come around.
Changes won’t happen overnight, we all know this, but don’t wait until you have developed the “perfect” Employee Engagement plan to start working on it. Those disengaged employees won’t stick around for long and many are already looking for their exit strategy.