How to Create Employee Engagement Programs that Actually Work

Incorporating employee engagement and culture programs is a great start, but how do you make sure the time and effort actually benefits both the company and its employees?

 

At OpenWork, we profile companies that have made changes to when, where and how work is done for the benefit of both employer and employee. All of the companies that have been successful at reinventing work in this manner have one very important thing in common — engaged employees. Unfortunately, throwing money at a hodgepodge of workplace improvements and employee perks doesn’t equate to measurable improvements in employee engagement, retention and productivity. Instead programs should be well-planned, strategic and incorporated as a permanent part of the company’s DNA.

Here are six tips for implementing employee engagement programs that actually work.

1. Nurture Effective Managers

Starting at the top is a must for bolstering engagement and culture. Employees look to leadership for reassurance that programs —flexibility or unlimited vacation, for instance — are not just in-name-only policies. In fact, Quantum Workplace’s 2016 Employee Engagement Trends report found that believing “The leaders of this organization are committed to making it a great place to work” is a top driver of employee engagement. Unfortunately, the Quantum report also found that manager effectiveness had dropped significant since the prior year’s survey. How do you nurture effective managers? First and foremost, encourage them to be champions of workplace culture policies, both in word and action. Next, teach them how to spot and support disengaged and negative employees. Encourage them to build trust among team members with honest communications and feedback, and inspire managers to keep employee development top of mind.

2. Think Long-Term and Far-Reaching

Rather than offering a few one-off perks, like foosball tables and free snacks, true employee engagement is fostered by long-term, holistic efforts. Recently, workplace futurist Jacob Morgan identified three experience environments that matter most to employees — cultural, technological and physical — and surveyed 250 companies featured among various “best workplaces” lists. His analysis showed that only the companies that invested significantly in all three of these environments saw measurable performance gains. Calling these firms “experiential organizations,” Morgan wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Compared with other companies, the experiential organizations had more than four times the average profit and more than two times the average revenue. They were also almost 25 percent smaller, which suggests higher levels of productivity and innovation.”

3. Include Employee Recognition

Feedback and recognition from peers and management are an imperative part of keeping employees engaged and motivated. Quantum Workplaces’ State of Employee Feedback study found 44 percent of organizations that describe themselves as highly engaged also note their recognition program is becoming more important. Additionally, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute found that the engagement level of employees who receive recognition is almost three times higher than those who do not. Often, however, the challenge in incorporating feedback and recognition programs can be in encouraging employees to speak freely. To create a company culture that incorporates employee input, without making them uncomfortable when raising issues, check out OpenWork’s 6 Ways to Find Out What Employees Really Want. 

4. Talk One-on-One and Talk Often

The ineffectiveness of annual performance reviews has been a hot topic for the last several years, so it’s not surprising that Quantum’s State of Employee Feedback study found that a whopping 79 percent of firms using annual reviews describe their workforce as disengaged. On the other hand, 86 percent of highly engaged workplaces use one-on-one meetings as part of their performance strategy, and 55 percent of them are meeting face-to-face at least quarterly. OpenWork Success Story companies Deloitte and Adobe have both embraced this check-in model to great success. Wondering where to start at your workplace? WorkTango co-founder Rob Catalano offers great tips in his post, A Manager’s Essential Guide to Holding 1-On-1 Check-Ins.

 

5. Measure Effectiveness

Whether your current workforce is highly engaged or in danger of becoming disengaged, you won’t be able to track the effectiveness of your employee programs if you don’t measure. And like one-on-one meetings, frequent quick-pulse measurement is far better than broad annual employee surveys. First, because the more frequent inquiries can track granular changes over time, and second, because frequent short polls encourage far more response than lengthy, time-consuming surveys. Luckily, there are myriad real-time survey platforms worth a look, including Teamphoria!, Hyphen and Engagedly.

6. Make the Investment

In the end, it’s companies who consistently support engagement through a thoughtful investment of time, effort, and occasionally money, that yield significant gains in employee morale, productivity and revenue. According to Morgan’s research, the so-called experiential companies outperform “the S&P 500, the NASDAQ, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work” by significant revenue and profit margins, making engagement investments a smart strategic choice.

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