Although “employee engagement” is one of the most popular workplace topics, it may only be a catchphrase at many companies. According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, only 31.5% of workers report being engaged, and managers (38.4%) have the highest engagement levels of all employees.
% Of Engaged Employees
As baby boomers and traditionalists (the Silent Generation) retire, companies need to understand how to engage a younger and radically different workforce—especially millennials, who have surpassed Generation X as the largest generation of employees. While lucrative wages are important to millennials, other factors are just as critical for millennial employees.
Autumn Manning, CEO of YouEarnedIt, an Austin, Texas-based employee engagement platform conducted an employee engagement survey that reveals three distinctions between engaged and disengaged employees:
- Want to feel like a part of the team
- Want real-time feedback
- Prefer perks and rewards such as happy hour and group yoga to money or paid time off
- Don’t have opportunities to interact with co-workers
- Are subject to bad managers
- Only receive annual performance reviews
Some companies do not seem to understand the importance of keeping employees engaged. It’s not uncommon to find managers and executives who say, “You should just be glad you have a job,” or “I don’t care how you feel about your job–just do it.”
However, disengaged workers largely determine an organization's success. When your employees aren’t happy at work, they don’t care about meeting goals, providing great customer service, or increasing revenue. In fact, another Gallup Poll revealed that lost productivity costs American businesses anywhere from $450 billion to $550 billion a year, so it's crucial you keep your employees engaged.
Creating a Desirable Work Environment
So how can companies create the type of workplace where employees feel engaged?
“Creating the Best Workplace on Earth,” a Harvard Business Review report, asked this question hundreds of times over the course of three years, and determined that there are six important ways to engage employees. Investopedia asked a few experts to weigh-in on each point.
1. Let people be themselves
Allow your employees to be individuals instead of forcing them into stereotypical categories. Employees are comfortable if they have the freedom to look and think differently. Blake Moore is the owner of mo marketing + pr, a Detroit-based marketing agency that primarily hires millennials. Moore tells Investopedia, “Millennial behavior is perceived as idiosyncratic and, even unpredictable.” Moore says embracing the millennial mindset may be the difference between successfully interacting with them putting up communication barriers.
In short, it’s important to treat employees as individuals. This year, the Center for Generational Kinetics named accounting firm Porter Keadle Moore one of the Best Places to Work for Millennials. Christie Bell, the firm's director of human resources says, “You can’t take a broad stroke approach—you really have to get to know each individual as a person.” Bell notes that it is important to make an emotional connection with each employee and says that leaders need to work on building relationships with their staff.
2. Unleash the flow of information
Always tell your employees what’s going on–even if it’s bad news. And your leaders should want to hear the truth from their employees–even if it’s not flattering. If employees are not penalized for pointing out negatives about the company, this fosters an environment where employees feel that they have a real voice. Moore says millennials want to be treated as collaborators, not underlings. He says they have strong opinions about what they want in the workplace and will fight for what they believe in.
Bell also notes that communication is essential if you want to keep millennial employees engaged:“Be as open as possible. Provide regular feedback that is positive and constructive,” says Bell.
For some companies, this may require changing the traditional feedback process.
Sherry Dixon, southern division senior vice president of Adecco Staffing USA, says Baby Boomers are accustomed to receiving feedback during annual or biannual reviews. However, this practice is different from how millennials like to be managed, says Dixon: “Given millennials’ desire for upward mobility, they are likely to ask for feedback regularly, rather than waiting for an annual performance review.” Dixon says this type of regular open dialogue keeps employees more engaged in their work.
3. Magnify people’s strengths
Allow good employees to develop their skills, and allow underperforming employees to improve their performance. Companies can achieve this by providing training and coaching opportunities to help workers develop their skills and abilities, and add more value to the organization.
Career growth is one of the most important job aspects for young professionals, says Dixon: “There is no doubt that Millennials are ambitious. With entrepreneurial role models like Mark Zuckerberg, millennials dream big.” Bell says it’s important to make sure that your star performers know that they are stars. She advises companies to be intentional about crafting individual career plans for their employees, provide mentoring opportunities and create pathways for staff to be promoted.
Additionally, Bell warns leaders against making the mistake of assuming that employees who “don’t do it the same way that I did” are lazy or incompetent. Instead, companies need to embrace different ways of solving problems or completing tasks.
4. Stand for more than shareholder value
Give employees something to believe in, aside from a paycheck. Make the organization a place that workers are proud to be associated with. According to Moore, millennials, “want to give a damn about the work, and align their morals with those of a moral organization.” Moore feels many companies may not understand how important this concept is: “When the workload merges with our combined personal interests, a personal brand emerges. And when it means something to all of us, it means something to others.” As a result, Moore says the ability to make that connection separates good ideas, and even great ideas, from white noise.
5. Show how the daily work makes sense
Give employees work that adds value instead of having them perform meaningless tasks. Also, make sure that they understand the importance of their job and how it fits in the big picture. Moore says he realizes that his company’s millennial team members bring unique views, brainpower, and insight that help to shape recommendations and best practices for the future.
6. Have rules people can believe in
Rules and company policies are necessary, but there should be an easily understood reason for them. Also, rules should be consistently applied to everyone in the organization.
Moore warns that attempts to micromanage millennials will likely end in disappointment: “From structuring tasks and schedules to maintaining deadlines and deliverables for clients, Millennials don’t want or need a lot of hand holding, so micromanagers beware, you may have to change your whole approach.”
The Bottom Line
Keeping your employees engaged is critical to your organization’s success. Knowing how to engage them as well as what practices to avoid can help you create a team of workers excited to use their talents to meet the company’s goals.