Gallup’s July update shows that only 32% of employees feel engaged at work. It seems a given that employees who feel a connection to the company they work for are more likely to go the extra mile because they feel they are part of something they are helping to create. Yet clearly companies continue to fail at successfully engaging their most valuable resource–their staff.
Part of the challenge, is that too many companies operate as though they are perpetually under siege: by competitors, by economic forces, by unrealistic goals set by shareholders or the CEO, or simply by a supervisor who uses fear and threats as a “motivator.” When companies operate this way, employees inevitably protect themselves from a siege mentality by distancing themselves emotionally even as they continue to physically perform their duties. In this type of corporate culture, no matter how many ice cream socials, free yoga classes or “Star Performer” awards that HR organizes to help employees feel valued or supported, employees will continue to feel disenfranchised.
Employees inevitably protect themselves from companies that operate under a siege mentality by distancing themselves emotionally
Even in organizations that value collaboration and actively recognize and reward talent when a goal is met, engagement will only be as effective as its internal communications strategy. Many companies regularly issue internal newsletters or emails, but too often they focus only on the mundane, such as letting people know about an upcoming fire drill, new training classes or workshops available or to introduce a new senior team member.
One professional services entity I worked at created an internal newsletter that did an excellent job keeping its partners and associates abreast of firm achievements, new business won, positive media coverage and third-party endorsements and awards. It was a very effective communications tool for the firm’s top executives given that they were based in 32 different offices throughout the world. Just one huge drawback: the newsletter was not shared with support staff, which meant that the people who answered the company’s phone, marketed and promoted its services, handled the firm’s accounting and billing needs, and had oversight for its technology and communications infrastructure were totally in the dark about what the organization actually did and how their individual tasks and responsibilities helped contribute to the bottom line.
Below are some ideas companies can deploy to help engage staff using a combination of communications and action-oriented activities:
- Create an internal blog or newsletter that keeps employees at every level and department informed of major developments and achievements at your organization. It also should actively solicit that employees share and submit news so that you always have fresh content and personnel feel move vested when their contributions are recognized. At one place I worked, my team issued a short update four days a week, each day focused around a different achievement. Mondays highlighted company thought-leadership: press coverage, awards won and speaking engagements; Tuesdays profiled an employee or group of employees who recently realized great success, or devised an innovative idea that helped save the organization time or money; Wednesdays highlighted client successes or best practices for improving client service; Thursdays profiled effective cross-selling techniques. Within minutes of that day’s update being issued, we always received one or two emails from firm members telling us about a success they recently experienced or letting us know about an upcoming seminar at which they would be speaking, as people enjoyed seeing their names in print and often included the number of times they were featured in the blog in their annual evaluations to help make the case that they deserved a raise or promotion.
- Give employees a voice in what charities the company supports. This can be done by setting aside a set amount of dollars, developing a pre-vetted list of trusted philanthropic organizations and asking all employees to vote for which organization(s) should receive the money and in what percentages. Companies with multiple locations may also want to consider allowing individual offices to decide what charities they wish to support in their local communities.
- Announce all new hires, not just senior executives. That doesn’t mean every new hire warrants a press release or even a mention on the firm’s website, but the company’s supervisor should introduce the person via email or post an announcement on the company’s Intranet, internal blog or social media (Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook) page. It not only will make the new staffer feel welcome, but it serves to demonstrate the areas in which the company is growing or strategically maintaining or increasing support, which helps all at the company better understand the company’s larger goals.
- Use creative formats to convey significant news. For announcements of great significance, such as an acquisition, a major shift in the company’s strategy, or landing a coveted client or assignment, consider developing a brief (no more than a minute) video message from the CEO that will play when people first log onto their computers for their shift. Another option is to prerecord a voicemail from the CEO delivering the news which is then sent to all on the network. We have all become so bombarded by emails that communications departments need to help the C-suite cut through the noise to make sure significant information gets delivered.
- Host in-person or virtual town halls where employees are free to ask questions of the CEO or other designated senior leader. For larger organizations, perhaps host town halls based on department or office so people don’t feel intimidated asking a question before a large crowd. Some companies have better success with such town halls if people send in questions ahead of time and anonymously. This gives the CEO more time to prepare her answers, but also generally results in staffers asking tougher or more critical questions about the company’s direction. That may put a bit more pressure on the C-suite, but it also lets them know what’s on the mind of their employees and shows that engaged personnel care about the company’s long-term success.
- Organize three or four different corporate volunteer efforts so employees can participate in those causes that appeal most to them. Non-profits like Habitat for Humanity help foster teamwork, and assigns tasks based on each person’s individual experience with construction or skill with certain tools, so staff will get to work with employees with whom they don’t normally interact. Health care infomatics company McKesson takes another approach, focusing on one signature volunteer effort called Giving Comfort, which creates kits that provide comfort and ease to low-income patients undergoing cancer treatment. Employees and their families come together at an annual event to create these comfort kits, extending engagement beyond the staff.
- Sponsor employee contests. When one firm I worked for was moving to new headquarters after being in the same building for more than 55 years, we created a series of contests to help create enthusiasm for the move and encourage people to recycle unnecessary documents and printed materials to reduce the amount of boxes that needed to be moved to the new location. Recyling bins and shredders were posted on each floor and once a week, facilities would weigh the amount of paper recycled or shredded. The floor that ultimately shed the most paper at the end of three months received a free pizza party. We also hosted a contest to name for our new conference rooms, asking employees to come up with a naming convention that best reflected the firm’s culture and history. The employee who came up with the winning concept won two tickets to a Broadway show of their choice.
These are just a few proven ways to help talent feel more involved with and committed to their organization. What are some successful ideas implemented at your company that help you feel more engaged?