10 purposeful employee engagement ideas

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The past year has made us all re-evaluate what’s important to us. People’s thoughts on how work brings a sense of purpose to their lives, and what they want to achieve, is part of that thought process as we all seek more solid ground.

As an employer now is the time to figure out the steps you can take to make your team feel committed and reconnected to their colleagues and your organisation. It will be worth it. Businesses with higher levels of employee engagement are more joyful, productive and profitable. Engaged employees are emotionally committed to their work and their workplace. They are more creative, innovative and loyal. They deliver a better customer experience.

And as highlighted by Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi in their book Primed to Perform, these high levels of engagement are driven by three overarching factors: purpose, potential and play.

Purpose, potential, play – the three drivers of employee engagement

  • Purpose – “my work and the aims of the organisation matter to me”. All the good things that come with higher levels of employee engagement – increased productivity, improved loyalty and advocacy, greater creativity and so forth – are only possible when an employee feels that their individual purpose aligns with that of their organisation.
  • Potential – “I get something out of doing the work”. Fulfilling potential in terms of personal development, progression, satisfaction and reward and recognition is a powerful factor in increasing motivation and performance.
  • Play – “I get the opportunity to contribute, experiment, be creative and have fun”. Giving employees more autonomous freedoms also helps to create a happier, more productive workplace.

An absence of the three Ps, economic pressure to hit financial targets, concerns about job security and emotional pressure to perform out of shame, guilt or insecurity can quickly make someone feel disengaged and demotivated. Productivity and the quality of work could take a hit and absenteeism and churn could increase.

But before we explore some ideas to help your business improve engagement and make your employees feel more committed and connected to your organisation, let’s take a look at where we are at in the engaement stakes.

How engaged are employees feeling?

The reality is few employees feel highly engaged and businesses that are looking to turn the tide are starting from a low base. Engagement levels were already sinking before the pandemic. And the latest figures from Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2021 Engagement and Retention Report tell us that just 21% of employees consider themselves to be ‘very engaged’ at work.

The impact of remote workng

While things like more family time, no commute and reports of increases in productivity by some businesses have been the positive stories – there have also been major downsides. If we look below at some of the findings of research by YouGov for Skillcast – the frustrations of working from home – difficulty staying motivated, the absence of a workplace routine, missing socialising and high levels of anxiety (all of which affect all age groups but are more acute issues for millennials) have been negatively impacting that all important sense of purpose and belonging.

Chart - the ups and downs of working from home

Fixing poor engagement will not be easy. But there are proven tactics you can turn to.

10 employee engagement ideas that work

1. Empower your employees to shape your people strategy

All too often we see leadership teams put the engagement plan together without first talking to their people. Understanding what makes your employees tick and what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning is critical. Employees who are purpose-driven and part of the discussion / decision making process are less likely to become disengaged.

Here are some questions to explore with your team:

  • What do they value and what does work mean to them?
  • What would make them want to stay and what would make them want to leave?
  • For remote workers, what do they like about working from home and what do they miss?
  • For furloughed workers, what are their thoughts about returning to work?

Your people have their hands on the controls. You have limited control over how you can help them achieve fulfilment at work. There are some levers you can pull around leadership style, work culture, employee experience, salary and so on. The answers to these questions will help you here.

But there are external factors that are out of your control. Having a better understanding of how these factors – family commitments, hobbies and interests, for example, also influence what an employee wants from their work – is important if you don’t want the shock of unexpected resignations.

2. Embrace ‘servant leadership’

The relationship between employees and leadership is critical to job and life satisfaction. This deep-rooted influence has been coined the ‘boss factor’ by McKinsey. But people who are good at being a boss aren’t always good at nurturing an engaged workforce. To do this, progressive businesses are turning to a different leadership style to get the best from their people – ‘servant leadership’.

These companies are moving away from traditional boss / employee reporting lines and top-down command and control cultures. Businesses that are practising this style of leadership are invested in our three overarching factors that improve engagement: purpose, potential and play. They are hiring and promoting ‘servant leaders’ that want to serve the greater good and give employees the platform they need to be the best they can be. They persuade, empower, listen, delegate and connect to a shared mission. They encourage team members to test new ideas and ways of working. They are driven by developing people, building a trusted team and achieving results. They serve together.

3. Hire on values and purpose

As we mentioned earlier, an employee that shares the same values and purpose as their organisation will want to stay and do their best work. For a clothing brand like Zappos, whose purpose is to ‘live and deliver WOW’, the company is so committed to its 10 core values that it hires and fires by them.

They are:

1. Deliver WOW through service

2. Embrace and drive change

3. Create fun and a little weirdness

4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded

5. Pursue growth and learning

6. Build open and honest relationships with communication

7. Build a positive team and family spirit

8. Do more with less

9. Be passionate and determined

10. Be humble

Businesses like Zappos tend to have superior employee engagement because they find and keep people that want to live the mission.

What’s your mission and what are your core values?

Here are a few questions to help you find the answers:

  • What do we stand for and how do we want to make a difference – for our people, customers and community?
  • What values are the lifeblood of our organisation?
  • How does our company live our mission and values – on a daily basis and through our actions, behaviour and purpose?

4. Create a line of sight to the organisation’s goals

Be clear about how an employee’s role links to the organisation’s goals. Create more meaning by discussing with them the ways in which their role can be shaped to provide more value for them and the business. Shared goals not individual tasks, appropriate levels of autonomy to do their work and make decisions, and the right tools and knowledge all impact engagement and commitment.

5. Be visible and approachable

With the wholesale shift to remote working many leadership teams recognised the need to be more visible and accessible. Formal and informal ‘hierarchies’ were flattened and new methods of communicating were introduced to keep teams in the loop. When people return to their office or workplace they will expect this more open style of communication to continue.

6. Create a positive work from home culture

There has been a major upside to remote working. But, there is also a growing problem around e-presenteeism, which is blurring the separation between work and home life. People are staying online and working longer hours to show that they are productive and available. Some employees are working from home while unwell and not taking their allocated holiday time. The Mental Health Foundation reports that UK employees are putting in an extra 20 hours on average per month. The rising tide of e-presenteeism is taking its toll on employee well-being and engagement.

It’s important to be clear about remote working policies and businesses that have built positive work from home cultures tend to do so by leading by example. Management teams role model behaviours. They are open to requests for flexible working and time off for childcare. They schedule regular check-ins to see how team members are coping and make time to talk about the non-work stuff.

7. Offer practical work from home benefits

When YouGov asked employees about what would improve productivity, they overwhelmingly chose a better table or chair over fun things like a virtual party. People have come up with all kinds of inventive ways to socialise virtually – and this is really important to keep a sense of connection – but employers are also investing in home working and technology benefits to make sure their people have the right tools and access to the information they need to do their job properly.

8. Invest in reskilling, learning & development

Your people are facing significant new challenges in delivering on what you promise to your customers. The way they work and serve customers has changed. Some employees are naturally worried about the security of their jobs as digital takes on some the tasks they once did. Reskilling and upskilling your people to meet these challenges and encouraging personal development and career progression is crucial in helping employees stay motivated and engaged.

9. Encourage team-based improvements

Some employees have just spent months apart from each other. They have been working in new, challenging ways. As some sense of normality returns, empowering your team to identify customer improvements is a powerful way to rebuild team unity and spirit (and make for a better CX). They will have customer knowledge from the past year that is invaluable. A clear sense of team purpose and taking accountability for their work can help increase engagement. Ensuring teams are coordinated, joined up and supported to implement their ideas and overcome challenges and any roadblocks will help give them confidence to try something different.

10. Link recognition and rewards to purpose

We’ve gone full circle here. When employees share a sense of purpose, and they understand how their contribution makes a difference, they will be more engaged and fulfilled in their work. Think about how to reward work that contributes to that purpose – we’re talking about positive contributions that not only impact the team, but your company and customers too.

By encouraging your team to recognise the good things their colleagues are doing is also sending a powerful signal. Highly engaged employees are 2.6 x more likely to work in an organisation with a peer recognition programme. By taking a leaf out of Croud’s book, for example, and scheduling regular ‘Shouting About Success’ catch ups where employees recognise each other’s achievements, you will make a positive impact on morale. Sometimes saying “thank you” is all it takes.

A final thought …

We’ve all been at the sharp end of poor employee engagement – as colleagues and as customers. A disengaged employee ‘shows up’ in the form of poor quality work, disinterest in the customer and their job requirements. In contrast, employees who are highly engaged and have a strong sense of purpose are more productive, innovative and willing to go the extra mile – for the business and the customer.

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