Driving Employee Engagement
Leading by listening, communicating, and learning can improve your bottom line
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
It is no surprise that recruiting and retaining good employees is more difficult than it has ever been. The economy is improving, job opportunities are plentiful, and the available pool of qualified candidates is decreasing. Applicants and employees have more options when it comes to choosing their employer. What does that mean for you as an employer? It means that you must develop programs that will attract applicants to your business, and then, more importantly, you need to create a culture and atmosphere that will keep them from leaving.
How can you keep your employees from leaving? Of course, you need to offer a competitive pay and benefits package, provide a safe work environment, and treat employees with respect. Employees expect all of that from any employer, and most employers offer those things. What can set you apart from those other employers? It is all about engaging your employees. What does that mean? Employee engagement is defined as the "emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organization, which tends to influence his or her behaviors and level of effort in work-related activities." The more engagement employees have with their company, the more effort they put forth. Employee engagement also involves factors such as the nature of the job itself; if the employee feels mentally stimulated; the trust and communication between employees and management; the ability of an employee to see how their own work contributes to the overall company performance; the opportunity of growth within the organization; and the level of pride an employee has about working or being associated with the company.
As you read this, are you reflecting on your laboratory's level of employee engagement? If your employees were surveyed today and asked why they stay, what would their answers be? Would they say they are challenged, involved, valued, paid well, appreciated, empowered, trusted, mentored, developed, or proud?
These are really the things that keep your employees satisfied and affect your retention efforts. These desires and needs of our employees are common, even among the different generations we have in the workplace today. As managers, we need to alter our communication methods for the different generations, but the factors driving engagement are the same for all workers. As a leader, what can you do to ensure your employees are engaged? The answer is in how you communicate and lead. True leaders acknowledge their workers' efforts as well as their own missteps, saying things like:
• "I value your contribution."
• "You've done a great job!"
• "I have complete faith in you."
• "Sorry, my fault."
• "Thank you!"
They also ask for input and offer support with questions such as:
• "What do you need from me to make this a success?"
• "What do you think?"
• "Do you have the capacity to do this now?"
• "What did we learn from this that we can use next time?"
• "How could we do this better?"
Do you say similar things? Think about how a message like this would be received by your employee. Would they feel like they are valued and appreciated? Would they feel like they are empowered and trusted? If your leader approached you in this way, wouldn't you be motivated?
Being a manager/leader is challenging. You are pulled in many directions and have multiple priorities. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day management activities and lose focus on ensuring your employees are engaged. However, the benefits of doing so are far-reaching. An engaged workforce will ensure your customers are satisfied. As a leader, think about different aspects of leadership and rate yourself on how well you are doing: communicating with your employees; offering coaching/feedback; showing them respect and fair treatment; being transparent and accountable; encouraging diversity; and acknowledging and celebrating achievements.
How did you rate yourself? Do you have work to do? We know the importance of these aspects of leadership and their impact on employee engagement, so why wouldn't we provide these things to our employees? Be an effective leader by providing these things. Talk to your employees, ask questions, and listen. Before you implement a new process, do you ask your employees for their input? If you have a quality control issue, are your employees involved in the resolution of the issue? Do you really know what your employees' goals are or what benefits are important to them? If you have answered no to any of these questions, ask yourself why not. Involving your employees can result in a higher level of employee engagement. Remember, an engaged workforce will result in satisfied customers and a better bottom line.
About the Author
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is the VP of HR Consulting and Outsourcing with HR Affiliates.