Employee Engagement

To drive employee engagement, you have to play the long game

December 17, 2018
November 7, 2023
Lattice Team

The benefit of having engaged employees at your company may seem obvious, but it's something that can be more easily said than done: too often, thinking about building employee engagement is limited solely to engagement survey results discussions, rather than a holistic investigation of a workplace. The benefits of employee engagement are endless, though, and committing to their long-term is really essential.

The Harvard Business Review has termed the “adrenaline shot” approach to employee engagement as little changes that boost engagement temporarily, but whose engagement effects wear off. This shortsighted planning, by their estimation, wastes hundreds of millions of dollars every year — and doesn't lead to a more engaged workforce.

As with any other objective, companies need to take action and develop a long-term employee engagement strategy in order to be effective. This may mean altering management styles, company culture, or employee protocols to increase employee engagement. These sorts of changes may seem daunting, but the boost to retention and productivity will be well worth it.

Management impacts employee engagement

Managers play a key role in the engagement levels of their employees. While there is no exact correlation model between employee engagement and productivity, we see time and time again that if employees aren't engaged, they aren't productive — the best managers know that performance management is a great way to keep employees moving forward. By supporting employees in growing through development opportunities and fostering their growth, a manger helps ensure they're helping and employee be the best employee they can be.

Performance management is one of the best management models, because it “is about instilling confidence and encouraging autonomy in employees so that, together, you can set challenging and meaningful goals.” By focusing on your employee's goals and their long-term career development, you're boosting employee retention because showing them you're invested in their growth. They, in turn, will be more focused and engaged, which is a win-win for your business.

People management and management procedures

If you're not sure how best to go about this, good news! Management — including people management — is a learnable skill. One way managers learn to be effective is by following best practices that your company outlines in its procedures; however, that's just a foundation on which to build. After all, something as simple as setting communication guidelines can make all the difference. Is it spelled out anywhere that employees should receive a response from management within 24 hours of a query? What about guidelines encouraging public praise? You can impact the employee experience greatly by creating a work environment in which they receive consistent feedback and praise, feel empowered to be creative, and feel supported when they meet new challenges.

Surveys only drive employee engagement when used correctly

At Lattice, we think a lot about the best ways to give surveys and analyze them. There are definitive best practices around what questions to ask and how to dissect your results. But the actualities of giving the survey aren't the only thing that a company has to worry about when they are trying to build a long-term strategy to boost the engagement of employees.

Employee engagement surveys should be a tool in your toolbox for checking in, receiving employee feedback, and monitoring employee engagement regularly, says Deloitte. To maximize surveys themselves, you must:

  • Give surveys regularly — that is, more than once a year. Aim for once a quarter.
  • Make a commitment to your employees to make changes after an engagement survey, and tackle problem areas identified in the survey quickly.
  • Follow up surveys with discussions that emphasize hearing employee voices/ideas.

This will ensure that you're getting the most out of the survey process.

But to drive engagement beyond one survey = one change, you need a more long-term approach — otherwise, disengaged employees stay disengaged. Deloitte research suggests that giving one big annual employee survey in addition to regular, smaller surveys can be a catalyst for looking at longer-term changes.

If your big annual survey identifies two areas of concern, you can start to make changes immediately, but also forecast how yearlong initiatives — like hiring or budgeting for software — can accommodate bigger initiatives. Simply using surveys to check in will force you to keep pushing out those adrenaline shot “quick fix” ideas, because you will not have prepared for the bigger picture. Instead, give your employees timelines or key dates when you discuss implementing changes: this will show you are serious and can be held accountable; it will also force team members to prepare themselves for any habits that might be disrupted.

Employee engagement needs to be process-led

If there are no one-time actions that will improve employee engagement, then driving engagement must be baked into your company's process. The best way to drive engagement is by setting up systems that foster it. For “formal” employee management processes, that means:

  • Regular check-ins with managers (formal and informal). Face time with managers gives employees time to voice concerns, get questions answered, and discuss their development. The key for making sure an employee benefits from informal conversations is to document them: adding feedback for 1:1s, notes, or praise in a performance management tool can help you understand changes in your employees' engagement more objectively over time.
  • Goal setting (yearly, quarterly, by project). Goal setting is a chance to have employees think about their long-term career goals and how they can build up to those milestones with your company's support.
  • Focusing on employee development (opportunities, resources, assignments). Giving employees enough space and resources to develop is key to their engagement, reported Gallup for the Harvard Business Review.

Processes help you develop and iterate on a long-term employee engagement strategy. But there are also employees' lives outside of their work development, which Susan LaMotte, a veteran Fortune 500 HR head, says is key to driving engagement:

“[T]he behaviors and values employees cultivated outside work had an intense impact on how they behaved at work. When employees pulled into their driveways at the end of a commute, the events and activities that happened next governed their behaviors the following day.”

This means that developing policies and processes that help employees flourish outside of the exact scope of their office work is key. Having a stipend for wellness spending, providing discounts on online courses, creating a “no emailing after 10 pm” rule, hosting happy hours or coding project nights — helping employees to recharge and energize outside of work is key for engagement.

As your processes and procedures become the basis of your employees' relationship with their work, development, and managers, you will be building a system that sustains engagement.

Progress happens with good strategy

The ideas presented in this article are not ones that can be implemented tomorrow — and that's the point. Thinking critically about management, long-term planning from engagement surveys, and business processes is work that is inherently too much for any company to handle at once.

And that's okay! As you make these changes and think about employee engagement as it relates to the holistic workings of your business, you will see continual boosts in engagement. And these boosts, unlike those adrenaline shots, are here to stay.