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 is, by their estimation, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars spent on engagement every year.
Like with any other objective, companies need to develop a long-term employee engagement plan in order to be effective. But too often, thinking about building employee engagement is limited to engagement survey results discussions, rather than a holistic investigation of a workplace.
Driving employee engagement is a difficult thing to do. It may require that you change management styles, company culture or employee protocols, none of which are small, quick changes. What you can — and should — do is build a long-term engagement strategy to boost retention and productivity.
Management culture must encourage employee engagement
A key part of any manager's job is to maintain productivity of the people underneath them. While there is no exact correlation model between engagement and productivity, we see time and time again that if your employees aren't engaged, they aren't productive.
That means that long-term success with engagement must be rooted in management style, procedures, and culture.
While every manager will have their own spin on management style, as a whole, you should structure your company around a proven style of management that promotes development and engagement. One such style is performance management. It is one of the best management models to shift to, because it “is about instilling confidence and encouraging autonomy in employees so that, together, you can set challenging and meaningful goals.”
By focusing on goals, long-term development, and empowerment, performance management goes hand in hand with engagement. It's focused on moving employees forward, building on their past progress and steering them in the directions that make the most sense for their skills and career ambitions.
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.
Developing your management procedures is a long-term project that is key to employee engagement. It will underscore how much feedback employees get from their managers, how creative employees feel they can be and how supported employees feel.
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? These may be small changes that you fold into your management procedures, but as you continue to refine them, they can make a significant impact.
Too long have many managers and companies fallen into the trap that a harsh management culture filled with “brutal” criticism is the way to push productivity and 'engagement.' Studies in the Journal of Nursing Management have shown that “trust and trustworthiness, empowerment and delegation, consistency and mentorship” are the most important cultural traits managers can foster — not cracking the whip.
Develop a culture that is deeply rooted in valuing employees and their work. Place an emphasis on listening and praise and encourage your employees to take challenges and stretch themselves. Building a management culture that is positive and encouraging will make employees feel more comfortable at work and will mean they are less afraid to reach out with ideas or for help.
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 for engagement.
Engagement surveys should be a tool in your toolbox for checking in 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.
- 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. For that, Deloitte research suggests that giving one big annual 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.
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.
- 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 your management culture, your long-term planning from engagement surveys, and your business processes are designed to be too much for any company to handle at once.
And that's ok! 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.