Employee Engagement: The Key to a Strong Culture

A multi-ethnic group of five dock workers, including an African-American woman, walking and talking. There are gantry cranes and cargo containers in the background. They are wearing hardhats, safety glasses and reflective clothing.

Employee engagement is one of the most important human factors impacting operational performance. By definition, it’s the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work. In practice, it’s a direct measure of how employees feel about their jobs and a reflection of how those feelings impact them.

The subject of an enormous amount of research over the past few decades, employee engagement has a clear connection to some of the most challenging pain points companies experience and is a leading indicator of turnover in personnel, productivity and efficiency rates, and customer satisfaction.

As a front-line leader, you have a tremendous amount of influence on employee engagement. In fact, there’s probably few within your organization that have more impact on your direct reports than you – be it good or bad. That’s the stone-cold truth.

As an example, of the employees that voluntarily leave jobs, roughly half do so to escape their direct supervisor. As for reasons given, about 75% indicate it’s because they don’t feel valued or appreciated. Employee engagement is deeply rooted and highly reflected in the relationships that exist between employees and first-line supervisors. As such, it’s a great place to start when trying to improve the employee experience and the downstream benefits those improvements can provide.

 

Offer Opportunities

A sense of purpose is important to most employees. By seeking their help to resolve challenges, overcome barriers, and develop operational strategies, employees form a connection between themselves and critical performance objectives. When and where possible, provide them opportunities for involvement and input. Also, look for learning and development opportunities that could result in personal growth for employees. By providing these experiences, employees develop additional skills further enhancing their sense of purpose and connection with their job.

 

Show Value and Appreciation

Surveys consistently confirm employees don’t feel valued or appreciated. Additionally, many supervisors admittedly struggle with the process of demonstrating it. While most on the front line readily acknowledge the need for it, few have the knowledge or skills required to effectively do it.

When showing value and appreciation for employees, one must first understand how it differs from recognizing performance. Value and appreciation are shown for the individual. Recognition is best suited for acknowledging performance outcomes.

As noted in the previous section, employees need a sense of purpose. What exactly is it about the individual that you value or appreciate most? Is it their experience, their insight, their candid or painfully honest opinion? Is it their ability to anticipate barriers or to handle challenging circumstances? Whatever it is, let them know. Be specific and avoid generalized jargon that may hide or disguise your true observations involving the individual. Equally as important, when showing value or appreciation, it must be personalized. While some may appreciate being publicly acknowledged in front of peers, others may find it uncomfortable. By getting to know your employees individually and establishing rapport with them in advance, you will find it much easier to align your expression of appreciation with their personality. Whatever you do, make sure it’s sincere. Employees have a strong intuition about what’s real or fake. Done properly, value and appreciation are a strong source of motivation. Otherwise, it feels like manipulation – a caustic and damaging outcome that you want to avoid.

 

Give Constructive Feedback

Employees want and appreciate routine feedback regarding how they’re doing. They also need ongoing input on ways they can improve when performance falls short of desired outcomes. Whereas value and appreciation are provided based on individual qualities and traits, constructive feedback is given based on performance outcomes opposite job or behavior expectations. While this process seems simple enough, it’s routinely missing in application.

When feedback regarding performance outcomes is warranted, it must be communicated in a manner that is both relevant and in perspective. Relevance ensures a connection is made between performance outcomes and job or behavior expectations. Having perspective provides a holistic viewpoint of the matter being discussed. If you wish to provide feedback to an employee who failed to use a required tool or piece of equipment properly, you need to first understand why they did so. This is a clear case where seeking to understand first far outweighs the potential cost of prematurely seeking to be understood.

Feedback is most effective when it’s given in real time. While this isn’t always practical, it’s an important standard to strive towards. Time and distance between actions and feedback are indirectly related. The more time that elapses, the less impact feedback will have on the targeted behaviors in need of modification. This is one of the primary reasons annual performance reviews have lost favor as a tool for performance management with many organizations. If feedback is deemed necessary, don’t sit on it too long.

 

The path forward and subsequent outcomes are what ultimately ties this element back to employee engagement. Action items resulting from feedback received should ideally involve mutual agreement between the supervisor and employee. They should also convey a sense of ownership and responsibility for changes the employee will make. Employees grow from the experience and develop respect for those leading them through the process. All these factors contribute to a positive experience for your employees.

Growing employee engagement is more important than ever, given the challenges organizations face in attracting and retaining skilled labor. The process involved isn’t complicated, but it does require efforts to interact with employees on a routine basis. Provide ongoing opportunities for involvement and input, show value and appreciation for individual strengths, and give feedback on performance outcomes when needed. Do this often and employee engagement will respond accordingly. Sustain it over time and you will gain a competitive advantage directly impacting the bottom line and improving your organization’s strength in the marketplace.

This article originally appeared in the AEU LEAD blog on September 23, 2019.

Share:

Related Topics

Culture, Employee Engagement

More Resources

5 Ways to Promote a Positive Workplace Culture

Four Ways Supervisors Impact Employee Engagement and Safety Performance