Updated: May 7
Employee engagement is something I bang on about all. the. time. And with good reason!
You know me well enough by now, I like to use examples to explain my point.
There are two small, family run shops across the street from one another. They both have 5 employees each and they've both been in business the same length of time and the staff are all paid the same salaries, yet one does more business than the other.
Shop A has a team that come to work dead on 9am and are out the door by 5:01pm. They turn up, do enough that you feel you can't really say they're not doing their job and they go home.
Shop B has a team who come to work early to prepare for the day and don't leave until the jobs are all done. They come to work full of enthusiasm, they go over and above for the customers and they think of ways to improve and diversify, even when they're not at work.
The difference? Shop B's team are engaged! Now, which team would you want to manage? Yeah...me too!
So how do we get this mysterious employee engagement in our businesses?
First up, you need to know what your goal is and where your team is currently against that goal. What does an engaged and happy team look like to you?
Think about what your dream, engaged employee would do when they first arrive at work. Would they check the shop was spick and span before putting the kettle on or would they dump their bag and sit on Instagram for half an hour? Are they committed to the mission of your business? Do they live your company values?
Get super clear on what an engaged team looks like in your business.
Once you know what you're looking for, you can turn our attention to what you've got at the moment. How do your employees act and behave in comparison to your dream employee? Where are the areas that need work? It might be that your team aren't performing to the level your dream employees would. It might be that your team aren't as customer focused as you would like them to be. It might be simply that your team aren't as cheerful as you would like them to be!
When you have identified the gaps, it's time to put your detective hat on and find out WHY these gaps exist and HOW you can fix them.
You need to understand what is important to your team. This can be difficult to gauge so I recommend taking some time to ask your employees (either through a survey or a 121), what makes them come to work every day (besides the need for wages)? Ask them what they love about work and what would make it even better?
Now, when you are doing this research, people will always say "more money" is what would make work better for them. But that just isn't true!!
Pay increases DO NOT encourage long term engagement.
Pay increases work like Amazon deliveries. The doorbell rings and you rush down to graciously accept your parcel, you rip it open with excitement then pop it on the kitchen table and forget about it for the rest of the day. Same thing when you give someone a pay increase. They get a rush of excitement, "OMG that's awesome, thank you so much, best boss everrrr!" But by the end of the following day, they realise that the things that bug them about work are still there! Shock horror! Nothing fundamentally changes, just now they get a bit more cash in the bank each month.
The things that impact people's experience at work goes beyond their salary. It's deeper and more impactful than the employees probably even realise themselves!
Lots of employers make the mistake of implementing fancy engagement platforms and intricate reward schemes without actually thinking about what the employees want from their employer. For some it might be more flexible working hours. For others it might be better coffee. Get to know what matters, what really matters to your people, what impacts their day and how could you change it for the better?
In my corporate life, I left a truly fantastic job that I loved. I had a brilliant team. I had a good salary with great benefits like the ability to buy extra holidays! I can honestly say I loved my job. But...it was 30 miles from my home. It took me over an hour to get there in the mornings which meant I had to get up at 5am, walk my dogs for an hour, pay someone to let them out at lunch time and rush to do the horses before work. By the time I got to work in the mornings I was knackered! But my employer wasn't keen to allow me to work remotely a couple of days a week to make my life less stressful. So I left. Work life balance is super important to me, but my employer didn't quite recognise that.
In one of the last employee engagement surveys I conducted in my corporate career, an employee wrote that an extra table in her working area would make work better for her as she would have more room to complete her work! A TABLE! No pay increase, no bougie corporate days out. A table was all it took to make work great for her.
I've also found that having "nice" tea and coffee in the breakout room makes a huge difference to people's day. No one wants to be fuelled by crap coffee all day do they!?
So where performance levels are an issue, consider how you can engage and motivate your staff to be happier, more satisfied, more challenged at work before you start calling HR in to help with performance reviews and stern conversations. I'm not saying low grade coffee is the reason people aren't performing, but you might be surprised at how simple the cause could be.
Engagement comes from lots of different areas of your business, from how you communicate to your staff, to how fairly they are paid, to how much development is on offer for people. There is no right or wrong place to start in boosting your engagement, but the sensible place to start is where the gaps are, and that will be different for every business.
A lack of engagement is also not always easy to see. Sometimes, we have to peel back the layers, keep asking "why?" to get to the root cause of why someone's attitude stinks or why they are always late on a Monday.
I challenge you to pick one thing to work on in your business in the final quarter of the year which will improve employee engagement.