How to Keep Your Employee Engaged

Employee engagement is critical to the success of any company.  If you’re working with employees that aren’t “all there,” you’re effectively flushing money right down the drain.  Either their performance will flag, or they’ll outright stumble and you or another employee will have to step in and pick up the mess.

Indeed, Forbes reports that 4 out of 10 employees consider themselves unengaged with their job.  That number is dramatic and has drastic consequences.  Disengaged employees, in addition to the bad habits listed above, are also more than twice as likely to quit their job within 2 years.  That means a whole lot of turnover and recruiting/training expense.

But it’s not all about the negative effects either.  Engaged employees are more efficient, have a better attitude, present a friendlier face to your clients and customers, and are generally much easier to get along with.  That’s because they’ve cultivated a certain amount of loyalty to the company (or even to you, the boss) and have made their work performance a priority.

But how do you keep an employee engaged—especially in tough financial times?

Do You Believe They Put a Man on the Moon?

NASA (the guys who sent men to the moon) has an interesting approach.  So interesting, in fact, that Tom Fox wrote a feature piece for The Washington Post about it.  Interviewing Jeri Bucholz, NASA’s chief human capital officer, Tom uncovered that their “secret formula” is something any business can use.

  1. Find the right employees the first time around
  2. Maintain an excellent work environment
  3. Eliminate administrative red tape so people can do their jobs
  4. Promote a solid work/life balance

That’s it.  A simple, four-step process that leads to longevity, loyalty, and near-laser engagement from everyone on board.  And that’s why NASA was ranked the number one large agency in the 2012 edition of “The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.”

Bucholz also notes that NASA essentially sets their work up as projects, rather than ongoing drudgery.  These projects allow employees to really narrow their focus and bring their big guns to bear.  A “normal” workplace, such as a retail store, might employ a similar approach by giving employees a certain amount for freedom to say, hit sales goals, revamp displays to their liking, even create friendly contests between departments or individuals.

What You Know is Wrong

Time is money.  More is good.  Faster is better.

These are common workplace ideologies that Diane Fassel, founder of Newmeasures, says just don’t work anymore (if they ever did).  “The mindset is that more is better. [companies are] not thinking that effectiveness is more productive than quantity.”  And that’s just wrong.

When supervisors focus on the quality of the work, the speed may suffer (or, interestingly, it may not) but the employee will be happier in the long run.  The reason behind that increased engagement is two-fold:

  1. They feel valued and see that the boss is placing confidence in their skill
  2. They learn their actually good at something and begin to take pride in their deliverables instead of cranking them out in bulk

In fact, as Joe Robinsons writes in Entrepreneur, “Engaged employees are more energized, dedicated and committed to their tasks and to the company than folks operating by rote.”  He calls engagement “the X-factor entrepreneurs would be wise to harness.”

Recreation Equipment (REI) Gets Social

It’s not uncommon for a company to have a designated “water cooler.”  But often the banter that goes on around it isn’t exactly the most productive—it’s usually a lot of griping and gossip.  However, if you give your employees a friendly, open, and constructive place to get together and chew the fat, you’ll increase their engagement almost automatically.

Take, for instance, Recreational Equipment.  They went one step further than putting cake in the break room.  They created an online “company campfire” which functions as a digital meeting ground for employees.  Discussions arise (some directed by supervisors and some not), friends are made, connections are cemented, and the company bonds with its employees.  In fact, 4,500 of the company’s employees have logged on since the product launch.

Now, you don’t have to build such a thing from the ground up.  In fact, you have a ready-made solution at your fingertips:  Facebook.  Create a group for your employees to join, engage in conversations and feedback, and just be one cohesive unit.  (Just keep in mind any legal pitfalls you might run across by using social media.)

And if you don’t like the idea of online shenanigans, go old skool with real-life meet-ups, after hours office gatherings, and other team building events.  Just stay away from the boring old company picnics—spice things up a little.

Mentorship Is a Powerful Tool for You

Everyone wants to advance in their job (well, the good employees do anyway), and one way you can help facilitate that is to create a mentorship program.  It can be a formal affair or even informal, just bring an experienced employee (not necessarily a senior one) in touch with a less-experienced one and give them a little guidance to get the ball rolling.

That’s exactly what M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has done and it’s paid off in spades.  The program creates a direct 1:1 bond between employees, one that’s beneficial to both individuals and the company as whole.

The mentee receives valuable on-the-job experience and training; the mentor earns a seat as a trusted advisor; and the company gets two employees that are better than they were before.

Knowing is Half the Battle

You can’t just assume that your engagement program is working.  You have to actually ask you employees how they feel (or get a third party polling service to do it for you).  Without a clear and actual representation of where your employees fall on a scale of engagement, you can’t hope to build a program that brings them closer into the fold.  As with every other aspect of your business, get feedback and actually listen to it.  Oddly, this in itself is enough to boost engagement.  But if you can demonstrate that you have the best interest of your employees in mind and act on that feedback, you’ll garner support, respect, and loyalty without even making a chore of it.

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