Companies with employees who are highly engaged have fewer sick days and accidents, and higher performance and profits. Joanne Pollard, training, development and quality manager of Nviro, shares 10 simple steps to achieve all this and better customer service too
The concept of “employee engagement” has been widely talked about for a number of years now. No doubt, some still see it as an airy-fairy notion. But more managers are waking up to the reality
that employee engagement not only goes to the heart of the relationship between the employer and the employee – it’s fundamental to the performance of the business.
Employee engagement is more than motivation and loyalty; we’re talking here about the underlying commitment between the employer and their employees. And yes, employee engagement is measurable, and so is its impact on company performance.
Several global management consultancies – including Gallup and the Hay Group – have been researching this relationship. Their findings are significant. The studies show, that the environment created by the employer, not surprisingly, influences the levels of engagement amongst its employees. More telling, the research reveals that how engaged your employees are influences their loyalty, absenteeism, creativity, work injuries and performance, and in turn, directly impacts the performance of the business, and the bottom line.
Over several years Gallup has carried out meta-statistical research (pooling the results of multiple studies across a range of sectors) quantifying the impact of employee engagement on organisational and team performance.
Its latest work found that businesses in the top quartile for employee engagement had a 37 per cent lower absence rate, 22 per cent lower employee turnover and 48 per cent fewer safety incidents than businesses in the bottom quartile. The same companies also enjoyed 10 per cent higher customer ratings, 21 per cent higher productivity and 22 per cent higher profitability.
The Hay Group, meanwhile, puts the headline improvement in performance when a workforce is ‘highly engaged’ at 30 per cent.
Most service businesses can only dream of achieving even half that kind of return through other means, whether by winning new business, streamlining costs, or innovation. So why aren’t they all striving to ensure their employees are highly engaged? And where should you start?
WHOSE JOB IS IT ANYWAY?
Before you ask your HR or personnel manager what they’re doing about employee engagement, consider your own management style.
The reason is that the research shows, when you drill down and explore the factors that affect how engaged an employee is, the person who has the biggest influence is the direct line manager.
Managing people isn’t easy. You’re constantly juggling demands, overseeing your team, trying to keep on top of your own workload, and all probably within a high-pressure environment. It is all too easy to forget that your most important job is to keep your team engaged. That’s because, as a manager, at the end of the day, you are nothing without your team.
The good news is that the ways to engage your team are not secret, they don’t require a highly scientific approach or an MBA, and most are entirely within your control. It does mean taking a step back and making time for people. That, at its simplest, is the key to influencing how the members of your team feel, and in turn how motivated they are to work hard, be creative and perform.
The same principles apply at a company level. So senior management buy-in is required for initiatives such as employee surveys and regular, clear communications. But managers at every level, and especially those on the front line, have a huge part to play. So here is a quick line manager’s guide to driving employee engagement.
This may be heresy to some of your colleagues, but in the service industry I always argue that employee engagement should come before customer service. If we create an environment in which our employees are engaged and really care about what they do, then great customer service will follow naturally.
We need to take time out of our busy working day and dedicate it to our employees. It doesn’t matter where someone sits in the hierarchy of your business; everyone is a person with emotional needs that need to be looked after. If we want every member of our team to give of their best, and our business as a whole to perform at its highest possible level, they must be engaged.
10 SIMPLE TIPS
- Just say it: Thank you. Well done. ‘Bon travail’. You did great! This is top of the list for a reason. It’s really not hard, but how many managers actually do it? The excuses I’ve heard range from: ‘I don’t have time’, to: ‘Well, we pay them to do a good job – I shouldn’t have to tell them too.’ It’s not about praising every minute thing, because that wouldn’t be sincere. It’s about recognising good work and making people feel proud of what they’ve done. And celebrate successes as a team. Everyone has different emotional needs. It’s the manager’s job to understand the individuals in the team and the sort of feedback they need to keep them motivated and enjoying what they do.
- Give people the opportunity to learn. As a general rule, people love to learn. Being able to do something faster, better and in a different way keeps work interesting. Supporting and encouraging employees to learn means you raise the bar in terms of the skills within your team. But it’s more than this. The opportunity to learn makes people feel valued and worth that investment. It means they can do things, faster, better, and take on more responsibility. In return you will get a more loyal, able, creative person who will be there because they want to do a great job.
- Listen to what they have to say, and show you value their opinion. And if they don’t say a lot, ask them! Don’t assume they’re quietly content. The silence could just as easily be masking fear or resentment. Either way, you need to know in order to manage. Telling them what you can and will do to address their suggestions or concerns shows their opinion matters.
- Do what you said you would do It’s the basis of your integrity as a manager. Not following through undermines you in their eyes. And be sure to inform the team when you make changes based on their feedback. In a previous job, I re-visited a team several months after consulting them on their suggestions for improving their working environment. They were really disappointed that the main action – a brand-new training matrix just for them – hadn’t materialised. I couldn’t believe it. Just an hour earlier, I’d been sat with their management team looking at the new matrix. They had forgotten to tell the team that this was up and running!
- Make sure they know the worth of their work. As human beings, people want to fit in and feel valued. It’s the way we’re wired. We want to be a part of something. Spend time with the people who report to you and make sure they understand how they fit into the bigger picture. It’s time well spent.
- Get to know them personally and show you care. As a manager you don’t cross the line and become a buddy. But you can still take an interest in the employee as a person. It makes someone feel they matter to you and the organisation. But you’re also more likely to know when something is happening outside of an employee’s working life that may impact on how they perform, behave with colleagues and interact with customers.
- Let them have their say on performance targets. Your job is to set the overarching objectives, but let them have a say in shaping the goals supporting these objectives and how they should be achieved and assessed. I’ve seen first-hand how, when people are a part of this goal and plan setting, they buy into the plan much more and that greater commitment leads to higher achievement.
- Make sure they have the right tools to do their job. We should never under-estimate just how important this is. For a cleaner, the machinery and equipment they use, even down to the type of mop, determines their ability to do a job that they can be proud of. If you’re working in the office, and your computer is slow or crashing, this has a huge impact on your productivity. But imagine how frustrated and demotivated you’ll feel about your work and workplace. Sometimes the simplest, small things can make the biggest difference.
- Make sure they know what is expected of them. This isn’t just about sitting down with an employee, going through their job description, explaining what tasks they are expected to undertake. You need to have an open discussion to make sure they understand what success looks like, why it’s important, and how they can achieve it.
- Give people feedback. Whether it’s positive feedback or “constructive criticism”, people need feedback. Sure, no-one likes receiving (or giving) a negative appraisal, but uncertainty can be just as demotivating. I have come across too many people who were disengaged because they didn’t know whether they were doing the right thing or not. We may think ‘Well. I must be doing the right thing if I’ve not been told different’. But how much better it feels to be given confirmation we’re heading in the right direction and what we’re doing is of value to the business.