Employee engagement is an organizational performance strategy. It’s also a highly personal equation: Every person has a unique relationship with their work and employer. This is the reason increased engagement has eluded so many well-intentioned enterprises. You can’t fix low engagement with broad-brush programs alone. The magic happens on the frontlines, one employee at a time. (If you’re not familiar with the BlessingWhite definition of employee engagement, you can learn about it here.)
With headlines like “Will a Robot Take Your Job?”, conversations with leaders often turn to discussing the question, What will we need to do to create an engaged workforce in the future? I think the following five strategies will make a difference as your organization flexes to reflect changing markets and workplace realities. These strategies can also work for you today.
Pay Attention to Meaning
Meaningful work remains a key driver in employee engagement and is a primary goal in career management. The challenge also remains: “Meaningful” (like its cousins “challenging” and “interesting”) is an intangible term defined by individual employees, reflecting their personal values, interests, and talents.
Despite the proliferation of self-improvement gurus and career resources (The Muse is a favorite of mine), too many people still take on roles for external markers of success (e.g., the money, the prestige) without reflecting on what matters most to them. That can lead to bad job fit, which leads to misery. You need to keep providing tools and training for people to clarify what they’re looking for. Keep encouraging managers to talk to their teams, so they can better understand each person’s interests and aspirations, and then help align those interests with your organization’s needs.
Build Connections to Purpose and People
Connection to a shared purpose builds on meaningful work by cementing an employee’s relationship with the organization, not just the work. You don’t need to be curing cancer; you do need to consistently remind people how what they do makes a difference.
Connections that employees have with their managers and colleagues matter, too. A lot. They don’t have to be best friends. They do need to feel like they’re part of a community. When people get to know one another, they establish respectful, trusting relationships. They achieve understanding and commonality, which will become even more important as workforces become increasingly dispersed and diverse.
Engagement can’t happen if people don’t know which of the 20 to-dos on their task list matter most. Changing priorities and ambiguity are not only frustrating, they are barriers to the level of achievement required for full engagement. Although technology for supporting work flow and goal attainment has improved, many organizations remain paralyzed by the inability to focus on the few things that will deliver the biggest impact. Your question now, and always, needs to be, If we do this, what are we agreeing not to do?
Develop for Today and Tomorrow
Development needs to be part of your future engagement strategy for two reasons: First, our research consistently links career development opportunities and personal growth to high job satisfaction. And second (admittedly, a no-brainer), your organization needs people to have the skills to do whatever you need them to do—including those jobs that don’t even exist today. For more tips on this topic, check out my GP Strategies colleague Keith Keating’s podcast, “Preparing Today’s Workforce for Tomorrow.”
Provide Tools and Resources
When our engagement surveys ask people what could most improve their contribution to the organization, tools and resources often top the list. (Other common responses include training and clarity of what the organization needs, which I’ve already explored above.) Before you go invest the big budget to replace your systems, make sure you know exactly what people mean. Reasons can vary by department, role, or location, and may be something that local managers can address. If you do realize your systems are inadequate for the demands of the digital workplace, do your homework to find systems that not only work, but work with one another. (We’ve got some guidance for HCM systems here.)
How and where we work may indeed change in the future, but employee engagement will always be a personal equation. Your challenge will be, as it is now, to move from clichéd “employees are our greatest asset” statements to investing the leadership commitment and funding needed to help people connect with work that works for them and delivers what you need.
When she joined GP Strategies’ BlessingWhite division in 2000, Mary Ann began to explore worlds beyond skills: The internal workings of individual learners – expressed as personal values and goals, the puzzling workings of organizational culture, and the often complicated dynamics of trust and relationships at work. She quickly realized there was no going back.
As Lead Consultant for BlessingWhite’s Engagement Practice, Mary Ann creates practical tools and strategies that clients worldwide apply to create successful businesses and thriving workplaces. Think of her approach as "research meets real world." She is passionate about great days at work – where individuals experience the highest levels of personal satisfaction, apply their skills to what matters most, and deliver their best work to drive their employers’ strategies. As lead consultant, she also works with senior HR and business leaders on how to take meaningful action on engagement survey results to drive organizational performance.
She is co-author of The Engagement Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce (Wiley, Oct 2012), has written numerous research reports and articles, and is a well-regarded speaker on the leader’s role in engagement and building a culture of engagement.
Mary Ann's commitment to meaningful lives and meaningful work extends beyond her day job. She is a founding member of the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, a not-for-profit that addresses food insecurity (serving 10,000 meals a year) and education of underserved adults and children. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University.
She enjoys her mostly-empty nest with her husband, 2 cats and a dog, cooking, reading and running (not simultaneously) in her spare time.
Latest posts by Mary Ann Masarech (see all)
- Five Evergreen Strategies for Employee Engagement in the Future Workplace - September 20, 2019
- Can You Train Someone to Be More Engaged? - February 12, 2019
- Have a Holly Jolly… Performance Review? - December 21, 2018