What if you could pay four employees and get a fifth for free? Since it’s estimated that highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged co-workers by about 25 percent, building a highly engaged work force is like adding virtual employees.
A Gallup survey of more than 1 million Americans showed that nearly 75 percent of all workers are disengaged. And while employee engagement can be an elusive goal, there are plenty of strategies to empower your employees and boost engagement.
“The old Golden Rule will take you a long way in this world,” says Jeri Gooding, human resources manager for Southern Manufacturing Technologies. “You know what makes you feel good, what makes you feel bad and what makes you work, so if you want to increase engagement, treat people the way you would like to be treated.”
Smart Business spoke with Gooding to find out how to assess employee engagement, what employees really want and why the Golden Rule may lead the way to improved employee engagement.
How can an employer tell if employees are properly engaged?
There’s not a test you can take or a measurement that you can use. I look for low productivity, somebody who makes many mistakes, grumbling, complaining, absenteeism, tardiness, voluntary terminations people who choose to go down the street to make the same wage or a quarter an hour more. When people cease to function as a team, quit interacting with their managers and their co-workers, show a ‘don’t care’ attitude or even make threats of quitting or hurting their supervisor, it’s indicative of low employee engagement.
Beyond fair compensation, what are employees seeking from their work experience?
The one thing that stands out is that employees want recognition, even above money. They want to know that you see what they do and that you appreciate what they do. Next, they want to be held accountable themselves, but they also want the goof-off to be held accountable. Another need is responsibility. People want to go home with a good feeling that they have really accomplished something. Next is security. They want to know their paycheck is coming, but they also need a sense of security with their manager and a feeling of belonging to a unit. People also want to feel like they can advance in the company. That’s why internal job postings are essential. Give people the opportunity for training and career advancements.
How can leaders best assess the unique needs of individual employees to increase their engagement?
It’s proven that knowing your employees is a huge deal. I know a regional HR director for a worldwide company who tells every new human resources manager she hires that there are three things they have to know, including the names and spellings of every employee, the shift and the pay rate of each, and enough about them to converse with each employee. You’ve got to listen to your employees and let them know you have an interest in them. Sometimes we’re so busy talking, we forget to listen. It is easy to have this interaction and it buys you the engagement your company needs to survive. Finally, ask questions. Maybe you already know the answer, but it makes people feel more engaged and more like you are interested.
What tactics can managers employ that lead to empowered and successful employees?
We have a referral program and a suggestion box where you can earn money for giving a suggestion. We use Wow Awards, which is a $25 gift card the managers can award for something above and beyond the call of duty. We also begin each day with a huddle, starting with the managers, to talk about birthdays, anniversaries and the hot jobs really general things. Then each manager goes back to his or her group and they have a huddle, so it trickles down.
Beyond the little things, people need a sense of belonging. Maybe it’s on a social committee, an audit team or a safety team but if you can meld them into a team, they’ll have a sense of being appreciated as part of that group. Finally, you should give employees all the tools they need, and not just the physical tools like calipers and computers. It’s also subjective things like good working conditions, training and retraining, and a pleasant environment. If you go to bat for them and get these things, they’re going to remember that when you ask them to do something that is not in their job description.
What can the management team do to engage employees?
First, if top management doesn’t engage the supervisors that are below them, they’re not going to get the engagement of the people. The ball lies in the supervisors’ court for making the employees they supervise engaged, from top management on down. And building rapport is the single most effective tool. You need to take a good look at each employee every day and when you see changes, investigate. It’s also important to treat every employee the same but different. The rules are consistent, but tactics that work for one don’t necessarily work with another. Also, remember to say ‘thank you.’ These two little words provide recognition and appreciation. Finally, remember the Golden Rule of engagement: treat others the way you would like to be treated. It’s a very simple philosophy but if managers, bosses, teachers and parents would all adhere to that, our world would be much better.