If you had enough money so that you wouldn’t have to work, how would you spend your time? This can be a fun thing to ask someone, with the idea being that however the person responds (making art, building computers, spending time with animals, etc.) their answer could be adapted into a potential career path. After all, there’s an old saying: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
But that old adage doesn’t always apply to everyone…so it completely falls apart.
If you recognize the scenario above, it could be because it’s mentioned in Mike Judge’s 1999 disenfranchised-employee masterpiece “Office Space.” In the film, the main characters acknowledge a hard truth — not everyone gets to do what they love for a living. We might even take it further to say that once you get paid to do something, it can be really hard to stay enthusiastic about it.
Is that a cynical way to look at the world? Maybe. But if so, then it’s a cynical viewpoint that a lot of people have started to embrace. In November of 2021 (amid the ongoing economic and social disruption brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic), the US quit rate reached a 20-year high. And while these numbers have somewhat begun to stabilize, the reality of the Great Resignation remains: A lot of people are unhappy at their jobs; Gallup reports that only 34% of US employees are engaged.
The Dangers of Disengagement
Unfortunately, when it comes to employee disengagement, a high turnover rate is only the tip of the revenue-sinking iceberg.
After all, not everyone who is unhappy or uninterested is ready to cut their losses. Some of your disengaged employees are content enough to continue earning a paycheck while they explore other options. And as you can imagine, those who don’t see much of a future with their current employers also generally do not put in nearly as much effort. Disengaged employees are less productive. They make more errors. They miss work more often. And it adds up; globally, disengaged employees account for $7.8 trillion in lost productivity every year.
But wait; there’s more! Disengaged employees that remain on staff also spread the apathy, decreasing workplace morale and contributing to a dysfunctional company culture. And when those employees come into contact with customers, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t do much for your company’s reputation to have its least dedicated people out there on the front lines.
We’re not sure why we’re arguing this point so hard; if you’re here on this page then chances are you’re already convinced and want to do something about it. But all of this is just to say that employee engagement is a serious issue. So, how can you make sure that your organization is taking this serious issue, well, seriously?
We’re so glad you asked.
Here, we’ll discuss five tried-and-true approaches to improving employee engagement.
- Set Employees up for Success
Your employees are at your company to do a job. That’s what they agreed to do, and that’s where the paycheck comes from. But your employees are also, in all likelihood, there to learn valuable skills, get real-world experience, and (ideally) find a career path that they can follow. If no such path exists in your organization, well, then there’s a good chance that they’ll lose interest until they can find other opportunities elsewhere.
Top talent isn’t content to tread water; it pushes forward. In terms of what that means for your business, consider the fact that Pew Research reports that 63% of those who quit their jobs in 2021 did so because there weren’t any clear opportunities for advancement. If you want to set your employees up for success without driving them into the (metaphorical) arms of other hiring managers, you need to encourage, support, and guide them within your company.
This means supplying the right tools and providing a comprehensive onboarding process, but it also means so much more. It means discussing their career goals with your employees and ensuring that your managers are aware of what they want to accomplish in their personal and professional development. It means identifying or creating opportunities that are designed to help the employee in question advance in their chosen direction. It means publicizing new opportunities within the organization and always considering in-house promotions over outside hires.
Sometimes, this may result in cross-department transitions. And that’s great! The important thing here is that your valuable employees have the opportunity to advance and find career opportunities within your organization. Because after all, it’s difficult to be disengaged when you’re climbing the ladder.
- Assign Meaningful Tasks
Most of us are OK with the idea that not everything we do is world-changing — some tasks exist just to help us pass the time. But when someone’s entire job falls into the category of ‘totally insignificant,’ that can start to wear a person down. Want to actively disengage your workforce? Just tell them that the work they do doesn’t matter. Conversely, if you’re more interested in building and supporting an engaged workforce, then you might want to go the other direction.
Research from McKinsey suggests that when workers know that what they are doing has significance, they become 75% more committed to their company, are 49% less likely to leave, and their performance sees a 33% boost. In fact, that same research identified meaningful work as the single most important aspect of job satisfaction. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering whether your employees feel the same way, it’s also worth noting that 70% of workers say that their sense of purpose is defined by their jobs. So yeah, meaningful work is kind of important.
Part of giving your employees meaningful work is helping them see the impact they are having on the company, clients, community, and other entities beyond themselves. Feature positive customer stories. Create ‘impact’ newsletters that highlight and celebrate individual contributions. Clearly share the company’s mission and values, and be specific in how everyday tasks support these principles.
But developing meaningful purpose is about more than just helping employees see their impact; it’s also about making sure that the tasks that consume their time and energy actually are meaningful. Meaningless tasks lead to burnout, so pointless meetings and busy work should be re-evaluated until only important, efficient tasks remain on employee to-do lists.
- Communicate. A Lot.
If a doctor wants to know where it hurts, they ask the patient. Along those same lines, sometimes the best way to improve employee engagement is to listen to the employees.
Frequent communication is something that a lot of businesses fail to prioritize. Too often, regular 1:1 meetings are seen as a checkbox to complete rather than a valuable resource for helping managers and employees reach new levels of success. By candidly and consistently discussing pain points, goals, performance, and more, you’ll be showing your workforce that you value them enough to work with them. And, because you’re probably expecting some sort of statistic to back that statement up, employees who don’t have 1:1 meetings with their managers are approximately four times as likely to be disengaged.
Safe (and potentially anonymous) channels for open and honest communication can offer major advantages. Employee satisfaction and work environment surveys may also provide leadership with insights that could be difficult to obtain just by asking. Finally, sponsoring engaging team-building activities will not only train your people to work together; it will also help break down communication barriers in a fun, low-stakes setting.
- Reward Engagement
At the risk of greatly simplifying a vast and complex subject, let’s just go ahead and say that there are two ways to approach the psychology of behavior modification: You can punish negative actions, or you can reward positive ones. Now, ask yourself which one is probably more effective, punishment or reward? If you said reward, then congratulations! You’re a decent individual who also knows how to refer back to a section heading.
General positivity aside, science has demonstrated that rewards are more effective than punishment. So, if you want to know how to increase employee engagement in your workforce, let them know how much you appreciate their good work by recognizing and rewarding it. This can be as simple as giving an employee a sincere ‘good job’ during a company meeting, or as involved as creating in-depth employee recognition initiatives to ensure respectable compensation for above-and-beyond work.
However you approach it, if you can give your employees a sense of pride in their accomplishments, they’ll keep chasing that feeling in the rest of the work they do.
- Promote Healthy Work Habits
It’s hard for any employee to feel engaged when they suspect that their job might be slowly killing them. As a leader in your company, one of your responsibilities is helping ensure that your employees find work-life wellness, where their ability to take care of themselves isn’t being stymied by their employment.
What makes this a difficult prospect is that even if you tell your employees that you value their health, many will still assume that their personal needs should be secondary to their jobs. You’ve got to drive the point home, by promoting healthy work habits in ways that can’t be overlooked. Ensure that employees are getting regular breaks. Offer flexibility in terms of scheduling and telecommuting. Realign performance reviews to focus on results, rather than hours worked. Increase time off and provide company support for parents and those who have other important responsibilities. And these are only the beginning.
Company-sponsored wellness programs boost retention rates through the roof, and when it comes to giving more back to the people who drive your business, you can’t go wrong with additional benefits. Because at the end of the day, your people should know that they work to live; they don’t live to work.
Not everyone gets to land the kind of job that they’d be happy to do for free. But that’s OK. Even the most difficult job can provide a rewarding, positive experience. With the right approach to employee engagement, any company can produce and support a happy, healthy, and committed workforce. Click here to see more employee engagement ideas, and to get started with great benefits that boost employee engagement, talk to a Gympass Wellbeing Specialist today!
- Bromley, Timothy; Lauricella, Taylor; Schaninger, Bill. (June 28, 2021). Making Work Meaningful From the C-Suite to the Frontline. Mckinsey & Company. Retrieved October 18 2022 from https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-organization-blog/making-work-meaningful-from-the-c-suite-to-the-frontline.
- Dhingra, Naina; Samo, Andrew; Schaninger, Bill; Schrimper, Matt. (April 5, 2021). Help Your Employees Find Purpose—Or Watch Them Leave. Mckinsey & Company. Retrieved October 18, 2022 from https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/help-your-employees-find-purpose-or-watch-them-leave.
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- Harter, Jim. (January 7, 2022). U.S. Employee Engagement Drops for First Year in a Decade. Gallup. Retrieved October 18, 2922 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/388481/employee-engagement-drops-first-year-decade.aspx.
- Lytle, Tamara. (September 22, 2016). 7 Tips to Increase Employee Engagement Without Spending a Dime. SHRM. Retrieved October 18, 2022 from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1016/pages/7-tips-to-increase-employee-engagement-without-spending-a-dime.aspx.
- Office Space. IMDb. Retrieved October 18, 2022 from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0151804/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0.
- Parker, Kim; Horowitz, Juliana Menasce. (March 9, 2022). Majority of Workers Who Quit a Job in 2021 Cite Low Pay, No opportunities for Advancement, Feeling Disrespected. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 18, 2022 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/09/majority-of-workers-who-quit-a-job-in-2021-cite-low-pay-no-opportunities-for-advancement-feeling-disrespected/.
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.