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A Leadership Perspective: 4 Strategies to Promote Employee Engagement

May 19, 2022| Reading time: 9min

BY Kate Super

Content Writer

You’ve read the data. Engaged employees are huge assets to your company. They’re more productive, innovative, and positive. They are also less likely to miss work or change employers altogether.

In addition to being stronger employees, an engaged workforce also experiences a better life outside of work, including higher levels of adaptability, more positive life outlook, and better physical health.

As a manager, you want your employees to reach their full potential, professionally and personally. But in a world of hybrid and remote offices, how do you promote employee engagement? 

ChartHop recently partnered with Bravely and Owl Labs to produce the webinar “Strategies to Boost Employee Engagement in the Hybrid Workplace.” Below are four strategies they discussed to promote employee engagement no matter where your people are located.

Watch the webinar here. 

1. Define What Employee Engagement Looks Like at Your Company

There’s a saying in the beekeeping world that goes, “Ask 10 beekeepers a question and you’ll get 11 different answers.” That’s because beekeeping is incredibly subjective; what may work for one beekeeper in Seattle may not for another in West Texas. 

The same can be said for employee engagement. Because the term “employee engagement” is nuanced, it’s hard to promote or measure if you don’t have a standardized definition at your company.

Sarah Diegnan, VP of Customer Experience at ChartHop, advises, “As a first step, your leadership team needs to define what employee engagement looks like at your company at an individual, team, and organizational level.” This will not only create a foundation for viewing and understanding your engagement data, but will also align departments and your people moving forward. 

Additionally, you’ll want to have data behind your objective definition. By asking the right questions and then analyzing the resulting data, you’ll be able to determine what’s currently working and what’s not so you can take action. 

Ben Harman, Chief of Staff at Owl Labs, believes measuring data is critical in promoting employee engagement. He noted four results from measuring engagement and morale:

  • Knowing how your people are doing on an individual, department, and company-wide level.
  • Creating the right response; decisions should be data-based, not gut-based.
  • Pinpointing which data is the right data to collect. 
  • Problem-solving processes or expectations so that you can put your people’s needs first. Since your collected metrics may tell you what’s working or not, you’ll want to follow up with employees with more specific feedback to help create future action items. 

 

employee engagement data by department and age

With the right People Analytics platform, your leadership team can view employee engagement through a variety of lenses to pinpoint successes and areas of growth.

2. Establish a Culture of Transparency

Promoting company-wide engagement starts with focusing on your own engagement status, especially if you are an executive or team lead. Diegnan says, “Employee engagement has a top-down effect,” so those who lead by example demonstrate that they’re walking the walk. 

Beyond being engaged themselves, leadership needs to establish a culture of transparency to further drive employee engagement. When there’s a transparent environment, employees are happier and more engaged, leading to increased productivity, a stronger culture, and better customer relations. 

Below are four ways in which leaders can help establish a culture of transparency: 

  • Share company, team, and individual goals. Transparency around goals at all levels helps employees feel aligned with and involved in goal setting, leading to over triple the engagement than employees without these insights. At ChartHop, CEO Ian White hosts a weekly all-hands meeting for employees in which teams share progress toward KPIs.
  • Employ continuous performance reviews. Continuous performance management allows for consistent and timely feedback from managers, which helps employees reach their goals and feel supported. 
  • Prioritize a sense of belonging. Companies that are intentional about prioritizing belonging allow people to show up as their true selves. Sara Ahron, Career and Wellness Coach at Bravely, says, “One thing I hear a lot is ‘I feel seen like a regular person, that there’s space made to take care of my whole self.’ Engaged employees feel that they’re cared about by their manager and company, and they feel valued.”
  • Establish and model DEIB initiatives. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is important, but can unfortunately turn into a buzzword if you aren’t intentional about your practices. Harman suggests to use it as “more of a tactic around creating connection, which will in turn drive engagement.”

ChartHop performance reviews

Continuous performance reviews support employees and help managers identify trends that show engagement or disengagement.

3. Develop Low and High Tech Ways to Connect 

If you want to increase employee engagement, you need to create opportunities in which that can happen. When you offer a selection of low- and high-tech ways for your employees to connect, everyone has the chance to engage in ways in which they feel comfortable. 

Create Natural Opportunities for Engagement

Before planning department get-togethers or virtual holiday parties, it’s important to start small and embed engagement opportunities into everyday work. Harman states: “Consistent, strong collaboration among teams show me that there’s a level of leaning in. That shows strong engagement.”

How does this look during a regular workflow? 

  • Plan projects that encourage collaborative efforts. Employee engagement has a cyclical effect. Harman explains: “If you’re experiencing that strong level of engagement – you’re working with colleagues, solving problems, and then feeling good about it, since there’s a sense of belonging that comes out of shared experiences – that engagement continues to grow and builds momentum.”
  • Schedule time in meetings for small talk. Carving out time in meetings for shout-outs and personal banter helps create an inclusive environment. Diegnan explains, “By recreating the infamous ‘water cooler talks,’ your team will feel more connected and comfortable with each other moving forward.”
  • Host lunch groups and coffee chats. Some employees desire more opportunities to connect with their colleagues, especially ones they don’t see on a regular basis. Create voluntary virtual or in-person hangouts (“No forced fun,” Owl Labs advises) to satisfy this need.
  • Offer time-bound activities. Ahron notes that shorter, time-bound activities, like a 10-minute mindfulness meditation, results in increased attendance. If you’re creating a slew of optional sessions for your people, make sure they’re a variety of lengths and stick to the allotted time. 
  • Support online communication channels. Online communication channels are much more than a means to an end. Harman explains that, for his company, “Slack equalizes communication,” since in-office, hybrid, and remote employees all have equal access and feel included.
  • Establish monthly team-building activities. Virtual team-building activities have erupted over the years and include everything from pizza-making to painting hanging gardens. Scheduling monthly team social events provides space to chat about personal interests instead of who responded to that email. But what about that person that habitually gives eye-rolls during events? “That’s another issue entirely,” Diegnan says. “If an employee seems disengaged, follow up with them and brainstorm new ideas to promote buy-in and excitement.”

Push for Off-Site Gatherings

Let’s cut to the chase: In-person retreats can be life-changing for employees and the company. While this may sound dramatic, Edward Sullivan, CEO of Velocity Group agrees. “Retreats have gone from a ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have,’” he argues, since they foster connection and a sense of belonging that is sometimes missing over a virtual call.

While company retreats may be expensive, think of it as an investment in your people. If you’re battling the decision, refer to your values as your moral compass. Think: Are you making this decision based on the bottom line, or are you trying to live your people-first values?

Ahron explains, “It may be expensive to fly people in, but when you’re thinking about return on investment to combat turnover, really thinking practically and strategically, putting resources behind in-person gatherings once in a while can really be transformative and have amazing positive impacts on employee retention and engagement.”

Furthermore, Flok, a company that helps plan company retreats, offers four additional benefits of creating off-site experiences:

  • Building psychological safety.
  • Aligning on shared goals & preventing a siloed work culture
  • Retaining a culture of flexibility without sacrificing connection.
  • Rewarding employees for their hard work.

In short, offering a variety of opportunities for connection will help promote engagement and lead to happier, healthier employees.

4. Spot and Respond to Burnout

“As a manager, your number one priority is to spot burnout and help your team come out of it,” Diegnan says. An empathetic, trustworthy leader knows it’s important to build relationships with employees. When you keep an open channel of communication with your people, you open the door to having important and necessary discussions surrounding burnout and employee needs. 

For example, if you see Joel, your direct report, rolling his eyes during social events or coming disheveled to meetings, you need to be able to ask him about your observations. You may uncover something larger than disengagement, but your concern will signal that you care about Joel as a person, not just an employee.  

Alternatively, if you’re slow to respond, your people may leave. As you know, churn results in losing knowledge and experience, backfilling the position, and distributing work among your team until your new hire begins.

Below are suggestions for managers to help reduce and respond to your employees’ burnout. 

  • Set boundaries and expectations. The juggle of work/life balance will always be present, so it’s important to set realistic expectations. For example, if your team’s KPIs aren’t compatible with the hours they’re working, it’s time to reassess.
  • Acknowledge that remote, hybrid, and in-office work are different. The schedule you had in-office most likely won’t transition to a hybrid or remote setting. It’s therefore important to consider what your team needs to be successful. Additionally, Ahron advises to “acknowledge and accept that remote working isn’t the same as working next to someone day in, day out.” Just because you don’t know what pants your virtual colleague is wearing (hint: it’s sweatpants) doesn’t mean you don’t have a connection. It just looks different, and that’s okay.
  • Be vulnerable. People respond better to leaders that are kind and empathetic. When you are vulnerable with your team, you signal that it’s acceptable to bring your whole self, emotions and all, to work. Furthermore, acknowledging potential feelings about a current event signals that you’re compassionate and creates an environment in which supportive conversations can take place.
  • Establish flexible working times. Blocking off time that is off-limits for meetings gives your people a chance to breathe. According to the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 43% of respondents said flexible working hours led to greater productivity. That’s because this practice helps employees prioritize what they need, whether that’s finishing a report or enjoying a walk in the sunshine.

Measuring Employee Engagement = Finding the Right Solution for Your Team

After you establish what employee engagement looks like across your organization and implement opportunities to do so, you’ll want to measure if your efforts are working. Leadership knows that numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they do provide clear-cut evidence if your people regularly meet their goals and have positive feelings about work. 

One you begin diving into your engagement data, you’ll discover the right solution for your team. Maybe you need more off-sites, or maybe you need to tone down the virtual yoga classes. Either way, finding what drives your people to become more engaged is an important step in creating a strong workplace culture and retaining your employees. 

How else can you effectively support your people? Download our HR Tech Buyer’s Guide to learn how to choose the right technology so you can leverage your people data.

The Ultimate HR Tech Buyer’s Guide

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