Engage Your Workers, Increase Your Productivity

by Wendy McLellan

Do your workers seem bored and listless, as if they’re just going through the motions? “Yeah,” you say, “but I can’t do anything about it. Work is work. At least they get a paycheck.”

But all work — or at least all workplaces — are not created equal. Whether or not you think you should have to engage your workers, you do. Engaged workers are more efficient workers, according to experts like Ali Robins of Officevibe. Benefits of engaged employees include greater retention, higher customer satisfaction, increased sales and larger profits. 

How do you create greater employee engagement? It’s not an exact science. It’s part entertainment, part development and learning, and a lot of recognition. Workers who feel valued give more to their companies, and companies show they value their employees by giving them a say in what they do and how they do it. 

Employee engagement is inspired to a great degree by making the company’s values the employees’ values, and this can happen only if the employee understands the company’s values. Has your company shared its values, its mission and its vision with the staff? If not, why not?! This is the first step to employee engagement. These values determine the company’s why, how and what for. If employees don’t understand these basic principles, how can they fulfill them? 

To keep matters simple, depending on the size of the company, one person or committee should be in charge of employee engagement. And note that not every employee is going to be excited about these activities. Some introverts feel the “cheerleader stuff” is a waste of time. Respect their views, try to engage them, but don’t make the engagement activities oppressive or a requirement of continued employment. And, as the owner or manager, do not micromanage the engagement activities. That is a sure-fire way to sabotage the program from the beginning. 

Here are some ideas for engaging employees so they understand the vision and values of the company and, in return, increase their own creativity, productivity and value.

  1. Clearly specify and share the company’s values. Create slogans, phrases and fun pictures, anything to get the value message out to the staff. Post them on the walls, blog and vlog them on the Intranet, and talk about them in meetings. Remind the staff often of the company’s values, mission and vision. Do not think that putting the information out there once in a companywide email is going to do the trick. This message needs to be consistent and constant. And make sure the leadership walks the talk! Let me repeat — the leadership must walk the talk. If the employees think there is a double standard, nothing (and I mean nothing) you do toward engagement will help your employee relations.
  2. Recognize company values. Every month, recognize the employee who best represents one of the company’s core values. Set them up as an example and publicly acknowledge them for their actions. This does two things: It gets the values out in the open, and it establishes another important aspect of employee engagement — recognition.
  3. Have teams create their own sets of values. Have teams create a team culture, based on two or three commonly agreed-upon values or ground rules of the larger company. This can help nurture and speed up team bonding and create friendly competition among teams.
  4. Encourage personal projects. Give employees time to pursue company-related projects of their own design (in small windows, a couple of hours max). They could include team-crossing projects or projects conducted outside the office (all should be work-related). This could include charity work and volunteering opportunities that align with the company’s values. Projects and initiatives such as these encourage creativity and energy flow.
  5. Assign a buddy/mentor for every newcomer. Being new is tough and can be frustrating, especially if the employee is worried about always “bugging” her new boss. Assign a buddy/mentor to build a relationship with someone who has more experience and can help guide the newcomer. This way, the newbie can better adapt and grow as part of the team and the mentor feels as if he or she is giving something back.
  6. Have themed office days. This is an entertainment initiative, which can bring fun into the workplace and (easily and inexpensively) increase employee loyalty. Ideas include sweats and slipper day, beach day, dress as your favorite superhero day, funky socks day, and holiday-themed ideas. You can hold decorate-your-cube/station contests, bring-your-[insert object/ pet/person here]-to-work day, and so on.
  7. Have team photos. Have photos of your team members on a wall or frame them around the office. These can include group photos, funny photos, events photos or candids. This way, employees literally see themselves as an important part of the team. They recognize themselves. 
  8. Can’t raise salaries? Increase perks. Is the issue truly just the salary the staff is receiving? Are your salaries comparable with competitors? If not, can you provide perks to offset the lower salary? Comp time? Onsite daycare? Split shifts? Stock options? Earlier 401(k) vesting? Get creative.
  9. Recognize and encourage innovation. You might have heard some inspiring ideas around the office. What about that project that came together so well and had some amazing improvements that no one initially thought of? Find out who came up with that idea. Give her a friendly, “Good job!” and recognize the Innovator of the Month publicly for going the extra mile.
  10. Celebrate achievements and people. Big or small, achievements are the solid proof that the work people are putting in has meaning. No one can go through tasks and assignments for months, or even years, without burning out. Refill their energy tanks with recognition and celebrate their hard work. Also celebrate and acknowledge birthdays, promotions, retirements, newcomers and so on. It’s a great way to show the staff they matter. But be efficient about time. Keep it quick and simple. Celebrate all the birthdays for the month on the last Friday of the month, for example. Otherwise, the celebrations become a distraction, not a reward.
  11. Ask for feedback. One of the best measures of employee engagement is whether the employees feel heard. When employees know their ideas are taken seriously, they are more apt to go the extra mile. Consider a 360 review, whereby the employees evaluate the leaders. But be upfront from the beginning. Sometimes, employee feedback can be hard to implement — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for the staff’s opinion. Keep it simple and treat their feedback with respect. Their feedback is essential to growth.
  12. Try some unusual employee engagement ideas. Think outside the box. It is often the small things that can make a big difference. Try having colored mugs, stress-busting toys, a random brownie day — the ideas are endless and as off-the-wall as the imagination allows. Spontaneity creates positive energy and motivation.
  13. Empower your employees. Nothing creates a greater sense of responsibility and ownership than having the power to decide. Don’t be afraid to let team members be their own leaders. It’s a great way to build trust, whereas the opposite, micro-management, merely builds resentment and even paranoia.
  14. Encourage learning. Challenge and support employees to expand their knowledge and develop their skills further. Consider cross-training. Not only will cross-training provide you a motivated and well-prepared workforce, but you’ll see an increase in employee morale. It’s always more interesting to do someone else’s work, right? Allow time for continuation training and learning. Work this time into their goals, their daily routines, and so on. Do not punish the staff for taking time to learn new skills.
  15. Make sure people have all the resources they need. Nobody likes to work for a Scrooge who counts every piece of paper that goes in the recycling box. Equip your employees with the tools and systems they need. Make their jobs easier, not more difficult. If they are on the phone half the day, get them a headset. Don’t make them sign with their blood to get new pens and legal pads. If they need to have multiple windows open on their workstations, get them that second (or third) monitor. This way, you’ll encourage them to invest their energy into doing great work instead of wasting precious time searching for supplies or griping about the lack thereof. Don’t give them the opening to blame their lack of production on bad or missing equipment and supplies. Trust your staff with the resources. Don’t make them jump through triplicate hoops. If they feel your trust, they will be more loyal to their leaders and the company.
  16. Ask the people who really know employee engagement. Employee engagement is a fairly new business concept. Don’t be afraid to go to the experts. Consider hiring a professional consultant who specializes in engagement to help you build a solid strategy.
  17. Build long-term engagement. Don’t settle for a quick fix. Develop a long-term employee engagement strategy with clear objectives and action steps for at least a year out, then re-evaluate and build on it. Make this new program part of your company culture, brand and reputation.
  18. Watch out for engagement overload. Can a workplace be too much fun? Yes. If every day is a “fun” day, then team members will come to expect these activities and develop a “what have you done to entertain me lately” attitude. These activities will no longer be a reward but an entitlement. If you notice your workers putting more time, energy and creativity into their engagement activities than into their actual work, then you have engagement overload. That’s why your engagement strategies should always have a good mix of entertainment, learning and development, and recognition.

Try and Try Again

Employees are a company’s greatest asset, and often their highest expense. Keeping them engaged is the key to keeping your attrition to a minimum. This list of possible engagement activities and initiatives is based on my experience and knowledge of the workforce. However, what works for one company or department might not work for another company or department. That shaving-cream fight might not be a great idea in the server room of a tech-heavy office. And what works for one person may not work for another. Give those introverts in your company the chance to opt out. Better yet, find an aspect of the activity at which they might excel. If they don’t want to enter the office-wide ping pong challenge, for example, ask them to create and track the brackets. Or let them explore the personal development rather than the entertainment track. For engagement strategies to work, they should involve as many team members as possible without overburdening them. Try new approaches and adapt existing ones until you find the perfect expression of your employee engagement strategy. Your bottom line will thank you.

Wendy McClellan is the founder and CEO of Structure for Success, LLC, an HR consulting firm. Structure for Success works with companies that do not have their own HR team, or their HR needs support. They provide a wide range of services, from workforce strategic planning to training, hiring and basic HR duties.

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