Six strategies for increasing employee engagement.

Didier Elzinga

What makes data powerful is that it shifts conversations from anecdotes to evidence. It is all too easy, however, to gloss over the limitations of data; after all, information is not the same as knowledge. One of the biggest challenges for companies working with data is understanding both its power and its shortfalls. Using data-driven insights in the HR space is a relatively new phenomenon, and the idea of ‘people analytics’ has only really taken off in the last five years. As HR has progressed, organizations have been able to do increasingly insightful analysis, but that’s not enough. Organizations need to use this information to take action to improve workplaces.

Culture Amp’s New Tech Benchmark for 2016 surveyed 60,000 respondents to identify overall trends in employee engagement and flag overall shifts in the employment market or employee expectations. Although the data focuses on tech companies, the insights can apply to almost any industry. Tech companies hold an interesting position in that they have traditionally been proactive in creating strong company cultures and caring about employee engagement. Part of this was market-driven and based on the intense competition for talent, but the benefits to those companies extended beyond retention (which should not be dismissed with an estimated cost of $180 billion/year to companies), and became a competitive advantage for many.

It was not surprising that the survey results confirmed this when comparing its engagement metrics to Glassdoor data and found that companies that are commercially successful have more engaged employees and are 80 percent more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work. These organizations also have a 40 percent higher CEO approval rating on Glassdoor.

Increasingly, more industries have become motivated to invest in their people and culture. Media, professional services, retail, and hospitality are some of the most recent industries in which numerous companies have signed up to measure, learn, and improve how to best keep their employees engaged.

So what is employee engagement? It is the key, positive psychological outcomes most companies want for their people. The benchmark report notes, “what company leader doesn’t want employees to recommend them, feel motivated and proud, and be focused on staying with the company?”

The New Tech Benchmark for 2016 report identified six trends and some strategies that organizations can use to improve their employee engagement.

1. Learning and development is a consistent top driver. This is perhaps unsurprising because learning and development opportunities have consistently remained a top driver for employee engagement. For this reason though, it’s worth emphasizing that companies need to keep learning and development a priority. Providing an environment in which people can develop their skills helps increase employee satisfaction in these areas. Think about the opportunities that can help employees grow their skill set or improve their expertise across their domain.

2. Millennials are not much unhappier at work than other generations. Despite reports in the media that Millennials are unhappier at work than other generations, the situation is not really so simple. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are actually more engaged than 25 to 34-year-olds, and neither of these groups is significantly different from the 35- to 44-year-old group in terms of engagement. There appears to be a slight increase in engagement levels once employees enter the 45-year-old-plus group, but all of these results are also somewhat muddied by the affect of tenure; Those who had been there two-to-six years showed the lowest engagement and had a slight recovery after being with an employer 10 or more years.

3. Company leaders are more important than managers. It’s often said that people leave managers, not companies, but when it comes to engagement, this isn’t exactly the case. How high-level leaders perform, in shaping and guiding a company’s vision and mission, is often more important than the performance of direct leaders. Employees want leaders they can trust and have confidence in -leaders who can provide a vision that people believe in and are motivated by. Leaders need to communicate well, and not underestimate their role in achieving success. It’s often in times of crisis that leaders communicate with their employees best and achieve better leadership scores.

4. People increasingly care about a company’s social responsibility. One trend that has emerged over time is that ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to social responsibility commitments is increasingly important to employees. People want their companies to care, and they want them to be involved both in meaningful contributions toward the community and in issues they are passionate about. Companies should be revisiting their communications strategy to ensure that people are aware of company efforts to meet social responsibilities. If organizations don’t have a communication strategy, they should put one in place. Contrary to popular belief, this increase in caring about social responsibility is not entirely driven by Millennials in the workforce -the report’s data shows this is a trend across all generations.

5. The way companies direct resources has an impact on both success and engagement. As was mentioned earlier, commercial success and engagement were found to be related, but it’s worth mentioning that a comparison of this year’s data to last year’s showed the largest drop (percentage-wise) was for perceptions of whether resources were being directed effectively or not. More and more this question is proving to impact engagement scores and act as a leading indicator of company performance as well. These types of questions are designed as a form of crowd-sourcing or on-the-ground ‘people intelligence’. Working to improve these scores can also improve company performance.

6. Organizations are taking new approaches to surveying their employees. Companies are using a mix of different surveys throughout the yearly cycle and using those results to drive the content of the surveys. One of the common approaches the industry is seeing is an annual engagement survey followed by pulse surveys that focus on questions set aside for action. Companies are also becoming more creative in the ways that they allow people to provide input and ideas for responding to the survey results. These companies view surveys as just a part of the way that the organization uses feedback to learn.

Employee engagement will continue to be a competitive differentiator for organizations. If companies incorporate these approaches in their overall strategies, they are likely to get ahead in the talent game.

Tags: May 2016

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