Despite HR teams’ best efforts, most organizations do not see sustained employee engagement activities.
Employee engagement challenges that fly under the radar. These are the ones that the not very evident at first sight, and so most companies don’t recognize that it’s happening. But they do see that their engagement efforts are not bringing in the results they hoped for, and grow increasingly frustrated.
So, what exactly are the employee engagement challenges that organizations often fail to spot?
#1 Employee engagement activities without real engagement
Your employee engagement strategy, the one you devised with the whole HR team behind closed doors is probably best in the business. But it has to be executed through the various activities that you plan to conduct, that that’s where most organizations lose the plot. Because the activities they end up planning for employee engagement have two common problems:
- They are one-sided, and the employees often end up playing a passive role. For example: naming the “Star Employee of the Month” is great for morale. But if it’s just decided by the managers and HR, and then simply announced to the team, it’s not really effective.
- They are one-off events with no sustained follow-up or impact. One ‘employee appreciation day’, or one visit to a soup kitchen does not contribute to engagement because there’s no time for the employees to connect with the activity. There is a feel-good factor in the moment, but no sustained effect.
These problems combined lead to most employee engagement activities being viewed as “extra work” that’s made compulsory by the HR rather than a chance to have some fun, or do some good.
How to fix it?
Think about each activity in terms of “What do the employees get to do here?”. You have to devise each activity in a manner that makes your employee active participants in the whole process.
Let’s take two examples:
- “Star of the Month”: Instead of managers and HR choosing one person as the star employee, why not make this more democratic. The top brass can create a short list of candidates, and then open it up to votes. Everyone can view the candidates, their stand-out performance in the month, and then cast their votes to choose the best employee. In this case:
- The candidates feel recognized and appreciated, even the ones that do not win
- The employees feel part of a decision making process
- Employees feel motivated to perform better, when they see their peers being recognized in this manner
- CSR Activities: Instead of the organization deciding the exact kind of CSR activity, employees can be encouraged to come together based on common causes they care about. This could lead to the formation of a few different groups working towards different causes, and the CSR budget can be divided between them. This is more engaging because:
- Employees get to work for issues/cause that they truly care about. They will be appreciate the fact that their organization is enabling them to work on something they are personally invested in.
- It gives people a chance to plan for sustained involvement in the projects of their choice, rather that one-off visits that force everyone to engage in one single activity.
#2 Not treating culture as an aspect of employee engagement
An employee engagement strategy cannot be made up solely of ‘activities’. The workplace culture also has to be designed in a manner that fosters engagement. And that’s often a part that most organizations fail to address.
This leads to situations where the employees get to interact with the top management maybe two days in a year, because they are unapproachable/inaccessible for the rest of the year. Or one or two employees get recognized on the ‘employee appreciation day’, while no one else ever gets to see how their work makes the slightest difference.
This is problematic because engagement efforts in the absence of a nurturing, respectful workplace culture is not sustainable. Your culture defines how your employees are treated in everyday interactions, and that’s what determines whether they come in just for the compensation, or something more than that.
How to fix it?
The first step would be to recognize that culture is critical to employee engagement. This will then allow HR teams to fix the more obvious elements of an organization’s culture. For example - how managers provide feedback, how new employees are treated in a team, how receptive are team leaders to new ideas, how much is dissent encourages, and more. Evaluating and improving these elements can help make employees feel more empowered, and hence more engaged.
However, organization have to go beyond these measures and work towards creating a more trusting, respectful, and purposeful workplace culture. And while that’s a slow process, it definitely has to be driven from the top. How the leaders treat their peers, associates, and subordinates will trickle down to how employees are treated, and that will determine how engaged they feel with the company.
#3 Not understanding the associated costs
One of the key reasons organizations don’t really get their act together on employee engagement is because they cannot see the numbers. Sales, revenues, profit margins are all tangible metrics, and closely monitored. But the cost of not focusing on employee engagement is not so easily visible.
However, disengaged or poorly engaged employees do cost a company because:
- Low engagement means low productivity, and decreasing quantity and quality of work
- The ones that do work, your top talent, soon realize that they are the ones picking up all the slack. There’s burnout and it often ends up in them exiting the organization
- This means the company having to invest again in finding and training new people, bringing them up to the highest standards.
Putting all of this together, Gallups’s State of the Global Workplace report found that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year. That is probably big enough for CEOs to sit up and take notice of employee engagement.
How to fix it?
Organizations need to audit their recruitment and training processes, and identify how much it costs to bring in and retain employees at different levels. And keep these numbers front and centre while devising employee engagement strategies.
Also important is to treat employee engagement scores as goals to achieve, much like sales targets. Giving them the same level of urgency and constant monitoring will likely help make employee engagement a more pressing target for organizations.
For organizations working to improve employee engagement, it’s important to recognize and resolve these challenges. The first of these, creating engagement activities where employees play an active role, can be achieved with a creative HR team, and a set of technology solutions that can help you organize and manage these campaigns. An employee experience platform like Journyz can definitely be of help there. As for the rest, organizations need to take a hard look at how they perceive culture and engagement costs, and how they plan to change them for the better.