Engaging Employees at Any Distance
By Peg Ayers
If you had a way to increase sales by 20%, be 21% more profitable and increase your customer satisfaction scores by 10%, would you do it? How about improving employee retention by 24-59%, lowering absenteeism by 41% and increasing productivity by 17%? According to the Gallup Organization, you could do all this and more by making your way to the top quartile of employee engagement. (Clifton, Jim & Harter, Jim (2019) It’s the Manager, pp. 102-103, New York: Gallup Press).
Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. In their studies of employee engagement since 2000, Gallup found the highest level of employee engagement in 2018: a paltry 34%. Throughout the study, engagement has averaged 30% (Gallup-Employee Engagement Rise)
The great news in these numbers? There’s lots of room for improvement. And if most organizations are keeping only 30% of their employees engaged, we can really stand out!
Creating employee engagement is challenging in the best of times, with employees all in one building and numerous opportunities for in-person interaction. In the Spring of 2020, new challenges have presented themselves. Many businesses are struggling, most employees are working from home, and we don’t know what the future looks like. It’s tempting to say we’ll work on employee engagement later, when things calm down.
But to truly shine as leaders, to build employee loyalty that will carry us through good times and bad, we need to focus on employee engagement today.
Connecting with employees is always step one. How does each one feel? What new challenges are they facing, outside of the work situation? Perhaps your people aren’t working at all now—maybe they’re furloughed with the hope of bringing them back soon. You still want to keep in touch with them: send a text, make a call, ask them how they’re doing. That individual caring will be long remembered. You’ll be the “great boss example” they cite in future training seminars.
If your people are actively working, you have more opportunities to connect with them. Regular coaching and one-on-ones should still happen. Don’t be tempted to skip the “career path” part of those conversations.
People need to be reassured about the present and inspired about the future.
Interaction with coworkers is a critical part of employee engagement, and there are several ways to encourage that in a virtual workplace. A team chat group is one of the best ways to allow people to ask questions of their teammates and allow them to feel connected. Team meetings, perhaps with food delivered to their homes so they can “lunch” together, should happen regularly. The virtual happy hour is being enjoyed by many teams—if it’s right for yours, why not make it happen?
Your communication with your people should be:
Authentic: People want you to be straight with them. Don’t sugar coat things, don’t let things slide because of the new working situation, and always tell the truth. You may be asked questions you can’t answer. Share as much as you can and admit what you don’t know.
Compassionate: More than ever, we need to be aware that people have lives outside of work. They may need more time than usual to talk about the challenges they’re facing. Listen and encourage them to find solutions. Don’t take their issues on yourself, just listen and be supportive.
Future-focused: It’s up to the leader to offer the vision and show the path forward. People may be inclined to stew in how things are today—it’s up to you to show them how the organization is moving forward and how their contribution matters.
You need to be confident as a leader, knowing you don’t have all the answers, but you have the best interests of all the stakeholders at heart: customers, employees and the organization itself. You’re doing your best in uncharted waters. Take time away as you need to and be patient with yourself and others. And feel free to invite your friends or colleagues to your own virtual happy hour.
The Taylor Reach Group stands ready to help you with today’s challenges. Just CLICK HERE to schedule a free consultation.