February 3, 2021 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The signs were there years ago. A 2017 Gallup World Poll showed that only 15 percent of employees worldwide felt engaged at work. Employers were, oftentimes, failing to deliver what millennials and Gen Zers wanted from a work environment.
It’s all too easy to blame problems with employee engagement as being an inevitable result of the pandemic, but that is an oversimplification. My observation is that those companies with strong, positive cultures have simply adapted to working in a remote world and continue to foster employee engagement successfully. For those companies that struggled with engagement before, their problems have now become more evident.
Gallup Analytics found 2020 Gallup Panel survey that 75 percent of millennials were engaged at work. Millennials and Generation Z are the future of our workforce, so this percentage is extremely encouraging. But these are not general results — they apply to U.S. millennials working remotely who have managers who keep them informed, care about their well-being and support them to feel well-prepared at work.
If you can get it right, the benefits of higher engagement are clear. The in-depth study, “Employee Satisfaction and Corporate Performance in the UK,” analyzed 35,231 employee ratings from Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, for 164 large UK companies between 2014 and 2017. The results reveal that firms rated higher by their current employees in terms of satisfaction achieve superior profitability compared to those rated lower. It also supports the link between employee satisfaction and firm performance and signals to equity investors that it is to their advantage to leverage employee sentiment and company ratings when evaluating companies for investment opportunities.
So how can we support employee engagement?
1. Be intentional with your communication and walk the talk
Very clearly understand what your company mission and values are and make sure that these values are adequately communicated. Employees need to be a part of the bigger picture and determine where they fit in. It is very hard to feel motivated or purposeful if you carry on with your tasks every day with no real sense of how it makes an impact on the whole.
Imperative, a U.S. consultancy firm, surveyed 2,000 LinkedIn employees and found that 41 percent could be categorized as “purpose-oriented.” Why should LinkedIn care? “According to Imperative’s research, purpose-oriented employees are 54 percent more likely to stay at a company for five-plus years and 30 percent more likely to be high performers.”
Employee engagement does not solely fall into the laps of the HR department. It’s no good having a strong value proposition if you do not behave in accordance with it or reward people for applying it. Leaders and managers within an organization need to emulate the values and communicate clearly. Make it easy for employees by modeling the behaviors that you wish to see permeate throughout an organization.
2. A diverse culture is an empowered one
Millennials and the younger Generation Z, even more so, are more entrepreneurial than ever. A report by Pew Research Center says that Generation Z is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse generations yet. Meaning that the diversity and inclusion conversation will be part of building an empowered culture. Some 62 percent believe that increasing diversity will be good for society.
Generation Zer Kess Eruteya, founder of Inclusion Z, a company bridging the gap between corporates and Generation Z, believes that for corporates to retain their employees, they must give them something to aspire to. After all, it’s hard to see yourself progressing in an organization where you cannot see yourself in any of the leaders.
3. Care about employee well-being
When we feel genuinely cared for, that generally inspires loyalty. Well-being is not just physical, but emotional and mental too. Make sure your employees take rest periods and develop some balance (which can be hard if working from home). Check in with them regularly, one on one, so that they have a forum to discuss concerns.
Jay Bregman, a serial entrepreneur and cofounder of the successful app, Hailo, tries to put employee well-being at the forefront of his agenda at his most recent start-up Thimble. They have Friday afternoons off every week and a stipend to spend on health and wellness initiatives. The payoff has been in employee productivity and 20 percent growth in headcount in 2020.
4. Address the perception gap
The best companies understand “the gap.” They actually know what their employees think (the good and the bad), rather than trying to guess what might work for their employees. We all need feedback to progress, grow and evolve. Companies are no different. When you understand what your employees want, you are in a better position to give it to them.
For this to work, companies need to address their employees’ “psychological safety,” a term coined by Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School. Your employees need to trust that they are safe to give honest feedback. Transparent and open communication can be key to fostering this trust.