25 January 2023

How to improve employee engagement: six strategies that really work

5 minute read

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Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.

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Employee engagement Strategy culture and values

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From better communication to investing in health and wellbeing, here are six strategies to improve employee engagement and boost productivity

Low employee engagement remains a persistent problem for organisations of all sizes around the world: in 2022, a global Gallup study found that just 21% of employees are ‘engaged’ at work – defined by the research company as being “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace”. Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, engagement levels were rising, says Gallup, but the past few years have taken its toll. In fact, the same study found that just a third (33%) of employees are thriving in their overall wellbeing (more on that later).

Often, it’s HR teams who are tasked with measuring and solving employee engagement problems – despite poor engagement being a critical business challenge that causes a real dent in productivity and profitability. So what can HR professionals do to better engage employees with their work and with their organisation? Do we need think about employee engagement and improving the employee experience separately? And what’s the role of HR software in helping to improve employee engagement?

How to improve employee engagement

 

1. Communicate deliberately and regularly

As organisations grow, the ties that bind co-workers can loosen and weaken and, before it’s too late, departments are working in isolation and staff become disconnected from their colleagues. Unless you have a dedicated internal communications team, it’s likely to become HR’s responsibility (potentially with assistance from your marketing team) to take charge of company communications.

You’ll want to start communicating news more frequently and intentionally wherever your employees are spending their time – be that digitally or physically. Simple steps such as making use of your intranet or HR system, or even putting up posters in shared spaces, will help keep your people in the loop with what’s going on, whether that’s a change to your HR policies, good news about a client, or that it’s someone’s birthday.

Managers who work remotely or who manage remote teams will have to be even more intentional about their communications; you’ll want to encourage them to make full use of your chosen digital tools (whether that’s Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Workplace by Facebook, for example), and schedule regular check-ins with their direct reports and management colleagues. If you have a hybrid workforce – comprised of on-site and remote workers – make sure that important meetings, such as quarterly updates, are accessible to all.

2. Invest in wellbeing

Engage For Success (E4S), which has been at the forefront of UK research into how to improve employee engagement, has argued that engagement and wellbeing are closely linked. Speaking to HR magazine in 2014, taskforce member Wendy Cartwright said: “where there is high engagement but low wellbeing, there is a risk of burnout over time, and where there is high wellbeing but low engagement, employees may be feeling generally satisfied and well but are unconnected to the organisational purpose”.

Taking steps to create a healthy workplace – such as by introducing an employee assistance programme (EAP), training mental health first aiders, and promoting healthy eating and exercise – can all help to improve employee wellbeing. But you’ll want to take a look at your organisation’s culture and the behaviours it expects employees to demonstrate: is there, for example, a ‘long hours’ culture with people often staying late, either to cope with high workloads or in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to demonstrate their commitment? Do people come into work when they’re ill and should be resting at home? Is there evidence that people take days off simply to catch up on work? Carry out your own research into the causes of mental and physical ill-health in your organisation, and then create and implement appropriate interventions to tackle the issues you’ve uncovered. Need guidance on how to use HR technology to boost employee wellbeing? Check out our tips in health and wellbeing at work: what works best? 

3. Invite feedback – and act on it

One of E4S’s four ‘enablers’ of engagement is employee voice: that views are sought, listened to, and acted on by senior leaders and managers. Technology makes it easier than ever for employers to regularly seek and collate employee feedback – such as through anonymous online surveys – but introducing such tools will have little impact if leaders don’t give merit to the opinions expressed by their staff, and don’t respond to their views. This might require a step change in your culture that your organisation realistically isn’t ready for yet, so think carefully about how, when and why you might want to create formal feedback channels.

4. Define your organisation’s purpose – and share it

When an organisation’s purpose and vision is not only clearly defined but also ‘lived’ by its senior leaders and managers, employees will buy in to the company’s mission more completely, and better understand how projects and actions are aligned to its overall goals. To make progress in this area, first, challenge your senior leaders: is the organisation’s stated mission still valid, or has the business moved on? How might it need to change? How can people throughout the company contribute their ideas and sentiments?

Then, challenge your own HR policies and behaviours. Are the attributes you look for in new hires aligned to your organisation’s mission and values? Are the mission and values part of your onboarding process? Are organisational values measured through your appraisal process? Can reward and recognition (see point six, below) be aligned more closely to your goals?

5. Empower your people

It’s understandable that some leaders resort to micromanagement in times of crisis, or where team members are incompetent or unable to respond to pressing deadlines. But when micromanaging becomes the norm, employee engagement comes under threat. Workers’ enthusiasm and creativity will be worn down by constant correction and negative feedback. Workflows will become stifled by managers that are acting as roadblocks to action. And, ultimately, retention and recruitment will suffer.

The alternative is to empower, support and trust your people to work autonomously, and refer back to you if they need more guidance. As an HR professional, if you see micromanagement in action, speak to the manager in question. Help them to understand the consequences of their management style, and help them develop an action plan to trust and delegate more authority to their employees. You can also help them to identify staff development opportunities, and put in place appropriate courses or resources.

6. Recognise good work

Does your organisation regularly, publicly and willingly recognise and reward its people? Even if a few of your leaders and managers thank their staff for their efforts, there’s always more to be done – at all levels of an organisation. Putting in place digital channels through which staff can thank each other for going the extra mile – Totem is a great example – or introducing an incentive-based scheme or awards programme are great ways of cultivating a culture of public thanks and recognition.

 

The link between employee engagement and employee experience

The terms ’employee engagement’ and ’employee experience’ are often uttered in the same breath by senior leaders. But smart HR professionals know that, although the two concepts are closely tied together, they are quite distinct. So, what is employee experience? In essence, it’s the idea that every interaction between an employee and their employer – whether that’s a one-off process such as onboarding, a monthly interaction such as accessing online payslips, or a daily activity such as logging into self-service HR software – creates an impression of what it’s like to work at that organisation. Employee engagement, on the other hand, is the way an individual feels and acts towards an organisation. It’s useful to think of employee experience as an input, and employee engagement as a (measurable) output.

 

Using HR technology to improve employee engagement

The best employee engagement tools help organisations communicate and connect with their people more easily, more often, and enable HR teams and senior leaders to measure (and, therefore, respond to) how employees feel about the organisation. HR systems such as Ciphr HR also play an important role in improving employee engagement; intuitive, comprehensive HR software empowers employees to take control of their personal data, and helps organisations understand their people through intelligent data and analytics. Want to find out how Ciphr HR could help to improve employee engagement within your organisation? Request your demo of our solutions now.

This article was first published in July 2015. It was updated in October 2019, and in January 2023, for freshness, clarity and accuracy.