Engaging Your Employees Does Not Need To Be Difficult

Employee Engagement 101
Employee Engagement 101

The big buzz these days in Corporate is all about how to engage your employees and it’s clear that communications teams have an opportunity to influence and change this situation. I recently got a chance to talk about this topic with my fellow Public Relations Society of America employee communications colleagues during a virtual brown bag moderated by Sean Williams. On the call, I shared with the audience that it does not need to be difficult but you do need to up your internal communications game to make an impact. A recent survey done by the Institute of Public Relations showed that 87% of communications pros state that communication has become more important these days for the overall success of their organizations. 62% say that their influence and status within the organization has increased (so let’s use it!). The bad news is that only 15% say their budgets have increased and that means that we need to get creative on how to tackle the challenge.

A few months ago, the Gallup organization released its Q12 poll that showed engagement is at an all time low with roughly 20 million people actively disengaged, costing an estimated $450 billion to businesses annually. Gallup’s survey includes 192 organizations in 49 industries doing business in 34 countries so we know this crosses industry and geographical lines. Not only is there a financial impact but lower engagement translates into less safe workplaces, more quality defects, higher healthcare costs, increased absenteeism, lower customer satisfaction and lower profit margins. Corporate communicators have a key role to play in helping the C-suite solve this real business problem.

According to a recent Towers Watson report, high performing organizations communicate well with their employees with the majority of the messages coming from official channels rather than water cooler chatter or the rumor mill. We know that word of mouth will always exist so we need to just accept it and work within it. We also know that email is not the answer to solving communications breakdowns. Here are my recommendations for improving employee engagement:

1) Understand your company culture: Each organization is unique and will have unique challenges but understanding your culture is foundational. Is your company highly regulated? Do you have a unionized workforce? How engaged and charismatic are your C-suite leaders? Your company will take on their personality and you need to work within those parameters.

2) Know the difference between Employee Needs versus Company Needs: Your employees want to know how much they get paid, when their pay check is issued, where they can park, what their work is, who their boss is and other basic items. The company wants to share information on where the company is going and how it is doing. This creates a chasm between what the employee cares about and what the company cares about. In order to close the engagement gap, you’ll need to talk about how what they do contributes to the bigger picture as well as reward and recognize performance.

3) Connect Your Employees to Your Higher Purpose: People want to be able to share their gifts each and every day and feel like they are making a difference in the world. In your employee communications, you’ll need to tell stories, share stories and promote this connection to whatever your organization’s mission is. When you have a lofty mission to change the world, it’s easy to find examples of daily activities that are contributing to a better planet.

4) Be Strategic in Your Employee Communications: With limited resources (time, money or people), you are going to have to be strategic. Work with your C-suite to identify the critical pieces of content that need to be shared to keep employees connected to the organization and feeling like they are valued. Develop campaigns that support these communications topics.

5) Know Your Audience: In today’s workplace, you most likely have every generation present. Analyze your internal data from your employee engagement survey. What is it telling you? People have communications preferences and needs. Your communications need to be targeted to meet those needs and preferences. For example, do you have a way to communicate on a mobile device? Do you have paper newsletters? Do you have visually appealing posters for your major employee communications campaigns? Meet your audience where they are. Get their feedback on what is working and what is not. The fastest growing demographic is the Millennial population. Make sure you have ways to reach them on social media. Create a separate employee engagement survey that targets a particular population of employees to really get inside their heads.

6) DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR SURVEY RESULTS: The worst thing you can do is to send out a engagement survey and then do NOTHING. If you are going to ask, then you need to take ACTION. The best companies that I have worked for are very disciplined and focused on the action planning that takes place AFTER the survey results are in. No follow up leads to employees becoming even more disengaged. I mean really if you are going to ask for people’s input and do nothing then people tune out.

7) Treat Your Employees Right. It’s simple and yet so many companies don’t do it. When you treat your employees the way they want to be treated, they treat your customer right. I love to stay at Marriott properties for the simple reason that I can tell they treat their employees right. The bell hop is helpful, the front desk staff is friendly, the housekeeper is pleasant and polite. I have no relationship with Mr. Marriott but he’s got my business for this simple reason.

Hopefully you found a nugget or two that you can implement in your organization to help solve this pressing business problem. It’s rampant yet there are basic leadership and communications strategies you can use to address the issue. Please share with me what you think is holding your organization back from greatness.

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