Ravi Swaminathan is a co-founder and the CEO of TaskHuman, a real-time digital coaching platform.
Employee engagement—and assessing it, tracking it and boosting it—is a critical aspect of any people-first culture.
In fact, company leaders can take a page from the U.S. Army’s playbook when it comes to prioritizing people. In 2020, then Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy announced that “people” would be the Army’s top priority and that people are the “Army’s greatest strength.” The military devotes a fair amount of time and energy to surveys, focus groups and coaching sessions to assess employee engagement.
Smart corporate leaders do the same, as they know that prioritizing their people—especially amidst a precarious macro environment—is key to ensuring employees are happy, engaged and productive. HR professionals and executives both ranked “maintaining employee morale and engagement” as the highest priority for their organizations in 2023, according to SHRM’s 2022-2023 State of the Workplace Report.
So, how can HR leaders prioritize employee happiness, maximize employee engagement and foster a people-first culture?
Be transparent in your communications with employees.
The modern workplace can be an anxious one. Recent layoffs and economic ambiguity have created what some call a global job security crisis, with 52% of workers worried about the security of their job. And research illustrates how this job insecurity can negatively impact employees both on and off the job. What fuels this job insecurity and workplace anxiety? A lack of transparent communication between leadership and employees within an organization. This information vacuum erodes employee trust, focus and, yes, engagement.
At the same time, too much transparency can create a “Doomsday Clock” feel. In this case, you run the risk of employees jumping ship too soon or being “under-invested” in company success.
The right amount of transparency involves being realistic in your communication with employees. Here’s what that looks like: “If we don’t hit our quarterly growth numbers of XYZ goals, we will need to make cuts.” “If we miss these five KPIs, we will need to institute a ‘fully remote’ work policy.”
Key company goals (metrics, OKRs, KPIs) should be communicated, shared and known at a company level. Employees can see how their own role-based performance metrics contribute to these larger company goals—and how their day-to-day contributions help the company’s bottom line. This goal-related transparency connects employees with each other and leadership, increases team engagement and eliminates surprises. When employees feel aligned with each other, leadership and company goals, they invest their best time, effort and talents to move the business forward.
Meet employees where they are.
There are many technology companies that have turned their offices into glorified adult daycare centers, with sleeping pods, free food and shared activities (destroying profit margins in the process).
Smarter organizations embrace remote, asynchronous work and meet employees where and when they work best. Flexible schedules and a hybrid or remote work environment allow the employee to work when, where and how they want. One employee may log on at 6 a.m. for two hours before taking their kids to school. Another may be more productive in the evening and may start their day later.
Allowing employees to determine their own work-life integration is a win-win for the company and the worker. The company significantly cuts overhead costs while the employee feels respected, empowered and trusted.
Seek first to understand.
In addition to empowering employees, company leaders should make it a priority to understand the people working for them. According to Gallup’s most recent “State of the Global Workplace” report, employee engagement is staggeringly low at just 21%—and that’s a problem. Do you have low employee engagement at your organization?
Answer these questions by developing an employee engagement/workplace well-being survey. Sample questions may include: Do you know what is expected of you at work? Do you feel like your manager cares about your career development?
Collect, aggregate and analyze employee feedback to understand more about employee engagement at your organization. When you examine the when/what/where/why/how of potential low engagement at your organization, you can then take steps to turn the ship around. HR leaders, by understanding employee engagement patterns, can improve their talent development, retention and recruitment efforts.
Empower HR to be the voice of the employee.
Great HR leaders advocate for employees, and this goes beyond relaying information. HR should analyze employee feedback, quickly find solutions to problems, and outline why and how initiatives affect the organization’s bottom line. As we face continued economic uncertainty, many organizations are restructuring or changing up their benefits. As they do so, it’s important to note that companies’ budgets are not smaller—they are tighter.
Every company has a budget for a “must-have” item. If a team can make an argument about why they need something, that request will be met in some way, shape or form. This is where metrics, data and an in-depth understanding of employees are important; this information helps leaders reallocate budgets and demonstrate the corresponding ROI. For example, HR may request more investment in talent development/training and can outline why these changes are important to employee engagement metrics, internal performance OKRs and retention.
At the end of the day, an organization is only as good as its people. Similar to a military unit defined by teamwork, engagement and a shared objective, your soldiers (i.e., employees) are your most important asset. The above tips can help you arm your people with the tools, environment and purpose to do their best work.