What Drives Employee Engagement?

What, exactly, drives employee engagement? In recent years, the business world has reached a consensus: Employee engagement is good for the bottom line. It's a simple equation, really: If you can't satisfy the demands of your clients or customers, you're going to lose business. And the way to reach extraordinary levels of client and customer service is through engaged employees.

Employees’ dedication speaks volumes to clients and customers. Not to be clichéd, but a company's employees truly are its greatest asset! Most leaders understand this connection on an intellectual level, but they often struggle with what to do to foster this type of dedication.

To whet your appetite, here are a few key strategies:

  • Driving engagement with a sense of purpose: Companies that know their own purpose, values, vision, and strategic plan, and that believe in corporate social responsibility, are better able to win over the hearts and minds of their employees. And not surprisingly, employees who are duly won over are significantly more likely to be engaged!

  • Engaging employees through leadership: A manager manages process, programs, and data. Leaders, on the other hand, guide people, build followers, and steer organizations to success. Leaders are the ones who define and uphold an organization's principles. And it's leaders who really drive engagement in an organization.

  • Driving engagement across generations: People of different generations (Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials) have different motivational drivers — which means they become engaged in different ways. Smart managers drive engagement by adjusting their communication, leadership, oversight, recognition, and patience levels when leading a department populated by people of different generations.

  • Driving engagement through team development: Working with great co-workers, helping each other out, and having great camaraderie, trust, and love for one another is engaging. In other words, a great team environment can engage a person as much as a great job!

  • Driving engagement through branding: Many firms focus all their branding efforts on their product brand — “what they do.” But they invest virtually no time communicating their employment brand — “who they are.” Ideally, “what we do” and “who we are” will be like two sides of the same coin.

    Engagement is about capturing your employees’ heads and hearts. Firms that spend all their time branding “what they do” most likely are making an intellectual connection with their employees. But true engagement occurs when you make an emotional connection. This occurs only when you can define “who you are” and even “why you exist.” When that happens, engagement flourishes!

  • Engaging employees through gamification: For years, neuroscientists have known that people whose lives involve fun and enjoyment are healthier. The same is true of employees. One way to introduce fun as an engagement driver is to embrace the growing trend toward gamification (using game mechanics and rewards in a non-game setting to increase user engagement and drive desired user behaviors).

    Good gamification programs reward people for behaviors they're already inclined to perform or required to perform, increasing their engagement and enjoyment. In other words, gamification makes the things you have to do more fun. And injecting fun in the workplace goes a long way toward increasing employee engagement.

To drive engagement, you must also have a firm grasp on what motivates people, and commit to effectively communicating your engagement objectives. Finally, recognition is an important ingredient in your engagement stew.

Before embarking on any effort to drive employee engagement at your organization, you need to accept that tangible results may not be immediately forthcoming. The investments you'll be making will take time to take root and grow. Many companies make the mistake of moving on to something else if they don't see immediate results.

Accept from the outset that your initiatives may take up to two years to show their desired effects. It's a little like the grease pole at the county fair. Fairgoers eagerly climb the pole, but as they get closer to the top, they discover increasing amounts of grease. This results in a loss of grip and an embarrassing slide back down the pole.

Well, your engagement efforts will likely be similar. If there is a business hiccup, a change in your market, a turnover of key staff, a change in leadership, or an economic downturn, your engagement efforts may slip down the grease pole. Don't get discouraged. Stay the course. Engagement is a marathon, not a sprint!

Also, accept that you'll never say, “Well, we're done with engagement. Now on to quality control, customer service, and so on.” If you're hoping to check off a box marked “employee engagement” for Year X and then move on to the next important thing, not only will you be disappointed, but you'll engender cynicism about the entire process among your staff. And cynicism is corrosive to engagement.

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