Often times, companies quite literally “throw money at the problem” in an attempt to keep their best workers happy. While handsome compensation for a job well done is deserved, most of the time, you can’t buy (employee) love, to put it lyrically. Especially in a millennial workforce.
Millennials (who are between 22 and 36 years old in 2017) now make up the largest share of the American workforce, and more than compensation, the new generation values growth opportunities, seek a purpose of position and expect their boss to be more coach than manager.
In other words, employees are looking for a commitment from their employer … like all good relationships.
In corporate America, “commitment” roughly translates to an employee investment or “engagement,” as the wellness community calls it — or proof that the employer cares about an employee’s humanity and wellbeing, and generally wants them to succeed.
According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, only a third of American employees feel engaged in their jobs. And this is no small problem. Disengaged workers cost U.S. companies more than $300 billion a year.
On the other hand, a culture of engagement can increase revenue by up to 18% per employee, says Gallup. In high-turnover companies, the most engaged units see 24% less turnover.
So how do you prove to your employee that you want to go all the way? How do you increase engagement? After 15 years in the business, here’s our take.
1. Create a culture of wellness — not a wellness program.
Too often, C-suite executives treat employee engagement initiatives as add-on programming rather than a company-wide mandate. And without adequate company or senior level buy-in, any programming — wellness or otherwise — is usually short-lived or even doomed.
For engagement initiatives to succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment, they must take into account all aspects of an employee’s experience, including values alignment, skill development, job ownership, relationships with managers, work-life balance and more — and there are very few singular programs that can cover that much ground.
2. Think beyond “happy.”
People often confuse engagement with making employees feel happy or making work fun via company picnics and birthday celebrations. While these are great too, true engagement happens when employees feel connected to the company and feel empowered to contribute to the organization’s goals.
Within a culturally compelling organization, workers produce “discretionary effort,” going beyond just the bare minimum to do their job well. The result is increased productivity, higher customer satisfaction, and a lasting competitive advantage.
3. Ask employees then act on the results.
The best way to find out what matters to employees is to ask them. Surveys do have a place in improving engagement when done regularly and with a clear purpose. If you’re on a budget and doing this DIY, be sure to promise anonymity. Write the survey to identify causation behind the answers, and ask for suggestions along the way. While less easily codified, open-ended response options allow for tremendous insight.
Another great source of insight is focus groups. Once you’ve gathered broad input via survey, you can often slice and dice the areas of highest and lowest engagement in the company. Craft focus groups to tease out the contrasting factors. Hire external facilitators to ensure employees feel safe to respond transparently.
One challenge businesses face when conducting insight initiatives is that they don’t share the results widely or act on what they’ve learned. Word will be out that the company is looking in the mirror. So it’s important to foster a culture of transparency by reviewing engagement survey data with as many people as possible and committing publicly to make changes based on what you’ve learned.
4. Provide opportunities for career development and learning.
Today’s workers view their careers as opportunities for development, and the best companies recognize this. Millennials, in particular, value professional development and coaching, even more than compensation.
Companies that encourage skill acquisition create pathways for moving up, and providing consistent feedback is an integral piece of the puzzle. Having an internal job board is just the beginning. Mentorship, internal “university” programs, functional and geographic rotations, task force assignments, real-time performance evaluation, discretionary learning allocations, and development time budgets all foster a generative workplace culture in which employees know their growth is the foundation of the company’s growth.
Is it time for a culture shift?
With change being a given, cultures must change as well. Companies must be able to react quickly to keep up, and that isn’t limited to responding to economic or competitive landscape shifts. Ideally, your company’s culture is something you regularly tweak in response to changing business needs — but there are times when a major culture shift is necessary.
We see this with clients. Organizational blind spots include dysfunction, harmful competition and other unhelpful behaviors that are tacitly tolerated by the values held by leadership. What results is a culture that we call “human-hostile.” If this sounds like your organization, then you need to take immediate steps to turn things around.
But there are other less dramatic reasons why your company might consider a significant cultural transformation, such as growth or a merger. Naturally, your company will operate differently as a fledgling startup than a huge corporation with thousands of employees. Likewise, taking on or being bought by another company often requires changes to the established way of doing things.