employee engagement best practices

Employee Engagement Best Practices for 2021

We sat down with Jennifer Bonilla, Ph.D., FACHE, SHRM-SCP to discuss a topic she’s well-versed in: employee engagement best practices. Dr. Bonilla’s doctoral coursework at Iowa State University of Science & Technology focused on the correlation of employee burnout and turnover with employee engagement. She also held several executive leadership roles in global services organizations, including CEO of ISS Facility Services, Division President of Sodexo, and President–North America of Pitney Bowes Management Services. 

Listen to our full conversation with Dr. Bonilla on our podcast, The Strategic Boardroom: Insights from Thought Leaders, or read below to find out her advice for leaders looking to boost employee engagement in 2021 and beyond. 

Before we begin to discuss best practices for employee engagement, it’s important to clarify that there are 3 statuses of employee engagement:

  • Engaged Employees: employees who care about their work and the performance of their company (they’re strongly connected toward the work they do, their teams, and the organization) 
  • Not Engaged Employees: employees who put in the time, but not energy or passion, into their work (they get the job done, but aren’t connected to their job or the organization)
  • Disengaged Employees: employees who lack energy and effort at work because they’re dissatisfied and frustrated with the job or organization (they tend to actually work against the organization and can have a serious impact on your bottom line)

Most Employees are Not Engaged

Interestingly enough, most employees are in the middle category (not engaged). Today about 40% of US employees are classified as engaged, about 47% are considered not engaged, and about 30% are disengaged. It’s important to understand which category most of your employees fall under because companies with high levels of engaged employees have better business outcomes. This includes:

  • 23% Higher Profitability
  • 14%-18% Higher Productivity
  • 81% Less Absenteeism
  • 18 -43% Lower Turnover
  • 64% Fewer Safety Incidents

via Gallup 2020 Meta-Analysis 

It’s important for an organization to figure out the right recipe needed to get more employees in the engaged status. 

The Impact of Culture on Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is made up of many different factors, but one of the most critical factors is the organization’s culture. Culture stems from the brand that the company is trying to achieve and is communicated to employees through the company’s mission, vision, and values.

Today, because there are so many millennials in the workforce (by 2030 the majority of employees in the workforce will be millennials), companies need a mission that employees believe in and want to support. Millennials are very purpose-driven and are increasingly looking for companies with the right kind of culture, the right purpose, and the right mission. 

Employees today, regardless of the generation they come from, tend to gravitate toward companies that have a mission that they feel is aligned to their own personal beliefs. 

The Impact of Leadership on Employee Engagement

People want to work for leaders that inspire them, that they respect, and that they identify with. Organizations with high levels of employee engagement have leaders who really live the values that the company espouses and who demonstrate the culture. 

The Impact of Communication on Employee Engagement

Communication is probably more important now than ever because so many employees are working remotely. The way a company develops its communication strategy and practices is extremely important to employees. It’s something people think about as they “shop” for an employer, and employees think about it frequently as they’re working.

The Impact of Employee Motivators

Another best practice to encourage employee engagement is to ensure the alignment of a company’s programs to employee motivators. Interestingly, people often think employees choose an employer primarily based on compensation. However, many studies show that compensation is actually around #5 on the list of things that employees look for. In reality, all the other factors we’ve mentioned (including the mission, vision, values, and purpose) are more important motivators to most employees and deserve more attention from employers. That said, rewards and recognition programs and employee development programs merit serious consideration.

Other Practices that Impact Employee Engagement

There are plenty of other day-to-day practices that impact employee engagement. These include:  

  • Providing meaningful assignments
  • Providing ongoing communication about how the employee’s work connects to the company’s mission
  • Recruitment strategies (are you bringing in people who add value and align with the mission and values?)
  • Advancement strategies (Is there a promote-from-within approach, or do you frequently hire from outside the company?)
  • Inclusion: Can every employee be their authentic self at work? 

While an organization can’t improve employee engagement overnight, there are plenty of steps leaders can take to address the root causes of disengagement and eventually create a highly engaged workforce.