Give Employees Tools of Engagement for Better Results

When trying to figure out how to keep employees engaged, employers aren’t the ones with all the answers; results will improve if employees become more involved and take ownership of the process, consultants say.

Engagement strategies shouldn’t be regarded solely as a top-down process, according to Rebecca Ray, executive vice president at The Conference Board. Not involving employees in engagement planning means they will not have as much buy-in and feel disconnected, perpetuating the problem, she told Bloomberg BNA.

"Engagement is not something done to you; we don’t want folks to say, go ahead and engage me if you can," said Ray. 

More organizations want to view engagement as a partnership involving both management and employees, according to Mark Royal, ‎senior principal at Korn Ferry Hay Group. "Companies are increasingly aware that creating an engaging environment is necessary to attract and retain and secure the talent they need," he told Bloomberg BNA. 

Disengaged employees cost U.S. employers an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion a year, according to a report from The Engagement Institute, a joint venture of The Conference Board, Deloitte Consulting, Sirota-Mercer, ROI Institute and The Culture Works.

"How much money is poured into engagement programs? And only one-third of employees are actually engaged. There has to be a different way," according to Ray, who co-authored the report and is executive director of The Engagement Institute. 

The financial benefits of engagement make it well worth the time and investment, Ray said. "It is tremendously expensive to replace experienced talent," she added. 

Ask Employees

The first step is to survey employees to discover what would make them feel more engaged, according to Patrick Hyland, director of research & development at Mercer-Sirota, who also co-authored The Engagement Institute report. 

That can help build awareness that employees can become more involved, and employees are more likely to be engaged when they are given greater control of their experience inside and outside of work, Hyland told Bloomberg BNA. 

When managers build a sense of trust, employees can talk about needs and wants; then the organization can make those adjustments and create a sense of control, which has a positive effect on engagement, Hyland said. 

"The very concept of asking is engaging to employees," said Jim Link, chief human resources officer, Randstad North America. Companies can make an impact on engagement just by implying they are concerned about their employees—but they will need to follow up on at least some of the feedback they receive from employees, Link told Bloomberg BNA. 

"Our suggestion is to ask employees to monitor when they start to feel disengaged and what they should do if they start to feel disinterested," Ray said. Employees might need a temporary break from their day and could be allowed the flex time to do that, she said. 

If the job itself is disengaging the employee, the organization might provide the opportunity to take on a new project, job shadow someone in another department, or attend a workshop, Ray said. Managers may also need training to encourage employees to actually use the programs offered, she added. "Nothing will stifle engagement faster than a manager who micromanages," she said. 

The company creates a context for the employee to work within to manage their own experience and realize what would truly engage them, according to Royal. "We have an increasingly diverse workforce—not just demographically, but in needs and interest. It can be hard to connect with the needs and interests of every employee when it varies across the organization," Royal said. 

Companies can’t customize an engagement program for each individual, he said, but they can offer a variety of opportunities that will pique employee engagement.

Bloomberg BNA’s HR Decision Support Network offers an array of resources—such as custom research and strategic white papers with in-depth analysis of hot topics—to help you get answers to your toughest HR questions. Start your free trial  today!