Designing the workplace of the future requires leaders to adopt a new mindset about employee needs, as well as new strategies and tools to keep the team focused, engaged and energised. Now more than ever, organisations need to reflect on the ways in which they can support their employees to be able to work and feel their best and keep teams engaged and productive - but what does this actually mean?

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What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection your employees feel towards their work, team, and organisation. It affects just about every aspect of your company' performance including profitability, revenue, customer experience and employee turnover.

Why is employee engagement so important?

It’s no secret that people are key to business success. But, beyond that obvious fact, the future workforce - millennials and Generation Z - increasingly expect more from their employers and work environment. 

In order to attract and retain talent, engaging employees needs to be a top priority. Value your workforce, empower and trust them and you’ll receive the reward and positive impact of a productive, loyal and collaborative team. 

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of employee engagement.

  • Cultivate passion

Organisations with healthy working environments don’t rely on peer pressure, stress or fear to motivate employees - they run on passion. Alignment to corporate purpose and a strong organisational culture are key drivers of employee engagement and performance.

Workplace engagement at a managerial level has an enormous impact on team behaviours. Passion is contagious, and a leader's enthusiasm for their company’s collective effort will inspire employees to engage just as profoundly with their own work.

  • Retain talent

It’s not easy recruiting the right people for the job, and filling empty roles requires significant resources. Making the most of your existing talent pool, building their capability and finding a teachable moment after failure may feel challenging, but the time, effort and risk of hiring replacement staff should be recognised as far harder.

An engagement strategy is an employee retention strategy: turnover inevitably drops, saving time, money and effort. Additionally, there are substantial benefits around retaining valuable historical corporate knowledge that a committed, long-term team can hold.

It is vital to work on strategies to build trust and improve employee engagement. If your team members know that they'll be recognised for their contributions, have opportunities for personal growth, and understand when and why business change happens, they’ll have less reason to leave. Retaining long-term talent is becoming a real competitive advantage as people learn from previous competitors and market events and so should be well-placed to anticipate future competitive advantages.

  • Boost productivity

Forget the fads for boosting work rate. Engaged employees increase productivity. Simple. Productive teams focus more on working collaboratively, understand business-critical workstreams better and are more likely to focus on the prioritised pressing projects. They talk more with each other and waste less time on solo endeavours.

They also experience higher levels of job satisfaction and are better aligned to corporate culture. This becomes a virtuous cycle as they are more likely to be valued by the organisation and more likely to receive pay increases or promotions.

  • Lower absenteeism

When you’re invested in your job and care about the success of the business, you show up to work more. If an employee feels valued and secure in their role and engaged in the company's purpose, their internal accountability for delivery is increased. Interestingly, it can also mean that they feel more able to take the occasional day off, when needed due to illness, without fear of negative consequences. This is correlated with recovering faster and not spreading the illness to colleagues leading to improved team health.

The odd day off can therefore be a sign of good employee engagement as it leads to lower absenteeism overall and is likely to mitigate far more serious issues of long-term absenteeism, due to burnout.

  • Increase profitability 

An engaged team is an important goal on its own given how much time many of us spend at work. This being said, it is a known fact that the benefits of an engaged team will increase corporate earnings and profit. It will also help employers to attract and retain high-quality talent, further perpetuating a positive financial impact. Successful businesses place employee engagement at the centre of business strategy, which necessitates the provision of strategies and tools to build and measure good engagement. 

What’s the difference between employee engagement and employee experience? 

coworkers having lunch

These definitions can be slippery, so to all be on the same page here, let’s take a look at the distinctions. In simplest terms, we can think of employee experience as environment, or provision of essential environmental services, spaces and ways of working. Employee engagement is the output of those factors, which are also influenced by the corporate culture.

There are, of course, more complex and conflicting explanations. Some companies consider employee engagement as a ‘top-down’ philosophy, by which purpose and culture filters down to employees. In this sense, employee experience is more ‘bottom-up’, in that work processes are designed around their employees.

We might also consider employee experience as a broader term, which constitutes the entire journey an employee takes within a company, from before they even join to after they leave, and everything in between. 

How to improve employee engagement?

We know why employee engagement is important, now let's take a look at effective ways to boost it in your workplace. 

  • Provide a great onboarding experience

Employee onboarding is the right time to create a great first impression of your company. It is important and can produce a lasting positive impact on newly arrived employee's engagement, and it can also enhance employee engagement for the rest of the team. How? It makes employees feel valued, recognised and important to the company. The return to the workplace over the next year should also be seen as a re-onboarding process and an opportunity to create positive sentiment toward the company.

  • Offer training and development

Investing in your team, keeping their skills and ways of working current, is essential to nurture a positive company culture. Team training can also be a brilliant way to accelerate and prompt positive behaviours and develop trusting relationships within the team, further priming them for success.

Regularly trained employees are less likely to fall into negative team behaviours including fixed mindsets, or groupthink. It also increases their potential to grow within a company which creates a positive environment where existing employees are seen to be invested in and promoted. Some managers find it hard to determine team training needs. Asking for feedback from the team on needs, seeking feedback through engagement surveys and performance conversations are great ways to ensure appropriate training is in place and to foster engaged behaviours.

  • Check in often

Feedback. This one word is so crucial to successful operations but is so often overlooked. Social media and the rise of numerous service apps that are powered by feedback, has changed our expectations on how much feedback is enough. Today's workforce is hungry for regular discussions and will not be satisfied with an annual review.

It is in the interest of employers to embrace this way of working, as it will inevitably lead to a quicker correction of issues and better communication. Management should also expect that feedback is needed 'in all directions' and that seniority should not enable immunity from necessary course-correcting feedback from their team.

  • Give working flexibility

Hybrid working is here to stay, so understanding how to structure your physical working arrangements should be an interactive discussion with your people. In some ways, the lockdowns drove the easiest working arrangements. Many people had to work from home and so most people were utilising remote connections.

The next phase is likely to be much more challenging. Some team members will choose to return to work, while others may find it physically, or emotionally difficult. Increasingly therefore, many of the team will be in one place, whilst the remaining few will be on the other end of a video call. For those of us who have experienced this, it can be quite demotivating....often characterised by limited visibility or audio coverage of a meeting centred on in-room participants. Companies will need to stay abreast of the impact of this on remote employees and the team's behaviours as a whole. It will be critical to ensure their team's working practices stay engaging for all through meeting management technology and practices.

  • Measuring employee engagement

Now, here’s the tricky bit. Engagement is so much to do with feeling, how can we properly measure it? 

There are two main ways: the intuitive and the official. To enable a read on culture from being 'in' a corporate team, you will need to cultivate a culture of openness that lets employees know they can confidently give their thoughts. At best, it is hard to decipher engagement in this way. Far more accurate, is utilising anonymous surveys to obtain a clear assessment of how engaged your team are, ideally conducted at intervals, over time.

Questions which reflect, but do not directly question, engagement are often the most likely to clearly represent employee sentiment. Do you have the opportunities and tools to do your best? Do you feel you get enough recognition and praise? Is your voice heard and valued? When you present good ideas, are they able to be actioned?

Return to work guide

Asking the right questions helps to ensure your company is clear on where they are excelling, or falling short. This will help a company to focus on adjustments to ensure teams are connected with the company's culture and purpose. Remember, great engagement takes dedication, perseverance and time. Engagement will also fluctuate depending on corporate and environmental events.  As a result, an engaged team is highly correlated to good management practices, so be present, be patient and listen to your people.

Download our guide to uncover how to achieve a greater balance in the workplace and a successful return to the office to keep teams engaged and productive

Vital Spaces

Find out how Sodexo’s people-centred approach can help you drive employee engagement in the workplace and empower teams to do their best work.

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September 17, 2021

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