Every business owner dreams of having employees who love coming to work, identify with the organization’s purpose and give of their best with enthusiasm and commitment to their jobs.  However, the truth is that many employers are virtually clueless about how to motivate the level of employee engagement in their workplace. Engagement refers to the extent to which employees immerse themselves in their role. Enthusiastic employees are considered rare gems. They are passionate, creative, customer-orientated and eager to learn new skills. Engagement also increases customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability. Moreover, when engagement levels are high, absenteeism and employee turnover are also significantly reduced.

While much research suggests that intrinsic motivation is driven by internal rewards that vary from person to person, there are some concrete steps employers can take to create a corporate culture that maximizes optimal employee engagement. Here are 5 tips that might help business owners create such a culture.

  • Provide a Sense of Autonomy: As management layers increase, the slower, more bureaucratic and more controlling the corporate culture becomes. Most employers would agree that the more “controlling” the office culture is, the less enthusiasm employees exhibit in their work. That is why some companies have created “self-managing teams” that enable employees to work autonomously, while still being aligned to the corporate purpose and goals. Although such teams might not work for every organization, it’s unlikely that simply adding more management layers will do the trick either. If anything, it may make matters worse – especially in small businesses. If you’re looking to increase engagement, try minimizing unnecessary rules, procedures, and protocols. Instead, consider allowing your people the freedom they need to do their job in the way they think is best. This is especially important for employees that are in direct contact with customers. 
  • Include Employees in Innovation: Ask your employees how the work can be done faster, cheaper, smarter and in a more customer-oriented way. In most organizations, this will result in higher performance levels. Including people in innovation means your employees are more likely to embrace new ideas, which, in turn, will cause enthusiasm to increase. For this kind of innovation to be successful, organizations should make sure that employee participation in innovation initiatives is completely voluntary, to minimize the opportunity for management to influence employees during the process. 
  • Explain How the Organization Contributes to Society: Employees, and especially millennials, want to feel that their work contributes to a better world. They want to take pride in the company’s mission, vision, and purpose. Successful employers make sure their goals appeal to their workforce because of high social relevance. In my business, for instance, all employees took great pride in the knowledge that a major byproduct of every corporate engagement we undertook was that it ultimately improved the human condition in some way. The knowledge that they were making a positive difference to the human condition contributed greatly to the level of engagement and workplace pride among my employees.  That’s why it’s important to determine and actively share the social value of your organization.
  • Improve Role Clarity: Research shows that employees who are older and have longer tenures tend to be more engaged. For example, 65% of employees between the ages of 45 and 64 are engaged in their work, while only 52% of the employees younger than 24 years feel the same way. The reason is simple. Experienced employees know what is expected of them and have a track record of successes to prove they add value to a company. They experience a higher level of role clarity which, research shows, leads to higher levels of engagement. Employees who have recently started their job, however, are more likely to experience lower levels of role clarity. They don’t always know what to do when business goals appear contradictory, like increasing customer satisfaction and increasing revenue at the same time. Young employees often feel they have a high workload and lack a sense of control. This makes it harder to start off with loads of enthusiasm. However, to support these employees, employers can offer courses targeted at professional development or personal growth. Some companies offer internal “mentoring” or create inter-generational teams to maximize cross-generational collaboration. Others increase role-clarity by bringing together small groups in casual Friday “lunch and learn” sessions, where employees can share their experiences in an open and safe way. 
  • Remember That Surveys Alone Don’t Fix Anything: Employee engagement surveys have gained popularity in recent years. However, it’s not always enough to conduct an employee survey once a year and think that you have given your employees the opportunity to provide sufficient feedback. While many organizations conduct some sort of employee survey, many of them miss the opportunity to collect and use the strategic information gathered on a frequent basis. Regular feedback that is converted into action planning and tangible solutions contribute to the kind of healthy corporate culture that employees can connect with and feel a true sense of ownership and belonging.

These recommendations may require a culture change. While that is generally not easy to accomplish, the rewards come quickly and are truly worth the effort. By creating a culture of engagement, you’ll quickly reduce employee turnover and increase trust, collaboration and innovation.     

*Adapted from “The Secret Behind Employee Engagement”, by Guido Heezen

For over three decades, Dr. Faye Coleman, Founder, and Principal of FEC Enterprises, LLC, and former CEO of Westover Consultants, Inc., has been a leader in workforce leadership development, executive coaching/mentoring, organizational effectiveness and diversity training.

As an independent consultant, and through her various companies, she has used her finely tuned skills in multicultural workplace dynamics to help clients navigate the challenges, and ultimately reap the benefits of a richly diverse global workplace.  Dr. Coleman is an internationally recognized trainer and thought leader, with more than three decades of experience managing large-scale leadership training, technical assistance, and capacity development projects.

She has worked throughout the United States, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe with Federal, State and community-based organizations and with managers of small to mid-size corporations, associations, nonprofit groups, non-governmental agencies, and private sector companies, designing client-specific, culturally relevant initiatives and training programs that meet the complex and diverse needs of a rapidly changing global market place.

Dr. Coleman is a frequent speaker at conferences, seminars, and symposia. Committed to “giving back,” she chairs the board of Women of the Dream Inc. and serves on the board of directors of Quantum Leaps, Inc., and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). Listed in “Who’s Who of American Women,” Dr. Coleman, a skilled professional coach, holds a B.S. degree in Sociology from Simmons College, an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. in Education/Human Development from the University of Maryland.