The statistics are begging us to try something different this year.
Employee engagement statistics are a favorite piñata for anyone that wishes to bemoan the state of corporate culture. Internal communications and HR professionals have seen these unchanging Gallup polls so many times they’re sick of it. Being constantly asked to improve something that everyone is struggling with is annoying.
It’s also a huge opportunity. When the entire business community is aware of a problem but can’t seem to fix it, you’ve got a great datapoint to work with: all known methods have largely failed. In short, it’s an innovator’s market. If you’re tasked with improving employee engagement, you’ve got a mandate to think outside the box and try new things.
This is why I humbly submit this New Year’s Resolution for communicators everywhere: in 2018, commit to actually improving employee engagement by trying something new.
Employee engagement has hovered around 35% since we started tracking it, and isn't showing signs of change.
2018 is the year to innovate employee engagement solutions. No more surveys. No more kumbaya. No more pandering concessions, like relaxed office rules or fun company events that fulfill people’s base wants – pizza and beer do not a culture make. Let’s aim for real, actionable solutions to test, measure, fail, and test again.
Let’s try something new. I’ll get us started with a three simple ideas.
1. Maximize engaging work by minimizing administrative tasks.
Millions of dollars of research on employee engagement has provided us with plenty of banal findings, like “employees want flexibility” and “employees value communication.” But the most useful conclusion yielded is “people are engaged when they’re allowed to do the work they thought they were hired for.”
What’s preventing this ideal world of 100% purposeful tasks? The necessary evil of administrative work. Applying for time off. Submitting time sheets. Selecting benefits. Expense reports. KPI submissions. Anything that is necessary for the business to function but is not in the scope of an employee’s core competency is something we should be looking to automate and reduce. We cannot eliminate the admin work, but we can move it to a time and place where it can be done more efficiently while not preventing other work from being done.
What’s the best way to allow employees to quickly work through administrative work in a way that doesn’t interfere with their other work? Start with three key principles:
Bring necessary tasks to the employee, don’t make them hunt for them. Eliminate the ‘discovery’ period of administrative work. Is an expense report due? Let them know with a notification – and make it easy to get from notification to solution. You probably have an ERP or HRMS system that can trigger this notification. Just make sure it gets right to the employee – preferably on their phone.
Personalize the experience. Don’t show them every possible portal or action for every single employee. Limit the experience to just what makes sense for them. When you stop setting up portals and “destinations” (like an intranet, a website, a file drive) for employees to interact with and think instead in terms of a personal employee service, everyone can get what they need much faster.
Make admin work doable anywhere, anytime. Now you’re not at risk of cannibalizing time that would’ve been spent doing their core job. Can your employees get administrative tasks done waiting for an elevator, sitting on a train, or over morning coffee? If not, the tasks are in the way.
2. Care about the look and function of every employee-company interaction.
“Employee experience” is a sprawling concept that is finally being addressed as a critical part of engagement, productivity, and talent retention. HR professionals are keenly interested in building and advertising something better than the typical corporate experience and culture. While you can’t skirt the hard work to build culture – that’s a concerted people-driven effort – you can improve the way the employees interact with the company as an entity in and of itself.
Start by identifying where an employee interacts with “the company.” Is it through an HR support portal? An Intranet, looking for information? An IT hotline? These are often forgotten places with old technology, ugly interfaces, and terrible user experiences. Just caring about how some of these places look is a good start.
If your intranet looks like crap, it's a signal to your employees that you just don't care enough about them.
Once you’ve addressed the aesthetics, move from form to function. Do these services / places work well? Are they frustrating to use? This is the result of back-office technology being ignored, but it’s interpreted as a subtle “We don’t care about you” to employees. You’ve got a shiny new website, maybe a really nice customer-facing experience, but you can’t be bothered to give a damn about how the company digitally looks to employees?
Engage your employees where they’re already communicating and interacting with the rest of the world – on their phone. Give them something as slick and fast as their Facebook and twitter apps. It’s 2018; the answer is not to redesign the intranet and you don’t have to hire an entire mobile development department to do this. Not caring about having a best-in-class digital employee experience saves times and money. It also guarantees that you won’t be competitive on talent and a signal to employees that you aren’t investing much in them.
The 'share' control in my employee app gave my employees a pre-made 1-click link and message to share on social media.
3. Let employees signal membership in a culture.
Even if you’re successful in building a culture that encourages engagement, the only way to scale and sustain it is to give it mass exposure. Give employees a means and an incentive to make noise and get others aware and intrigued about your culture.
A sense of belonging to something greater than oneself is an instinctive social trait we all have – it’s just a matter of making that ‘greater’ thing loud and available.
With that in mind, allow your employees to easily engage and share content that represents your culture. Give them the ability to celebrate things on social networks, like they do for everything else in their personal lives. Some people will never mix social media with work. That's fine. Your influencers and culture-carriers will (particularly your millennials, the fasting growing part of your workforce), and they'll be loud enough to amplify your message.
Sharing company content doesn’t just amplify your message, it gives your employees the option to self-identify with the culture and help shape it. There’s no better way to reinforce culture and foster a sense of belonging than having your employees share culture-signaling communications publicly.
Make this the year for an employee engagement breakthrough.
Forget another insipid goal around losing weight or running a marathon. Let’s get serious about a problem that’s plagued our industry for way too long. Let’s commit to find a way to fix employee engagement. All the conditions are there for an innovator to succeed – so who’s up for it?