Defining Employee Engagement
What exactly is employee engagement? It’s hard to say, because it's more than just being happy at a job. Are employees pitching in their opinions, do they feel valued at work, do they feel appreciated? Are they growing in their role or helping others to grow in theirs?
Every business has to create a definition that works for them and answer the question, “What do we consider an engaged employee? What does that look like for us?”
Who’s Responsible for Employee Engagement
While the whole company is responsible for employee engagement, generally, those who are in charge of other people, like supervisors and managers, are most responsible for maintaining engagement in the workplace. Providing a good workplace experience increases employee satisfaction and productivity, and increases loyalty and a business’s reputation.
When promoting and hiring, it’s important to consider how that person will do as a manager, and how well they are able to relate to other people. Some managers are naturally gifted at creating an environment that is good for engagement. Others will need some training and coaching to help nurture that environment.
The supervisor-employee relationship is incredibly important. It’s often stated that one of the chief reasons why someone quits is because the relationship they have with a manager is not a good one, and they’ve completely disengaged from their interest in the job as a result.
Skills That Help Maintain Engagement
Skills that help to maintain an engaged workforce include emotional intelligence traits like empathy, concern for others, the ability to read people, be non-reactive, and be able to deflect drama. Additionally, the ability to set boundaries and provide guidance and support to others are valuable.
Assessing engagement of remote employees can be a bit more challenging than assessing in-person employees, since interactions are in the more constrained digital environment.
It’s crucial to have really open communication channels with that employee and the supervisor, especially if there’s mentoring happening. All employees, but especially those working remotely, will benefit from a space where they can be open and honest with someone, whether that's HR or their manager.
Likely Indicators of Engagement
Engaged employees show interest in their jobs, and often indicate that they’re invested in learning and growing. Sometimes that includes mentoring other team members but it can also be as simple as speaking out in meetings, sharing ideas, and celebrating successes. More subtle indicators include whether employees are appropriately helping others without being asked to, passing along knowledge, and generally being productive and meeting expectations.
Disengagement often has obvious clues. Body language that indicates disinterest, showing up late and leaving early, and consistently failing to meet expectations or agreements are signs of disengagement. Additionally, disengaged employees may appear distracted, uninvolved, and checked out of meetings and their lack of interest will be reflected in their performance.
Things That Shouldn’t Be Considered
Employee engagement shouldn’t be determined by certain behaviors and traits, like introversion or extroversion. An employee can be fully engaged but avoid zoom happy hour. A warm, touchy-feely kind of person may be friendly and fun to be around and yet not be engaged with their work. Time tracking isn’t a good indicator, but productivity and results are. A disengaged employee may track hours that are longer than normal, and a fully engaged employee may work their exact contracted hours. If there’s doubt, the difference between them will typically be clear enough when it comes to the successful completion of their work.
Employee engagement is ultimately a complex mix of outcomes, appropriate processes, meeting documented expectations (from a remote work policy, for example), and overall attitude and approach to the work.
How to Encourage Engagement
Sometimes people think that happy hours (whether virtual or in person) are like the end all be all but that’s not really the case. Workshops and professional development augmented with occasional interactive and purposeful team activities (virtual scavenger hunts, online games, and so on) provide diverse opportunities for people to connect.
Regular team communication also helps. A daily quick 15-minute standup with your team where everybody says what they're working on helps keep teams organized and aware of how their work affects each other. And then if time permits, you can do the same thing at the end of the day (though overcommunication can lead to disengagement, so be considerate about meeting frequency.) Team members could also send a weekly email or message in which they communicate, “this is what I worked on and this is what I actually got done.”
And while one-on-one meetings are important in general, they’re even more important with a remote worker.
Providing employees with autonomy also helps people stay engaged. For example, an employee could be given an assignment that has step-by-step instructions about how to complete a task or they can be given the desired outcome and some guidelines, like a budget of time or resources. While it can be stressful to allow someone to take on a task with the autonomy to figure out how to do it themselves, it can also have a strong payoff. As long as the outcome is strong, does it really matter if they’ve done it the way it’s “always been done” or the way you’d have done it yourself? Giving employees room to grow is a key part of engagement.
Employee Engagement Quick Wins
If you’re trying to improve employee engagement, here are three things you can do starting today.
Recognize people publicly.
Verbal recognition is so important to so many people! At Dominion, we have a biweekly update. Everybody attends the same zoom meeting and we do employee shoutouts. Managers can submit things that they've seen employees do, but also employees can submit things that they've seen other employees do, like living our core values or that they went above and beyond on something. Sometimes it’s a personal shoutout, like a birthday or a new baby, or work anniversary. Verbal recognition is so important to so many people.
Get to know your employees.
Understanding your employees as a component of remote workforce management and creating real relationships is essential to engagement. As hokey as it sounds, there is a version of the “five love languages” for the workplace and it’s smart to figure out how someone communicates, how they prefer to be appreciated, and so on. That can be harder in a remote environment, but it’s worth taking the time to learn who wants a shoutout and who would really appreciate a postcard with kind words.
Provide frequent feedback.
The benefits of regular one-on-one meetings can’t be overstated. Add more frequent performance reviews with that employee as well, beyond just an annual performance review. Most people can’t think and plan past 90 days, so allowing more opportunities for feedback, personal planning, and growth can help employees stay engaged. Of course, providing feedback and criticism in a constructive way is important, as is providing praise in public and critique in private and in a timely manner.
Why Does Employee Engagement Matter?
One big reason to care about remote employee engagement is that it increases employee retention, which is especially helpful in a competitive job market. If people feel valued and appreciated in their workplace for doing a job well done and being part of a team, they’re more likely to want to be active participants in their roles. A community of people who all know they’re valued and that their work is going in the right direction will be better collaborators and team members, contributing together to a thriving business.