Cracking The Employee Engagement Code

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Hi. My name is Mike and I love my job. But, employer love is increasingly hard to find these days as an overwhelming number of Americans lack engagement in their work. The statistics are startling to anyone running a business. Disengaged workers present a real challenge and the mood among Millennials creates an even greater sense of urgency.

According to Gallup, fewer than one-in-three U.S. employees are engaged in their jobs. By comparison, 51 percent identify as not engaged and 17 percent are actively disengaged. But it gets worse, because Gallup also reports Millennials – now the largest generation in America’s workforce – are the least engaged group, at 28.9 percent.

So, if you’re leading a department or an entire company right now, more than two-thirds of your workforce likely walked through the front door today lacking any meaningful engagement in your project, mission or bottom line. Let that sink in for a moment.

Fortunately, hope is not lost. With the right approach, you can course correct and turn job loathers into job lovers. Here are four tips for doing just that.

Get the Fundamentals Right: You absolutely must provide competitive salaries and benefits; ongoing training and development; opportunities to get promoted; helpful technology and resources; challenging assignments; annual employee satisfaction surveys, regular updates from management about strategic priorities, and more.

Make an Impact: Fundamentals matter, but various studies say employees now have expectations that go far beyond the basics. They care about their company’s social and environmental impact. They want employers to champion better work/life balance. And they want to be engaged in social responsibility initiatives that promote purpose-driven work in their communities.

One of our clients – AT&T – does a few things worth modeling. The company established an Aspire Mentoring Academy in 2012 to engage employees in providing academic support to underserved students in nearly 300 communities. The company set a goal of one million hours of mentoring, and their motivated employees blew that goal away ahead of schedule.

The students benefited from having mentors and the employees felt more connected to their communities (and the company) because of the program. If you’re an employer in central Indiana interested in providing your employees with a pathway to mentoring young people, look into what School on Wheels has to offer.

Companies – including AT&T – have also started giving employees extra time off to volunteer for a cause of their choice. And several have gone a step further to organize annual days of service where employees join forces to give back to their communities. This approach is excellent for teambuilding and Indy Do Day (September 29 – October 1) provides a great way for employers in central Indiana to incorporate community service into their employee engagement efforts.

Let Your Employees Dream: Another example worth considering is an employee engagement program modeled off of the book The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. My friend, Patrick, runs a mid-size business in Kansas with a large millennial workforce and this program has been a perfect fit for them.

They invite employees to write down their top 100 dreams – from creative endeavors to professional goals – and then they give them time and resources to go after them. They have an internal Dream Manager who provides support. They block 30 minutes every Friday for employees to work on their dreams. And they share stories about dreams realized at staff meetings.

The theory is “an organization can only become the best version of itself to the extent that its employees are pursuing and achieving their dreams – both personally and professionally.” Maybe a program like this could help you with your employee recruiting and retention efforts.

Talk to Your Employees: So, what do your employees need? Maybe they’d like you to develop a signature philanthropy program that puts the firm’s financial resources to work while opening meaningful opportunities for employee volunteerism. We’ve helped organizations build and promote programs like this and they can be transformational.

Or, maybe they’d love it if you committed to more sustainable business practices and rewarded employees and suppliers for being more socially responsible. We’ve helped organizations engage in these endeavors and they deliver happier customers, satisfied employees and a stronger bottom line.

Your employees want you to engage them and they probably have some great ideas if you open the door to discussing them. Now is the time because the stakes are only going to get higher in the year ahead.

Mike Marker is a senior partner with VOX Global.

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