6 Tips to Increase Employee Engagement

Here's how HR professionals can ensure engagement becomes a personal experience for employees while also creating a work environment that fosters highly engaged workers.

Friday, January 20, 2017
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Employee engagement is both a leading and lagging indicator for a business.

Think about that for a second.

It's similar to the age-old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Does business success lead to more engaged employees, or do engaged employees lead to a more successful business?

In my opinion, employee engagement is both a contributor to and a byproduct of a business's success. Because of its dual nature, it's important for employees to understand their own personal contribution to this cycle.

For me, engagement is a combination of what I contribute to my organization and how the organization contributes to my success. Of these two factors, I have more control over my contribution to the business.

Think about it this way: If each employee focuses on his or her own contribution, which is highly personal and engaging, he or she can individually drive better business outcomes. Those outcomes allow employees to have better individual and collective success. In turn, this success impacts their engagement and reinforces their personal contribution, thus creating a closed loop. So how do HR professionals ensure engagement is personal to employees while creating a work environment that fosters highly engaged employees?

Here are a few things to consider:

Have team leaders own the execution. Managers ultimately set the example for employees of best practices for engagement. As such, HR should become the center of excellence and work with team leads to surface the information needed and advise them on how to keep employees engaged. At ADP, we recently started a program that highlights the company's employee-engagement activities. Every office has a "site champion" for engagement, who leads their unit's activities, and HR is the megaphone that reports the ways that employees are contributing companywide. Programs like this are really driven by behavioral economics -- meaning if you want people to feel good about something then you show them that a lot of people already feel positive about it.

Encourage clear conversations between managers and associates. It's important to check in with both managers and associates and ask, "When was the last time you had a conversation with your manager or your employee?" Then provide them with the information they need for a successful interaction such as, "Five vital questions to ask." During this conversation, it's important that managers provide clarity of purpose so that employees know exactly how their roles contribute to the overall success of the organization, which can help them to take greater pride in their work. Managers should also help prioritize employees' workloads and talk about what needs to get done in the next 30 days. That way, they can discuss potential challenges and help remove any obstacles to success.  Finally, encourage managers to talk to associates about things outside of the office. This shows they care about employees' personal well-being and are interested in individuals as people, not just as "workers."

Use data to fine-tune messages and identify the best communication channels. Today, many HR leaders treat messages to associates as "one size fits all," but that won't be the case in the future. You need to think about the demographic mix of your employee population -- including age, gender, location and more -- and how those factors impact their perception of messages. Also, consider how each person absorbs information differently and wants it delivered. To fine-tune messages, start collecting data by doing regular pulse checks throughout the year. This way you can develop trend lines to see how different communications are resonating with employees. Are they more engaged after receiving an encouraging email from the CEO? Did they receive the message better via email, at a town hall meeting or on the employee portal? These frequent surveys can help you tweak messages in real-time as you receive feedback so they'll have a better impact on engagement. As I like to say, it is important to always be inspecting what you're expecting to make sure you're on track to get the results you seek.

Understand the desires of your workforce. Everyone is more engaged when they feel their company cares about benefits that are important to them on a personal level. Of course, the importance of certain benefits varies by age group. For example, the 2016 ADP Employee Engagement Study found that younger workers favor education-related perks and paid maternity/paternity leave, while Baby Boomers are more interested in employee discount and wellness programs. Think about your corporate culture and employee population: Is having free food and onsite yoga more important to engagement? Or, would employees feel more valued and engaged if you offered unlimited vacation time and flexible work hours?

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Help remove friction from design processes. There is often a correlation between the amount of bureaucracy that exists in an organization and lower engagement, since friction between departments doesn't foster happy work environments. Think about how employees feel when they need to go through 10 levels of approvals to get something done. In the end, they don't feel empowered. HR could play a key role in minimizing organizational bottlenecks and decentralizing decision making. This could increase engagement and have a direct impact on an organization's performance. 

Stress the employee's role in engagement. According to Gallup, a staggering 87 percent of employees worldwide are not engaged. While HR can arm managers with the tools and information needed to engage associates, HR leaders also need to help associates realize that engagement is their personal responsibility. Employees need to define for themselves what makes them highly engaged and then do those things as often as they can. For some, it could be volunteering with colleagues or joining a lunchtime book club; for others it could be mentoring a new associate or sharing their expertise on a corporate blog. Individual contribution isn't necessarily related to employees' roles or how their boss treats them, it's about doing things that are self-satisfying based on their own passion or intellectual curiosity.

We may never know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but we do know that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share. Further, engaged employees have a performance commitment that's three times higher than their neutral and disengaged counterparts. With business success relying so heavily on engaged workers, it's up to HR to help make the work experience a personal one, to help managers and employees feel a strong personal commitment and connection to the company's values and goals. Without any disrespect to the movie The Godfather, this is business and it is personal.

So, how personal is engagement for your employees?

Sreeni Kutam is division vice president of HR for ADP's Major Account Services business. Send questions or comments about this story to


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