Companies try new processes or ideas all the time, usually in the name of increased revenue development, better client delivery, or more rapid product deployment. You’ve probably heard about different methodologies of moving work through an organization: OKR, Agile, eOS, etc. All have their pros and cons. We’re not actually here to discuss those systems, though. Rather, when companies make changes to internal process, typically what will happen is a decrease in employee engagement. Change is admittedly hard for people, processes and “the way things get done” become comfortable, and shifts can cause a sense of dissatisfaction with work. Employee engagement isn’t a static concept, nor is it something you check in on once per year. Engagement is directly tied to turnover rates, job satisfaction, and, of course, productivity. With all that on the line, employee engagement needs to be an active component of how you run your business and tied to every decision and strategy change you take on as a company. You have a plan when revenue declines, right? Engagement is no different. So if you see a shift in engagement levels happening at work, make sure you know what to do about it.
How do you track engagement?
It's easy to say you need to pay attention to engagement levels but that always leads to the question, how, exactly? It's true. Tracking engagement can be tricky but you need to have a system in place. Many businesses currently use quick “pulse surveys” to their employees where they can give more frequent feedback. Others are still mired in 1987 models of only listening to their employees once a year, if that, at performance reviews or town halls. An annual check-in really isn't enough for anything, and certainly not whether an employee is engaged or not. Come up with a reasonable timeline that works for your team. Every week might be too much, but every month should be a bare minimum. Then, compare the scores period-to-period. If they are declining, it’s time to ask “why.”
What are the negative results from declining engagement?
The most obvious is turnover, which will impact your bottom line in having to hire new people. Less obvious impacts are:
Reduced connection to work and thus reduced quality
Increase in stress and mental health challenges
Less connection between teams which causes cross-functional work to suffer
Declining revenue from decreased productivity and increased turnover
Poor employer brand when people do leave, or review your workplace while upset and disengaged
What should you do if employee engagement is dropping?
Once you're aware of the signs, there are steps you can take to turn things around. Such as:
Be transparent that you’ve seen the decline: Admit to employees that things have been different and you’ve seen the engagement metrics dropping. Reassure them that you have a plan.
Solicit feedback: Get feedback from every single member of your organization on what they like and dislike, what could be better, what impedes work, what they think of the culture, etc.
Put together a team: Take employee volunteers and make them an engagement team. This team reviews all the feedback and begins to make recommendations in key areas. For example: many people become disengaged at work when they have too much work, or too much supposedly meaningless work, i.e. unnecessary meetings. If that comes up on a lot of the feedback, then the assembled team should figure out ways to reduce unnecessary meetings. If you begin fixing the most commonly-stated problems, you will increase engagement.
Show them the work matters: One of the main problems of a disengaged period in a business is that employees can easily begin rationalizing, “Oh, this stuff doesn’t even matter anyway!” Have all-hands meetings with founders and decision-makers explaining their connection to the work, where the business came from, how it was developed, stories of failure along the way, etc. Really define the importance of what is happening in this business for the people who come in every day to work on its responsibilities.
Have a party: Have a party or a happy hour or some sort of neat event. Get people together. Have fun away from the deliverables and invest in the bonds and relationships between employees. Giving them an opportunity outside of work to build those connections helps strengthen engagement levels in the office. It’s a quick and easy jolt to engagement.
And now, how do you stay on top of this for the future?
You keep monitoring it, keep talking to employees, and keep listening to them as the people who drive your culture. They are more than just task rabbits or “butts in seats.” Your business IS your people. So listen to them, take feedback from them, and evolve and grow with them to retain engagement levels.