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HR’s Holy Grail: The engaged employee

One thing a manager covets is a genuinely engaged employee. Recognition companies and training programs abound to help employers foster a culture in which workers feel valued, absorbed in their jobs and connected with their colleagues.

Although it’s well-known that engagement has positive and lasting effects on absenteeism, productivity, turnover and profitability -- and although HR professionals typically rate employee engagement as their most important challenge -- it may sometimes seem as if U.S. workplaces are losing the engagement battle.

According to a Gallup 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, seven out of 10 employees either aren’t engaged or are actively disengaged, about the same percentage as a similar Gallup poll found four years earlier.

HR managers who think they’re having little impact on employee engagement may find some useful advice in a 2013 white paper, 5 Ways to Avoid the Engagement Abyss, by Globoforce, a company offering recognition solutions.

The main things that create engagement, according to Globoforce, are when workers have solid relationships with managers, a belief in company leaders, a feeling of personal accomplishment at work and a sense that what they do is important.

Globoforce, based in Southborough, Mass., offers these tips for fostering engagement:

Create and communicate a clear set of values that permeate the company. People need to know that their work is in line with organizational values. Do your executives walk and talk their values? Do employees believe that their work is essential to the company’s mission?

Build culture intentionally. Common to companies rated as “best places to work” are employees who think they have challenging assignments, are making an impact on society, have a sense of mission or purpose, and have opportunities to collaborate with stimulating colleagues, according to workers who rated their companies for a 2014 Employee Choice Awards survey by Glassdoor, an employer-rating site. Smart organizations deliberately create a culture that engages workers. That may mean making sure employees understand how their role fits into the company’s mission and giving them a sense that they’ve accomplished milestones, perhaps through systemic gratitude and acknowledgment.

Practice good manager “hygiene.” Managers are one of the most important components of job satisfaction. The adage is that employees don’t quit jobs; they quit managers. Employees want to feel that managers care about them as professionals and as people. Show gratitude, amplify accomplishments, and communicate well and often, with an emphasis on positive feedback.

Also important is “the authentic connection that leaders make with the people and teams they lead,” said Janine Cornecelli, managing director of marketing and communications at Arlington, Va.-based Accenture Federal Services. “If employees see a real person inside the suit, if they walk away from their interactions inspired by the clarity of the leader's vision and the firm's direction, they will engage.”

Managers may need to brush up on their emotional intelligence. “If you’re having issues with worker engagement and turnover, a little work on the EQ front goes a long way,” Daniel Ford wrote in an April 2013 article, Emotional Intelligence Affects Worker Engagement, in Associations Now. 

Empower and encourage workers to recognize one another’s achievements.

Get employees invested in the company’s success, perhaps with financial rewards or by having them participate in creating corporate goals.

 

Beware these myths

HR professionals should also avoid common myths about employee engagement, which are outlined in a new infographic by employee-recognition company Michael C. Fina. Among the myths:

Cash is king. It’s not always about the money. Often, workplace flexibility, a company’s values, meaningful work and strong relationships with colleagues will trump a fatter paycheck.

Recognition programs offer little return on investment. In fact, such programs can increase revenues by as much as 23%. Gallup found that companies that fall in the top quartile in terms of the strength of their employee engagement programs had 21% better productivity and 22% higher profitability than those in the bottom quartile.

High performers don’t need extra motivation. Even self-motivated and high-achieving workers need to be engaged on a personal level.

Managers know how to engage employees. The reality is that more than half of new managers (58%) receive no engagement training.

Carol Worth is a freelance writer based in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

© 2013, Society for Human Resource Management.

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