Powering Strong Communities

Retooling employee engagement? Start with the basics

Employee engagement has been at the forefront these past few months while organizations navigate how to keep lines of communication strong and connections thriving with remote employees and socially distanced crews.

Although our current situation is unique, the foundation for how leaders can encourage high employee engagement remains the same. So, let’s revisit some of the basic principles of engagement and how those might look in our new normal.

Value. First and foremost, you want to make sure your employees feel valued for their contributions to the organization. I’m going beyond compensation here — that’s important, too, but it’s not what I want to focus on. From the very start, help new hires feel excited to be with your organization and prepared to further the mission. Now might be a good time to look at how to make your onboarding process more robust and to give new hires the opportunity to meet colleagues in various departments to understand the broader workings of the organization. 

Opportunity. Especially as people’s roles have shifted, this might be a good time to examine whether employees at all levels have opportunities to become involved in projects or initiatives. Working cross-functionally provides opportunities for collaboration and diversity in ideas and perspectives. It also gives employees exposure to other colleagues or teams they might not otherwise work with during the normal course of their job. These opportunities provide a chance for employees to expand their skill set, which could lead to additional responsibilities or promotion within the organization.

Purpose. Highly engaged employees are often deeply connected to the mission of the organization. They believe in the higher purpose behind why the organization exists and the services it provides. One way to foster this kind of connection is through establishing organization-wide goals. At the American Public Power Association, we establish association-wide goals every year, which feed into each employee’s annual performance review. Since every employee is connected to those broader goals, regardless of position or title, all of us are aligned with APPA’s broader purpose.

Recognition. Before you jump to setting up a large, complicated recognition program that costs money, take a step back to focus on the basics. Recognition simply means acknowledging a job well done. Saying a heartfelt “thank you” or “I appreciate you” to an employee can be a powerful way to boost morale and increase engagement. Sending an all-staff email to give kudos to a team that successfully pulled off a major project or reached an important milestone is an easy, no-cost thing to do. Having an employee recognized in a public forum by one of the organization’s leaders can be even more impactful. But don’t stop there — recognition can come from anyone internally, or it can come externally from customers or vendors. These small steps can develop a sense of pride and belonging at your organization.

Social connection. In the workplace, connecting with our colleagues on a personal level is another important piece of employee engagement. In pre-pandemic times, this was easily done through an all-staff lunch, a happy hour, the annual holiday party, or spending time with colleagues at a conference. It’s tough for us to get together these days, so we have to get creative about how to encourage human connection. While nothing replaces gathering in person, events such as virtual happy hours are an easy way to “see” and catch up with each other, and you can make them fun with quizzes, games, and prizes. You can also use the tools you have, such as Teams or Slack, to pose fun questions for employees or to share ideas or photos. These small gestures let employees show a bit of their personal side and remind them that we’re thinking about them. I’ve learned more about my colleagues these past few months than I otherwise would have through those fun posts and games, and we have enjoyed seeing each other’s kids pop into the screen on a Zoom happy hour gathering.

Your human resources team is not the sole source for employee engagement. Leaders must keep employee engagement top of mind and play an active role in it, because increased employee engagement is good for both your people and your business. Benefits include increased productivity, employee retention, and customer satisfaction. You can start today by showing your appreciation for your team.