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An In-Depth Look at HR’s Role in Employee Engagement
The human resources department, colloquially referred to as HR, should be at the center of a company’s efforts to improve employee engagement. Because companies are becoming more culture-focused, and many are gathering data on how engagement affects their bottom line, savvy human resources professionals are on the front lines developing ways to encourage employee engagement in their companies.
How can you do the same? By discovering and implementing the top drivers of engagement in your company and cultivating a culture that excels in those areas.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is key to a company’s long-term success, but it’s a little hard to define. Think of it as a sliding scale. On one end there’s employee burnout: exhaustion, irritability, absenteeism, and the mentality of just punching a time clock. On the other is employee engagement, when staff feels pumped to work on the next project, take ownership of their work, and actively pursue excellence.
You may hear the terms “employee engagement” and “employee satisfaction” used interchangeably, but satisfaction is just one byproduct of engagement. Engaged employees are often happier than disengaged staff, but they can also help your company see 4.5 times more revenue than companies with disengaged workers. That’s because engaged employees have more skin in the game: Company success is their success.
Therefore, one of HR’s role is to inspire employee engagement in order to drive success across the board.
How to Improve Employee Engagement
An HR professional can have a huge impact on engagement at your company. While it’s true that high engagement can happen at all levels — from interns and in-the-trenches employees to management and leadership — HR can help steer the ship and design programs that inspire employee dedication and pride.
Ana Recio, EVP of Global Recruiting for Salesforce, advises companies:
“Treat employees as well as your customers. Empower them to create the best work of their lives by providing an incredible experience powered by tools, resources, and training. When we give our employees social, mobile, smart, and connected tools, they use them more, and we get data. The data gives us insights into how we can better optimize their experience and make smarter talent decisions.”
The drivers for better engagement vary across companies, but nearly all organizations can see gains if they improve in three areas: learning and development, leadership, and service and quality focus.
1. Improve Learning and Development
Human resources professionals can help decrease employee turnover by baking learning and development opportunities into company culture.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
According to the Mindset Scholars Network, “A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed.” In a professional context, it’s the idea that an employee’s value isn’t fixed. Employees can learn new skills, gain more experience, and improve performance — now and forever. The opposite, a fixed mindset, suggests workers have certain strengths and weaknesses and should stick to what they’re good at.
You can make constant improvement part of your company’s culture by hiring talent with a growth mindset. Then, talk with individuals about their long-term learning goals and how the company can help them achieve those goals and grow as a professional.
Provide Learning Resources
Many companies go further than encouraging growth and development. No matter how firmly leadership insists people keep learning, however, it often falls on HR to make it easy for employees to do so.
Large companies with appropriate resources may fund additional education for their employees. Enterprise-level companies may even develop a proprietary digital learning platform and create their own courses.
Smaller companies can focus on tapping into the knowledge employees already have. If a sales agent wants to learn more about finance, for example, pair them with someone from accounting. If you don’t have the necessary knowledge base within your company, set aside a few hours each week for employees to explore online courses such as Trailhead, a free training resource for career paths ranging from business analyst to marketing manager.
2. Improve Leadership
The leaders in your company have a huge impact on how engaged your employees are and how long they stick around. Half of all Americans have quit a job because of a bad manager.
How can HR help? By creating a culture around accessible leaders and transparent communication.
Team supervisors, department leaders, C-suite executives, and other levels of leadership should try to afford some level of accessibility with employees. Providing a direct line of open communication with employees is critical. In smaller companies, that could mean regular one-on-ones with the CEO or founder.
In large companies, you may need to create other kinds of opportunities, including:
Skip levels: meetings with your boss’ boss
Town halls: companywide ask-me-anything-style meetings
Leadership lunches: executives dine with a different team each week
Honest Two-Way Communication
Making difficult or uncomfortable decisions is what leaders do. It could mean switching to a more robust technology platform, knowing that many workers won’t feel comfortable with the new system, or making fundamental changes to company culture.
While a leader’s first instinct may be to shelter employees from anxiety and stress, blindsiding staff with a last-minute change is a sure way to alienate them and sow distrust. Leaders who share the burden — and even seek input and buy-in from employees — may find their employees more engaged.
HR professionals can develop surveys to generate feedback regarding past, current, and future initiatives, then use that data to help make those inevitable tough decisions a little easier on leaders and their staff.
3. Improve Service and Quality Focus
Having a service and quality focus instead of a purely dollar-motivated approach helps improve engagement. That’s because it’s easier to do your best work when you work for a company that wants to be the best, too. Producing quality work links back to having a purpose in the workplace, which millennials, especially, are drawn to.
Focusing on quality is also about an employee’s day-to-day tasks. It’s frustrating to know there’s a better way to do your job, but not get the support you need to adopt a new process or strategy. HR can help by helping teams keep their eyes on the prize.
Look Forward—and Back
Employees like to know where the company’s headed, but they also like to know what’s being done about the past. Part of having a growth mindset is keeping an eye out for ways to improve systems and processes. Furthermore, part of transparent communication is allowing employees to discuss how to make things better.
Empower teams to hold retrospective meetings to discuss what’s going well and what needs to be better, as well as to brainstorm ideas for improvements going forward. Schedule these meetings at the conclusion of large projects or hold them at the same time each month — it depends entirely on what works best for your company.
Of course, any time you ask workers for feedback, be prepared to act on it. Take each team’s list of solutions to leadership and help implement them whenever possible.
Share the Impact
There are few things more satisfying than hearing you’ve done a great job. It means a lot coming from colleagues, managers, and top leadership, and may be even more impactful to hear from customers.
In today’s customer-centric business landscape, most companies collect customer feedback. Organizations that share customer experience ratings and success stories with their staff can make that data pay off in another way: by inspiring employees to become more emotionally invested in doing their jobs well.
Buy-In Is Key
Employee engagement isn’t always easy to measure, but being able to tie it to key successes such as increases in ROI, positive customer feedback, and improved productivity levels can help leadership see how important engagement is. Many of the links in this article help make the case for investing in more engaged employees, but consider these sources as well.
The Power of Equality: How to Empower Your Employees and Drive Impact. This article by Tony Prophet, Chief Equality Officer at Salesforce, and Nellie Borrero, Global Inclusion and Diversity Managing Director at Accenture, shares research-backed information about keeping employees happy. It includes three ways to empower employees: increase representation to build a workforce that reflects society, create an inclusive culture with allies, and empower and enable employee resource groups.
Engaging for Success: Enhancing Performance Through Employee Engagement. Known as the MacLeod Report, this groundbreaking report compiled in 2009 for the British government is still a go-to source for understanding the importance of employee engagement.
The Rise of the Social Enterprise. This 2018 research-backed article from Deloitte Insights explains why businesses need to become more human — and take better care of their workers.
The ROI of Employee Engagement and Culture. This blog post from Culture Amp shows how employee engagement impacts your bottom line and links to more information about how engagement affects your ability to hire and retain top talent.
Finally, check out your company’s sales and service data. Find links between your metrics and your engagement initiatives. Because engagement is good for the company’s bottom line — sometimes it just takes a little effort to see that.