5 Key Elements to Achieving Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a must-have when it comes to improving employee retention, attracting top talent, and developing a strong company culture. It’s also a shortcut to a variety of positive business outcomes.

Jen Gouldstone
Founder & CEO, Gardenstreets

As a former HR professional, I know both the importance of a strong engagement strategy, and the many difficulties of developing one. As the culture of work shifts in the wake of the work-from-home revolution, developing an engagement strategy has never been more important or more challenging. Here are some insights I've gained by working towards employee engagement throughout my career!  Use them to augment your own plan or to inspire additional ideas.

Employee engagement, simply stated, is the connection and commitment that employees feel, towards their work, company, and team. Employee engagement is a must-have when it comes to improving employee retention, attracting top talent, and developing a strong company culture. It’s also a shortcut to a variety of positive business outcomes. 

When employees feel emotionally connected to their work and their team, they are more productive and more likely to stay in their role long term. They are also more likely to participate in mentorship programs, strengthen culture, offer up creative new ideas and to provide constructive feedback. 

As an HR professional, you know how valuable true employee engagement is in the modern workplace, so here are five key elements to achieving strong employee engagement.

Key Element #1:  Frequency

Having a one-off event might be a starting point, but long-term employee engagement requires consistency and commitment. Any successful employee engagement plan will benefit from a real consideration of frequency. 

If team members are able to look at a calendar of events occurring over a longer period of time, they can start to sense that the company is committed, long term, to doing the work of building a strong culture and providing opportunities for connection and community within and between teams. 

Having a full calendar also allows employees to choose what events work for them–their interests, their schedule, their workload–without feeling pressured to attend any one company event. Additionally, anticipation can be half the fun!  Giving your team the opportunity to get excited about upcoming events by mentioning them in all-hands meetings and team communications provides additional satisfaction and participation.

How do you determine the appropriate frequency for content and events? There are a few factors to consider:

  • How large is your team? With a large team sometimes it can be helpful to break up into smaller groups for events, and focus your efforts for the larger team on asynchronous content such as recordings, newsletters or mailed care boxes.
  • How “new” is your team? Teams with lots of new hires or newly created teams might benefit from more frequent opportunities to connect.
  • Is your team remote or remote-first? You’ll need to balance the need for connection with concerns like “Zoom fatigue” as you decide on frequency. Switching up the type of gatherings or formats can help with this as well. 

We have seen a variety of approaches to the question of frequency. Some organizations want a weekly point of connection (or even higher frequency), whether that be a weekly wellness class, happy hours, or an asynchronous method of connection, like a newsletter or a question of the day in Slack. Other teams have found that a different cadence works better for them. Monthly or quarterly events allow for variety and intention in the design and planning. Annual or bi-annual events are also an option, for companies that want to focus their event budget on one or two larger events. 

As you develop the cadence for your employee engagement strategy the goal is to create a “habit of connection” throughout the year.

Key Element #2:  Variety of Format 

The next factor to consider while developing your employee engagement plan is variety. Variety is especially important now, as workplaces shift to hybrid or remote environments and Zoom fatigue is real. Incorporating a variety of formats to your employee engagement strategy can not only help employees with different needs have access to content and events, but also avoids monotony and feelings of repetition. 

Variety of format can mean different things, such as:

  • In-person vs. virtual events
  • Hands-on events vs. lunch-and-learns
  • Live experiences vs. asynchronous content
  • Long form (such as a newsletter) vs. short form content (text or email)
  • Wellness in all its forms, such as walking challenges, meditation, financial health, mental health, arts & crafts, gardening and more

Utilizing a variety of formats will ensure there’s something for everyone. For team members in industries with desk-less jobs or field work, asynchronous and short form content may be the best way to reach them. Some additional elements to consider within each format include:

  • Kit-based events can provide an opportunity for hands-on learning, and have the added benefit of leaving participants with a souvenir or potentially even a new hobby! 
  • Demo events and Lunch-and-Learns require less preparation since there are no materials that need to be shipped, these budget-friendly options are still great opportunities for team members to explore new skills and ideas and are easier to plan.
  • Creating a newsletter to share personal highlights from team members, upcoming events or volunteer opportunities, or tips on wellness and mindfulness. 
  • Care boxes are a great way to celebrate or reward team members for anniversaries or the completion of long-term projects. 

Having a varied approach to employee engagement can make it easier to budget successfully. In general, live events or experiences that involve physical materials require a higher budget, while interactive experiences or lunch-and-learns without physical materials are less per person. Asynchronous content can be another budget-friendly option and also provides opportunities for a team to connect without the pressure of additional meetings or time constraints. 

Key Element #3:  Interest Based

It is central to the success of your overall employee engagement plan to make sure that any engagement content aligns with the interests of the people participating in it. Since it’s nearly impossible to plan something that will appeal to everyone, the key to making everyone happy is to offer many different kinds of experiences. This is the only way to make sure the offerings are truly inclusive. 

To us, interest based generally refers to something that largely benefits the individual and their interests vs something that the company is interested in. One can argue that what’s good for the employee is good for the company and vice versa, but consider a compliance training program vs a movie appreciation or gardening club. The latter two would veer more towards personal interest and enjoyment. Focusing on the employee’s interests also sends the message that the company sees the employee and is supporting them more personally.

Check in with teams and team members about events that have been organized in the past and which ones were most successful or well-received. Are there any self-organized interest groups on the internal message boards (think Slack channels)?  Have there been grassroots initiatives with passionate people behind them?

Keeping the focus on the specific interests means your time and budget will be well spent. People are more likely to participate enthusiastically in events that interest them directly, and these positive experiences will encourage them to return again and again. 

Another way to help encourage interest-based content for all your team members is to empower local offices, managers, or team leads to choose their own engagement calendars. Those closest to the team members will likely have a better understanding of the specific interests and preferences of the individuals involved. If this is your approach, make sure to set guidelines around budget, use of alcohol, and frequency, to achieve the desired results. You may even find that these local experiences inspire your next event or initiative! 

Key Element #4:  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Research has shown that those who belong to minority communities are more likely to experience microaggressions in the workplace, more likely to feel that their voices aren’t being heard - and more likely to feel excluded from the dominant culture within the organization. Crafting an employee engagement plan that emphasizes and prioritizes diversity and inclusion sends a message to the whole team - that your company values all of its team members. Here are some starting points:

  • Launching Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and supporting them for the long term with executive sponsorship, budget and accountability for results. To make grassroots initiatives effective and sustainable, it is critical for the company to recognize, compensate and reward these culture champions for their contributions. 
  • Hosting events or lunch-and-learns that align with the culture and interests of diverse groups so they can feel more heard and represented. This is another important form of interest-based engagement programming. You may consider bringing in 3rd party speakers, hosts or culture consultants.
  • Creating or sourcing content for celebrations of identity (such as Black History Month, Pride, and Mental Health Awareness Month). 
  • Making sure to collect feedback from diverse members of your team, and acting on it.

Supporting and engaging minority employees is the key to making sure your organization becomes and stays a great place to work. Research from Gartner and McKinsey shows that inclusive teams perform up to 30% better in high-diversity environments. Leadership teams with diverse membership (whether in terms of gender, race or both) are up to 36% more likely to have above-average profitability, compared to less diverse leadership teams. 

Key Element #5:  Feedback Loop 

A study by Gallup found that only 8% of employees strongly agree that their companies respond to the feedback they receive. Acting quickly and frequently on employee feedback ensures employees feel heard and encourages them to provide additional feedback in the future. Doing so will also increase trust in leadership and engagement across the board. 

How can you source actionable feedback from your team so you can prove your commitment to listening and learning?

  • Create a survey culture - if employees have frequent opportunities to provide feedback, they will feel that their opinions are valued. Try instituting a 2 question pulse survey after every team experience or all-hands meeting. Or creating an always-open ‘Comment Box’ for employees to say something about anything, whenever they want. 
  • Empower Management - Feedback is not just an “HR” thing. Team leads and managers can also collect feedback and act on it.
  • Start with the small things - Some asks are just easier to satisfy than others. Healthier snacks might seem like a small ask in the grand scheme of things, but visible changes count towards building trust and engagement!

Creating a sense of trust that constructive feedback will be acted on reliably (and rapidly) is essential to building employee engagement. Employees will feel more invested in the company if they believe that leadership is invested in their well-being as well.

At GardenStreets, we work with organizations of many different sizes, stages and industries. Our perspective on employee engagement comes from working with hundreds of teams and tens of thousands of participants. Based on our observations, the key elements outlined here will be a power boost in your quest towards lasting and meaningful employee engagement and will help to create a culture where employees feel truly valued. 

Want to learn more about Garden Streets? Book a conversation at hello@gardenstreets.com.

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