- Employee Performance
- Why small businesses need to care about employee engagement
Ever wondered what impact employee engagement can have on your small business?
When employees are motivated and happy to come to work. When they regularly go above and beyond for customers and colleagues. When they just ‘get’ what you’re trying to achieve and buy into it wholeheartedly.
When that happens, it’s a special feeling. The positivity bleeds into everything you do. It creates happy customers, forms tight, high-performing teams. And if you’ve experienced it, you already know what decent employee engagement feels like.
But if you’ve spent any time running a business, you’ll also understand how fragile it can be.
What is employee engagement?
The global employee research and advisory firm Gallup defines it like this: “Employee engagement is the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.”
It’s how your people feel about their job, about their colleagues, about you as their employer. It’s how those feelings affect their wellbeing and performance across every aspect of their employment.
Is employee engagement important for small businesses?
There’s a ton of research that says it is.
In 2017, Gallup found that highly engaged teams take 41% fewer sick days and are 17% more productive. The research also indicated that businesses with high engagement generated 10% more positive customer reviews and 20% more sales.
In 2008, renowned employment and management psychology researchers Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demeroutidefined the specific impacts on employees.
“Engaged employees often experience positive emotions,” they wrote. “Including happiness, joy, and enthusiasm; experience better health; create their own job and personal resources; and transfer their engagement to others.”
That’s the special feeling.
So, ask yourself, could you afford for your team to have more sick days, or be less productive? We’re guessing not.
So how do you boost employee engagement?
Free fruit? Early finish Fridays? How about a cheap bike on the cycle to work scheme or a company picnic? These perks play an important role in creating and maintaining a happy culture, but a lot of businesses mistake them for employee engagement tactics while failing to address people’s more subtle psychological needs.
So, how can paying attention to those needs boost employee engagement?
Give clarity on what’s expected: This goes beyond simply telling people what they should be doing. People are able to work better when they understand how they’re expected to perform. What does ‘outstanding’ look like and how does their performance relate to their colleagues and the wider business? How do they fit into the big picture?
Provide the right resources: At a basic level, this is about ensuring people have the tools they need. But we could just as easily be talking about easy access to the right information. We might be talking about time. Bottom line, asking people to achieve results without adequate resource is one of the fastest routes to stress and burnout.
Let them do what they do best: When people feel they’re able to apply their natural skills and talents at work, they’re more likely to be engaged. This means getting to know your people, understanding their strengths and, where possible, giving them opportunities for these to shine through.
Give credit where it’s due: Workplace recognition is one of the easiest ways to boost engagement, and by publicly acknowledging and rewarding excellent work, desired behaviour, or the right attitude, you provide a crucial example to the rest of your people – this is what ‘good’ looks like.
Take a personal interest: When managers take an active interest in people as individuals, recognising achievements, reviewing performance, checking their wellbeing, those individuals provide better customer service and are less likely to take time off sick.
Help them develop: Lack of development is one of the top reasons people leave their jobs. This isn’t just about giving people promotions, it’s an ongoing process of improvement. And as much as that involves training, it’s also about understanding people’s talents and ambitions, then giving them opportunities to grow in a direction that gives them satisfaction.
Value opinions: When people feel like their opinions count, it’s way easier for them to buy in to the bigger picture you’re working towards. Asking for opinions empowers people, it encourages them to think more critically about the challenges your business faces and gives them confidence to suggest solutions.
How can you measure employee engagement?
The best way to find out if your employees are engaged is to ask them.
Do they like their job? Do they have the resources to work effectively? Are they clear on what the business is trying to achieve and understand where they fit in? Do they feel recognised and valued? Would they recommend you as an employer to a friend?
Starting a simple conversation about the things that matter to people can reveal a lot. If the answers are difficult to hear, great! That means you’ve uncovered important insights about how to make your business more effective.
Even better, you can track these sentiments. Pulse surveys allow you to take the temperature of feeling across everybody in the business. And you can repeat them as often as you think it’s appropriate, tracking how people’s answers change over time.
A word of caution, though. When you ask people for feedback of this nature, it’s vitally important that they see their feedback acted upon. When people feel like they’re not being listened to, the relationship, trust and respect between employer and employee is damaged.
That doesn’t mean agreeing to everything. It just means that concerns should be addressed. If a request, say, for more remote working is simply unworkable, it’s important to respond. Explain why it won’t work clearly and fairly. How else could the root problem be addressed? Could you do more to help improve work life balance, for instance?
The crucial point is that people feel heard and listened to. Employee engagement is about people. So if you want to boost engagement in your business, that’s where to start. Involving them in the process so they can feel some ownership of the decisions and initiatives that result is a great way to bring everyone along for the ride.
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13th Jul 2022