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Keeping Your Small Business Employees Effectively Engaged

Employee burnout and disengagement has become a hot topic in workplaces across the US, as national employee engagement figures have experienced a drop for the first time in five years. According to the annual “Trends in Global Employee Engagement Study” by Aon Hewitt, 63 percent of US workers reported that they were not engaged at work. This represents between $450 and $550 million annually in lost productivity and sunk cost for businesses across the nation.

While many business owners are gearing up to combat employee disengagement, not everybody knows where to start–or even why employees are feeling disengaged in the first place. By taking a look at your workplace, your staff, and your operating procedures, however, you should be able to divide where the friction points are and remedy the problem of employee disengagement in your organization.

Garnering Engagement Among Employees

While the factors that drive employee engagement are bound to differ from individual to individual and even from industry to industry, Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith writing for Forbes would argue there are certain constants related to employee engagement.

“Employee engagement is largely about social connections happening in organizations and aligning work experiences with employees’ cultural needs,” she writes. “For example, research shows North American and Eastern European workers place high priority on financial rewards in relation to how satisfied they are at work, but elsewhere it’s about simple connections and involvement – meeting the more altruistic and basic human needs of feeling connected and being an important part in something bigger.”

Business leaders whose organizations have achieved strong employee engagement have had to actively and intentionally manifest this reality. Understanding that a mix of financial and social satisfaction (and not just one or the other) drives engagement–which, in turn, drives productivity–is key to fostering a diligent workforce. Given this understanding, how can successful organizations tackle the problem of disengaged employees?

    • Get Inside The Employee’s Heads. All companies, regardless of whether they think there’s a problem or not, should be keeping a finger on the pulse of their workforce. Employee surveys can provide visibility to issues management never knew were brewing, especially if these surveys are done more than just annually. Pepperdine University Grazadio School of Business and Management suggests setting a time and method for regular updates, and making sure that you understand how your employee communicates, since we all do so in different ways. You won’t know how to approach the problem of disengagement if you don’t know where your pain points are–start with these questions first and respond accordingly.
    • Commit to a Culture of Open, Honest Communication. With the recent publication of Susan J. Fowler’s experience working at Uber and revelations of rampant sexism in the tech industry, many in leadership are taking a deeper look at workplace culture. Whether adding transparency around salary information to help combat the gender pay gap, pursuing diversity and sensitivity training to foster emotional intelligence, or even just bringing attention a very clearly stated and advertised non-retaliation policy, employees should feel able to participate and engage by speaking their minds openly and honestly.
    • Actively Shape The Workplace Environment. There are plenty of ways that management can foster a more engaged workplace culture. Simple tactics such as keeping meetings from dragging on and information campaigns via digital signage can keep employees up-to-date without fatigue, and can serve as constant reminders of both procedure and purpose.
    • Provide Career Path Development. Employers that actively help employees grow will see those employees apply themselves more often, flexing the skills that they have been taught while simultaneously exploring mastery and purpose. Like a muscle being worked out, employees that engage in career path development will see buffed up talent and constantly expanding capabilities that will push them to new heights.
    • Portray Your Company’s Mission and Purpose. Business author Daniel Pink argues that the deepest levels of motivation come from recognizing purpose in work. Remember that most people aren’t actually motivated by a paycheck–they are nice, but you get those with any job. What keeps people around is the sense of purpose that they find in their day-in and day-out–remind your employees of the good your company does in the world, and how their involvement actively contributes to shaping that reality.

While this list is by no means extensive, these tips should be a good start for creating an effectively engaged workplace environment. If you have any tips to add, please feel free to mention them in the comments below.

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