Five mistakes that hinder employee engagement

Knowing how to engage employees requires a careful understanding of what they value in your organisation and amplifying it, says Siddharth Reddy writing in the Entrepreneur. The happier your employees are, the more productive they are – so it makes sound business sense to get it right. If you’re struggling with employee engagements, you may be making these five mistake

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Entrepreneur.

It’s not news that employers care about engagement, while employees care about happiness. Although the two may seem like different subjects, they are very closely related; the more engaged employees are, the happier they are, which is what most organisations vie for anyway. If you’re looking to ramp up your employee engagement, here are some common – but not-so-evident – mistakes which employers make that you want to avoid.

Employers care about engagement, while employees care about happiness.

Playing the waiting game

Many organisations take the easiest route or a standard, non-specific approach with their employee engagement strategy. All they’re looking for is quick results. You can’t blame them; they’re probably coming from a place of misguided advice, where some rewards and recognition experts had them believe that a simple plug-and-play programme would drastically transform their workforce. Then there are engagement strategies that are a product of the waiting game. Mostly led by business leaders who wait until the last moment, or dire situations, to have engagement strategies to come and play the superhero and overturn distressing employee satisfaction, motivation or retention numbers.

If you’re approaching employee engagement programmes as a quick fix, or damage control solution, then you’re doing it all wrong.

Leadership lost in translation

There’s no better way to say it – engagement gets ‘lost in translation’. A great many organisations, with strong leadership vision and culture ideas, don’t see it translate to a great workplace simply because the essence is lost, watered down or misinterpreted as it passes down the levels of hierarchy. The same goes for engagement programmes that start off on a promising note, with the right ideas and objectives, but post the initial fanfare of the launch, the reigns are handed down to programme managers to only focus on transactions and execution There is little direction offered and a weak process to review progress. The result – the programme shows less than impressive results and the strategic vision is ‘lost in translation’.

A successful engagement programme needs the leadership team to be actively involved, whether it is in educating programme managers on the greater vision or guiding them on aspects of execution and taking strategic calls.

A successful engagement programme needs the leadership team to be actively involved.

Managers winging it

A big chunk of operational responsibilities in employee engagement programmes are given to line and functional managers. Who else knows team members better, right? While it’s good to trust managers to do their jobs well, where organisations go wrong is in assuming that managers will figure it all out by themselves, wing it and bring the programme goals to fruition with ease. The problem with offering managers complete flexibility – and to take the ‘do as you please’ approach – is that most of them are probably not prepared for it, or do not know how to go about it, while some others may be disinterested or unfair in their proceedings.

This can end up doing more damage than good to your workplace engagement. So how do you go about it? Equipping your managers with the right means and measures to recognise and motivate their teams is the first step. Remember, they are facilitators of the programme; it’s your job to offer them the right engagement framework.

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Building on idiosyncratic biases

At the start of any employee engagement programme, one of the main focus points is going to be defining pain points that are getting in the way of employee engagement or building a happy workplace, and addressing these through the programme. The truth is that there are many factors that affect employee engagement and workplace happiness, as experiences and opinions of employees vary. The mistake that many programme managers – who, remember, are also employees at the workplace – make is in defining the programme goals based on just their personal observations and insights. And there are some who totally believe that their programme is right on track, because they’ve chalked out programme objectives based on internal survey results.

But how telling are these employee surveys really? Statistics show that only one-third of employees participate and actually give candid answers in these surveys. Survey results aren’t everything; it takes good research – whether that involves sit-down, one-on-one meetings or group discussions with employees to understand what is really affecting their morale, expectations and engagement.

Statistics show that only one-third of employees participate and actually give candid answers in surveys.

HR managers need to empathise with their audience and broaden their research to truly understand what employees need and the direction that their programme should take. Of course, we’re not saying write off your survey results entirely; you want to factor them in while developing your programme – they offer a great starting point on where to look.

Rewards curated to engage workforce are another territory that is riddled with idiosyncratic biases. Programme managers look at their personal preference and likings while curating rewards for employees and they look for convenience rather than effectiveness. The result – rewards fail their very purpose, and don’t do enough to engage, let alone motivate employees to earn them. Instead, if you focus on rewards that are effective, promote re-consumption and things that are memorable long after – now there’s a winning, impactful rewards’ programme that will keep employees engaged, now and in the future.

ROI gone astray

Often, you’ll see employee engagement programmes launched with great enthusiasm, but the same enthusiasm doesn’t carry through during the course of the rest of the programme. Many organisations look at employee engagement programmes as merely checking things off the list of what great workplaces do, and expect the programme to fuel itself once launched, and keep engagement running in the workplace.

If you feel your engagement programme is not having the desired impact, it’s time to take a look at which of your goals and objectives are not being realised, and why. Most organisations do not have dedicated people to measure impact and take accountability for programme goals, due to which, it falls through. Little or lack of communication also affects engagement success. What you want is for HR professionals in the organisation to tie the programme goals to their KPIs, measure participation and impact, and communicate with participants at regular intervals to keep it on track. That’s when you know you are getting the results you want.

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