Employee engagement can be a tricky thing to pin down. After all, the activity consists of performing multiple HR functions like employee surveying, understanding work-life balance, identifying skills-gaps, and much, much more.
In fact, we'd argue that employee engagement is more of a holistic activity than most other functions. We've talked before about how engagement usually involves working with employees on the individual level and how most workers, despite HR's best efforts, remain disengaged.
These hurdles shouldn't dissuade HR from attempting to increase engagement, though, especially in today's tight labor market. And one of the best ways to increase engagement and allow people to truly connect with your company is by intertwining employee engagement with employer brand.
By doing this, you help congeal all of your efforts together, making for a well-rounded initiative that goes far beyond simpler employee engagement tactics (looking at you, ping pong tables).
First, a Refresher on Brand and Engagement
Before we dive straight into today's topic, we feel like it's a good idea to set some groundwork so we're all on the same page.
As a refresher, employee engagement is, quite obviously, how engaged your workers are while performing their roles.
A fully engaged worker is one who believes in the company's mission, feels a strong sense of accomplishment at work, and will go above and beyond to make sure everything is running smoothly. In other words, they are the best employees to have because they personally care for the success of the business as a whole.
Disengaged workers make up the majority of most workplaces. These individuals are not bad at their jobs, they don't start trouble or anything like that, but they do view their job as merely that, a job. They will perform their tasks adequately, show up on time, and leave the end of the day. They just aren't as connected or immersed in their role.
There are a lot of different reasons why someone may be disengaged, which is why we always say that organizations need to look at engagement on a personal level.
However, it's safe to say that one of the main reasons is that some people go to work because they need a job. They may do this job well, but - at the end of the day - it's just a job.
Then, finally, you have actively disengaged workers.
This is where the problems start to come in. Actively disengaged workers are the ones that do not like their job, they may not show up on time, they disobey orders, and, generally, are just a few pegs above becoming a toxic employee. You can think of these workers as polar opposites of engaged workers.
Switching over to brand.
You may be more familiar with branding as a marketing or sales term, which - in short - it is. Although, employers are also brands unto themselves.
For example, Google has a strong employer brand that draws talent to them organically. They've crafted this brand by establishing values and beliefs that are attractive to many people, such as flexible hours, a lax dress code, a whole suite of amenities on site, and - probably the biggest pull - they're really good at what they do.
Employer Branding and Employee Engagement: Combining the Two
So, as you can probably tell, employee engagement and employer branding go hand-in-hand a lot of the time. Workers who go to work for a company that has a strong employer brand have specifically chosen that company for those reasons.
A top-tier coder, for example, may have quite a few different offers on the table from various organizations, but the Google offer will likely stand out for many of the reasons above. People want to be involved with Google over other companies because of their mission, the projects they take on, and their culture.
What does all of this have to do with your strategy, though?
When you aim to attract talent, you should do so with employer branding first. You can read more about employer branding here if you'd like a deeper dive into the topic.
Then, when you have established a good brand for yourself, you can use your mission and brand to create some great employee engagement initiatives.
So, for instance, if you have a company that values creativity or art, you can make programs for art classes, give employees stipends to pursue their creative endeavors, or even have visiting artists come into the office and collaborate with your team.
Since your employer brand is creative and artistic, the people working their - most likely - value these things. By providing them ways to engage with the art world in a way that they may not be able to do on their own, you establish a connection that goes far beyond simple ideas of employee engagement, such as flexibility and work-life balance (at this point in the game, these things are becoming standardized and not much of a differentiator like they were years ago).
Let's look at a prime example.
REI and Their 'Yay Days'
REI, the outdoor gear manufacturer and retailer, is a good example of a company that has combined employer brand with engagement.
Every year, employees at REI get what the company calls 'yay days.' You can see the company's full list of benefits straight from their site here.
"REI supports outdoor adventures by offering all employees one day off every six months to go outside and play," the company writes.
"Yay Day gives our employees a chance to get inspired by the outdoors, by engaging in their favorite outdoor activity or helping create access to inspirational places through stewardship."
What this does is combines REI's mission and brand with a benefit that extends to employees. Besides Yay Days, they also provide a grant for people who want to complete a hardcore outdoor challenge.
"This program provides REI employees an opportunity to set a personal outdoor challenge and apply for a special grant to achieve their goals. In the past, employees have received funds for a variety of challenges, from a 50-mile bike ride to a Mt. Everest expedition," they state.
Each of these benefits will not only attract people who love the outdoors, which is great to have at a company that's whole goal is to get people into the wild, but it also allows those people to pursue their outdoor passions.
A trip to Everest, for example, is extremely costly. The fact that REI wants their employees to take on these insane challenges and provides them help in doing so shows that they care about their employees living their mission and brand.
Now, you might be saying that you do not have a strong benefit like REI's. That's fine.
You don't have to go that far (though if you can, it wouldn't hurt). Every company has values and a mission. Take a look at these things and see what you can do to make you brand stronger and also foster engagement with activities that reflect that mission.
When it's all said and done, employee engagement is actually about fulfillment. What type of employee do you attract? What are their interests? What can you do, as a company, to reinforce those various aspects of your employee's lives?
REI has people working for them that find fulfillment in exploration and outdoor activities. So, logically, the company helps people attain that fulfillment in meaningful ways.
Coupling mission and brand with employee engagement will help you increase the power of both. To do this, make sure you have a firm understanding of what types of employees you have, what their motivations are, and why they chose to work for your company over another.
With a firm understanding in place, evaluate your brand and apply engagement initiatives that reflect these things. In the end, you may find that these two core business practices are far more aligned that you originally thought.