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9 Employee Engagement Best Practices HR Needs to Know

06 March
by Aley Brown
8 minute read

Employee engagement best practices are essential to making sure that your organization is running efficiently and productively as a whole.

While some companies choose to specifically focus on other areas of human resources: leadership development, culture, or even performance, other organization create a broader HR strategy focusing on employee engagement as whole. This is because no other area encompasses as many different functions as employee engagement.

Employee engagement strategies include leadership development, culture, performance, and many different areas of human resources (many of witch we mentioned above). So by focusing on your employee engagement, you actually improve all of these other smaller areas of the HR puzzle. This holistic approach makes improving each section easier because they are now all nicely lumped together.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

So, you’re probably wondering: how do I get started? What are these employee engagement best practices?

In this blog, we will go over the following employee engagement best practices:

  1. Inspire your employees to join your company’s mission
  2. Be flexible with your employees
  3. Create diversity of people, thought, etc
  4. Focus on development of everyone, not just leaders
  5. Offer benefits that align with your company’s values
  6. Create a culture of openness and honesty
  7. Start with your executives
  8. Hire employees that are most likely to be engaged
  9. Understand that employee engagement and happiness are two different things

Now, let’s dig into each of these a bit more to give you tools to apply them at your organization.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Inspiration

A big part of employee engagement is getting your employees excited about the work that they do. And how do you do that?

You have to inspire them. And motivate them.

Studies have shown that the best way to do this is to focus on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you are motivated because you like or care about something. It is the opposite of extrinsic motivation, or when someone is only motivated by things external to them like money or fame.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

You can inspire this intrinsic motivation by reminding employees that they are a piece of a bigger picture: the company looking to solve some problem in the world. Or you can allow them to do something that they really enjoy, that way they are intrinsically motivated by the work itself.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Flexibility

Life is messy. You know this. I know this. So why do companies not know this?

If you want your employees to be fully engaged, your HR team, your executives, and your company need to embrace that life can be messy.

Your employees have lives outside of work, and sometimes those lives will disrupt their work life. And that is okay!

No one wants to work at a company where they can’t go pick up their sick kid from school, or where they have to miss a family member’s funeral because there is some big presentation due the next day.

You should build a certain level of flexibility into your culture so that your employees feel comfortable having lives outside of work. And while of course there should always be guardrails to your flexibility, if you focusing on keeping employees engaged as a whole you’ll be surprised at how little you have to use those guardrails.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Create Diversity

When people talk about building diversity at their company, they generally think about race. But building a diverse company culture is so much more than that.

There is race, gender, age, financial background, personalities, education, and so much more.

Not only will it increase your employer brand as more and more people value diversity at their companies, but it will also increase the performance of your company according to studies.

To focus on diversity, you need to make sure that it is addressed in every step of your human resources strategy. It isn’t good enough to just have a diversity and inclusion program. You should have hiring, mentoring, performance management, and work/life programs that are made solely for the purpose of supporting diversity and inclusion at your company.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Development

One of the most important employee engagement best practices is the “art” of development.

The hottest HR trend nowadays is leadership development. Which is great! But it is one-sided when you think about your workforce as whole.

There are people in your organization besides leaders who need, want, and deserve development. And if you offer development to your workers, they will take more ownership over their own work, which results in more productivity for your organization!

Employee Engagement Best Practices

It really is a win-win.

So why aren’t more companies doing this? Well, it's expensive.

To offer development to everyone at your organization can be costly and time consuming. There are so many different types of training and having your HR team figure out what each person needs is a lot of work.

So if you don’t have the bandwidth on your HR team to do this, we recommend budgeting in a small allowance for each employee to focus on their development. Allow them to come to their managers with ideas for their own development, and then let their managers approve it.

This can actually increase the results for your development initiatives because the employees pick out what they are learning and, therefore, are more invested in it. No more training and development sessions that everyone at the company dreads!

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Offer the Right Benefits

Figuring out what benefits to offer your employees is hard. Our piece of advice?

Align align align.

Understand what you want out of your company and your employees, and then provide them the benefits to fulfill that.

For example, if your company believes in appreciating the great outdoors, it makes sense to allow your employees days off each year to go camping.

Or if your top management believes that your company has to be the best and that your employees have to be the brightest, it makes sense that you have a huge emphasis on educational and developmental support.

If it is your company’s mission is to improve the lives of families through your products, it makes sense to also improve the lives of families by offering your employees family-friendly benefits like free daycare or generous parental leave.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

I think you’re getting the picture: give your employee the benefits they need to support your company’s mission.

Let’s take Airbnb for example. Airbnb is a company that provides travelers with lodging and events in locations around the world. Their company’s goal is to get people to travel and experience the world.

So what do they offer their employees? $2000 worth of travel coupons for their website each year so that their employees can experience the benefits of travel, and then work harder towards the company’s mission since they will then truly believe in the benefits of travel.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Honesty and Openness are Your Friends

Do you remember when your parents wouldn’t tell you something as a kid? I remember. It was infuriating.

Well, adults still have that same response to secrecy. I probably wouldn’t have a full on tantrum, but I still don’t like it when people aren’t open and honest with me to this day.

And when people experience that displeasure of dishonesty or secrecy, it sits with them, causing negative feelings about their work environment to bubble up, which, in turn, causes employee engagement to completely drop. So, institute a culture where honesty and transparency are practiced.

I’m not advocating for sharing confidential information, of course. But you should assess the things that aren’t confidential and see if it would improve the engagement of your employees to share them.

For example, sharing how your company is performing, what the current market looks like, or what your goals are long term, can help keep employees more engaged with their jobs.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: It Starts at the Top

Employee engagement best practices are great. But HR can really only have as much impact as the executive team allows them to have.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

An employee’s schedule, work tasks, and even mentality is usually dictated around what their boss lays out for them. And that, in turn, is affected by what that boss’s boss lays out for them.

So, as hard as HR tries, the main influence on a person’s work life won’t be HR initiatives, but their management. If executives, at the top of this management structure, focus on creating an engaging environment for their direct reports, that will trickle down and be effective for people all the way at the bottom of your reporting structure.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I actually get my executives engaged though?

Well, you should definitely give them some sort of training about what employee engagement is. Then, give them specific examples of how to implement this into their management style.

If they aren’t all the way bought in, come to the table with data about why this is important. Show statistics about how employee engagement can save the company money, improve productivity, increase morale, and any other business metric that you think might be impactful.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Hire With it in Mind

One of the strongest employee engagement best practices is to hire new employees who are the most likely to be engaged.

Here's why: some people are just more likely to be engaged than others. They just have a personality for being more motivated about your company’s mission and values.

So, how do you hire for this? Well, there are several ways you can predict if an employee will be engaged.

First, you can develop a personality assessment that will determine the likelihood that someone will be engaged at your organization if they are hired on.

Employee Engagement Best Practices

Next, you can develop interview questions to determine how excited and motivated this potential new employee will be.

You can also get references about the employee’s performance from people you know. Employee referral programs are particularly useful because if an engaged employee recommends a peer, they will most likely also be engaged. (Sort of the birds of a feather flock together scenario.)

Finally, check out their work experience. Were they a mover and shaker at their last company? Do they have a ton of accomplishments listed on their LinkedIn? These are great signs of potential engagement.

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Engagement Doesn’t Mean Happiness

This employee engagement best practice is often forgotten.

But it is one of the most important.

Employee engagement and employee satisfaction are not the same things. Just because someone is happy at work doesn’t mean they are engaged. And vice-versa.

For example, imagine an employee who loves coming to work because they get to sit next to their best friend and chat all day. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are engaged.

And imagine an employee who comes to work everyday ready to work hard to help the company meet its goals. They could be so stressed from this pressure that they aren’t happy even though they are very engaged.

So, when you are thinking about employee engagement, make sure that you understand the difference from employee satisfaction.

The goals is to have employees both engaged and satisfied. And for this, you might need different strategies. Just focusing on employee engagement in itself might not be enough!

Employee Engagement Best Practices: Final Takeaways

When reviewing employee engagement best practices, it might seem like there are a lot of things to consider.

While this is true, it is important to remember the underlying theme: treat people well. Give them space and opportunity to feel fulfilled in your organization, and assist them with their growth.

If you focus on this main objective, everything else will fall into place.

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