Tips for measuring and improving employee engagement

Full-time employees spend a large part of their day and the majority of their lives in the workplace, and how they feel about their work is important to them. In a recent Gallup survey, 63% of American workers are not engaged in their work, while another 24% are "actively disengaged." Disengaged workers are more likely to look for other opportunities, or worse, drag down the productivity of the rest of your team. Gallup estimates that the cost of disengaged workers lies somewhere between $450-$550 billion each year in lost productivity.

Running a tech business or an IT department requires a delicate balance. Stakeholders have expectations, employees have needs, and of course, customers have their own set of requirements. Effective leaders and entrepreneurs understand that employee engagement can be a competitive edge and that building an engagement strategy should be a top priority.

Why Should Employers Measure It?

Finding great developers, project managers and other technical roles is a difficult task and keeping these top performers is even harder. People don't want to work in a place where they don't have a voice or work for a company that seems to let the good people go while holding onto those that do the bare minimum. In short, top people want to feel their opinions and hard work are valued.

On the other hand, companies that do the work to build a positive culture will reap the benefits and increasing employee engagement is a big part of that. Employee engagement, according to experts, drives all the good things an organization needs to thrive - better customer outcomes, better employee retention and increased productivity. "Employee engagement is important because a well-engaged employee means the difference between just showing up or excelling at what they do. With today's increased competition for top-notch talent, and the huge costs to retrain new staff, engagement becomes more important than ever. When engagement is low things can get off track really quick and it can spread like wildfire...best practices are usually the process that falls apart when engagement is low, though best practices are what produce ideal outcomes," says Gabe Zichermann, CEO & Co-Founder of Dopamine and author of The Gamification Revolution.

"Publicly traded organizations that achieve top decile in our employee engagement database outperform their competition on earning per share by 147%, "says Jim Harter, PhD. and Chief Scientist with the Gallup Organization.

Let's face it, if you can't measure it you can't manage it, and if you can't manage it then how can you improve it? The time has come for organizations to start giving engagement the focus it deserves. We measure KPIs for business data and we're getting better at that, now we have to start using an analytical process to find out what motivates and helps retain your employees.

What Should Be Measured

"Think about all the ways we analyze customer data - including average revenue per user, propensity to cancel services, etc. We can delve into employee data with equal intensity. We use surveys, social communities, focus groups, anecdotal feedback, and there is much more to explore. We track and analyze voluntary and involuntary turnover - and we deeply look into desired and undesired losses to the company. This helps us spot concerns and trends early, and focuses our actions on the right things that retain the right people," says Tina Davis, Executive Direct of Communications & Employee Engagement with Comcast Cable.

Gallup has what they call the Q12 to measure engagement which include the following questions:

I know what is expected of me at work.

At work, my opinions seem to count.

I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

I have a best friend at work.

My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

There is someone at work who encourages my development.

This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

According to Gabe Zichermann, organizations should pay special attention to these critical metrics. "These include what we call the "Big 5" metrics in gamification: recency, frequency, duration, virality and ratings. Understanding and analyzing these should give employers a good indication of their engagement levels," says Zichermann.

Tips to Improve Employee Engagement

Just like anything worth doing you need to build a strategy and a plan to get from point "A" to point "B." If you are going to move the needle on engagement it has to start from the top down. "Leadership buy-in is crucial to this work...," says Davis.

Find Out What Motivates Your Employees

It all starts with research. Typically companies begin with an internal employee engagement poll or survey. According to Dan Pollock, Vice President of Modis, employers should conduct surveys that gauge feelings around team and organizational structures, attrition and work productivity per employee.

Set Goals and Share Your Vision

"It's crucial for leaders to speak candidly about challenges, goals, vision and strategy. Those who prioritize open and ongoing dialog, those who listen to employees, earn their trust and answer tough questions, reap immediate and tangible benefits. In rapidly evolving, disruptive industries, engaged talent and high-performing teams generate huge competitive advantages," says Davis.

Constructive Feedback on a Regular Basis

"Moving the retention and engagement needles aren't that difficult once an organization understands that employee engagement needs to be a strategic function. What we've discovered in the process of designing employee engagement systems with gamification is that small changes can have a big effect. In particular, it's about narrowing the time gap between performance and feedback, and providing much more positive feedback to staff," says Zichermann.

Do You Have the Right Managers?

Maybe it's time to look at the people who are managing your teams. Just because someone was a great project manager or a terrific developer, it doesn't necessarily equate to being a great manager or leader.

Experts agree that managers play a pivotal role in productivity and retention. The right manager will make your team excel above and beyond, and the worst can ruin your business. You need to choose your managers carefully and then coach and train them to reflect the culture you want. "Manager quality is the dominant factor in retention. That's why we are introducing coaching, resources and opportunities for managers to become better communicators, and to lead more collaboratively," says Tina Davis. Some corporations according to Pollock offer "retention bonuses" to managers who have low attrition rates.

Set Clear Expectations

"Clear expectations and regular communication are the pillars to proper engagement. The worst thing an employer can do is set no expectations and then not engage the employee. When ignored, employees' work productivity will decrease and often leads to them examining other opportunities," says Pollock.

Conduct Exit Interviews

People leave and when they do, it's important to try and figure out the why to help avoid more team members from jumping ship. Exit interviews can be tough to glean real data from, but there are enough occasional gems according to experts to make them worth doing.

Empower Your Employees

We all want responsible workers who can meet deadlines, can be proactive, and can work with little guidance. However, while you may have the occasional superstar, it doesn't happen all that often. The good news is there are things you can do to help empower your workers and help them reach their potential. "People want a stake in the game. They want to be part of something successful and to be part of the driving force. It is important to provide employees goals, but especially critical to ask them how they think they can help. When employees feel their opinion matters they are more engaged and want to work harder," says Jeff Corbin, Founder and CEO of theEMPLOYEEapp, an app used for internal communication between the employers and employees.

Gamification

Gamification is one of the tools organizations are using to improve a number of key metrics, with employee engagement being one of them. "When done right, gamification is incredibly effective at motivating employees...and this motivation leads to greater satisfaction, which in turn drives higher productivity and performance, and this simultaneously fuels employee retention, customer satisfaction and business results - that is, it is incredibly effective in driving active participation and links that activity to measurable business value," says Rajat Paharia, Founder and Chief Product Officer at Bunchball.

Time to Get Onboard

In the end says Pollock, "Engagement isn't about money. It's about how people feel, and this can change on a day to day basis. Leaders who connect and truly understand what motivates each member of their team will end up driving the best long term results. These are the teams which will come in early, stay late and go above and beyond to deliver for their manager and their company."

This story, "Tips for measuring and improving employee engagement" was originally published by CIO.

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