A s companies grow, they systematize processes and procedures to increase efficiency. We build out job descriptions based on roles, rather than individuals, and create standardized performance metrics that tie specific work activities and outcomes to compensation. This makes sense—company leadership doesn’t have time to individualize roles and there is often a need for a large group of people to perform acertain set of tasks. Job descriptions and metrics keep people accountable to the same goals and help weed out low performers. Yet according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 87% of employees around the world are actively disengaged in their jobs.
Job descriptions, performance management programs and organizational structures are the crucial foundation of a growing company, but they are not enough to create an engaging and productive work environment. As companies become more systematized, they often forget how diverse the interests and talents of their individual employees are. It is crucial for company leaders to build programs that foster creativity, autonomy, and growth in order to keep employees engaged at work.
In my time working at EMH Strategy, I have discovered two keys to keeping employees engaged in the workplace:
1. Give Employees Time for Special Projects.
While it’s important that employees are aware of their specific responsibilities and held accountable to them, it is just as important to give employees time to be original. Many companies give employees the flexibility to work on projects of their choosing and take initiative on new ideas. This can be a powerful part of company progress—and a great way to keep employees excited about their work and engaged in the company. 3M has a “15% culture,” where technical employees can spend 15% of their time on projects of their determination. This philosophy has led to innovations like the electronic stethoscope and clear bandages, while also keeping 3M’s employee retention high—a telling sign of employee engagement and satisfaction. Though this can be expensive and challenging in companies with a more conservative culture, finding a structure that allows employees to work on company-related passion projects and to be creative can be a great way to help employees stay engaged.
2. Provide Professional Development Opportunities.
Most employees are more willing to invest extra energy in their companies when they feel they are getting something more in return. With people having an average of about 11 jobs per lifetime according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, long term investment in individuals can be a strategic way for companies to keep employees around and engaged. Formal opportunities for mentorship that link younger employees with experienced employees who share similar interests or aspirations can help employees understand their trajectory through the company and feel valued. Mentors can also advise employees when they are going through periods of disengagement or unhappiness in their current roles. Professional development opportunities can help workers identify their strengths and weaknesses, which allows them to figure out how to best benefit the company. Mattel goes as far as to build “Career Action Plans” so that employees know where they are going within the company and how to get there. When employees are empowered with information about their strengths and their future with a company, they are more likely to stay engaged in the work they are doing and invest their time in development that helps them reach their goals.
Creating a Balance between Efficiency and Engagement.
One of the biggest challenges for employers is maintaining a balance between efficiency and engagement. Certainly engaged employees are more effective, but giving employees flexible work time and investing in performance management can be costly in terms of both time and money. Strong communication between management and employees is necessary to determine what investments should be made in employee engagement. Some company cultures value flexible time for creativity, while others prioritize creating a climbable ladder. Your employees are your best resource since they know firsthand why they are or are not engaged in their jobs.
In addition, don’t be afraid to take advantage of external resources. EMH Strategy, the New Orleans-based boutique management consulting firm that I work for, advises companies to help them find efficiency and employee engagement through company culture refinement, performance management, and strategic planning. Our goal is to help your company grow, and employee engagement is a key facet of that growth. Tools like Sift are invaluable for helping managers understand their employees, connect employees with peers and resources to help them grow as individuals, and foster individual employee’s passions within the workplace. Case studies from companies with successful employee engagement programs, like 3M and Mattel, are also great resources as you tackle this challenge.
As your company grows, think strategically about your company’s goals, the needs of employees, and what types of programs can fulfill both. A small investment in employee engagement will go a long way toward employee satisfaction and company performance in the long term.