Illustration for the article entitled "Just How Do You Improve Employee Engagement? Answers On A Postcard"

Just How Do You Improve Employee Engagement? Answers On A Postcard

One of the eternal battles when seeking to inspire and guide a workforce is just how to improve employee engagement. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this has been an issue since time began. Back in the days of primitive men and women, fighting for survival at the outbreak of time itself, leaders had to inspire the tribe to hunt and kill to survive. No food, no future. Whoever was in charge had a duty of care to ensure they worked in harmony to ensure their survival.

Positive Policies and Principles

Historically, armies from Roman legions and those who marched before trained as small units to be the best they could be in order to survive. When you think about it, why wouldn’t today’s modern business leaders seek to achieve the same and build the best teams to achieve the very best results? After all, achieving success is not a bad thing.

If you want proof of that, then simply attend the annual Perły HR awards event that we host every year in Warsaw, and just look at the faces of not only those who make it onto the winner’s rostrum, but also those who were shortlisted. It is the human condition to want to win, although not at any cost (I am not advocating the ethos of the Wolf of Wall Street, far from it). No, success should not come at any price; you do not want to sell your soul. What you do want to do is achieve success using positive and ethical policies and principles.

So just what do you need to do to achieve this vital winning business element? Well, in my experience, there are several components. The first is to show strong but empathetic leadership. You need to show a vision, some even call it a mission (but that sounds slightly religious to me). In my personal experience, people respond to a clear vision, simply delivered that is relatable to both the business and the people who make it what it is.

In addition, it is really important that leaders should also assume the role of a coach, not only in deed but also by action. Not easy, to be fair, as we are all people with the same weaknesses as everyone. But, it is important to try and live the values, but they have to be realistic and achievable.

Remote Work and Employee Motivation

This begs the question: just how do you motivate and engage with employees at all levels of the company, especially when more and more people are working from home, diluting the daily, weekly, and monthly contact that managers have with staff day-to-day? The importance of regular touchpoints cannot be underestimated, and just how do you establish rules for measuring work performance?

Interestingly, research has revealed that up to a third of the workforce responds very positively to the freedom that working from home offers. So much so that they would be prepared to forgo a pay rise as long as they could work remotely. Yes, not commuting and all the costs that go with it, plus the flexibility for childcare (and interestingly pet care — we all know that Poles, like the Brits, love their dogs!) mean that if certain employees are allowed the flexibility to work from home, they will take that rather than more zlotys in the bank each month.

The Role of Regular Communication

However, on the flip side, certain employees seek the opposite, responding better to the structure that an office environment offers. Indeed, single people appreciate the human interaction that the office offers. So when it comes to engagement, how best can employees be assisted to develop themselves?

Well, one company that I know basically gave their employees the choice: do you want full-time remote working? Do you want hybrid, three days at home and two days in the office, or full-time office working, five days a week? Interestingly, it actually worked very well with 90% being happy with the choices given. What lessons can we learn? Well, the first is to communicate regularly with all staff, ask questions, test the mood and aspirations of what people want. It is always better to discuss and negotiate rather than to dictate and impose; that style of management is confrontational and seldom builds a good work culture, thus impacting heavily on poor retention and a toxic office environment. And as I always say, how can you expect to have staff make your customers happy if they are not happy in the office or home?

The Vital Asset

Very often a good company culture is dependent on the well-being of the employee. If they find themselves stressed or anxious, it can and will impact on their performance and their well-being. As someone once said to me, “I do not want to work in an office where people cry a lot!” Well, no, who would want to be around that dark place?

Ideally, you want to be in a company where people are supported when facing challenge and anxiety, be that professional or personal, knowing that they will be given help and support when needed. Often, this results in greater loyalty and low staff turnover, as people do appreciate it when they are given support in their time of need. Again, an invisible but very important tipping point when it comes to the package that is employee engagement — a vital but complicated art form in its own right, but so vital for building good company values to both attract, engage, and retain the employee, who are, after all, any company’s most vital asset.

Author: Austin Birks, CEO, Verita HR Group

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