31st July 2021

Employee Engagement as a Critical Business Objective

Work has radically changed. And every knowledge worker – all 1.25 billion – has been impacted. 

The abrupt shift to remote work forced leaders and organizations to accelerate digital transformation and rapidly deploy and adopt collaboration tools to get work done. Despite companies’ best efforts to recreate what worked in the physical office in a virtual workplace, overwhelm and burnout are on the rise.

Driven by expanding to-do lists, back-to-back “catch-up” Zoom meetings, boundless workdays, and the constant juggle of careers, childcare, and remote school, it is probably not a surprise to you that the number of workers assessing their mental health as poor, or very poor, rose from 5% to 18%, with 42% rating their stress levels as high or very high.

As burnout rises in your workforce, individual employee engagement plummets. And the cost of a disengaged team is substantial. According to Gallup, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. When you translate that into dollars, you’re looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they make. 

Employee engagement is a critical business objective. Business units in the top quartile of engagement realize better customer engagement, higher productivity, enhanced retention and 21% higher profitability.

However, in the new world of work, the old employee engagement strategies are no longer viable. Long gone are the days of bring your dog to work, free tickets to sporting events, and beer in the fridge in the breakroom. One-size-fits-all engagement strategies will not work.

A remote workforce requires a new approach to employee engagement. An methodology that takes the guesswork out of your engagement strategies because it equips and empowers your team members to identify and own their professional fulfillment needs.

As a leader in your company, here are three steps you can take to reimagine and revitalize your employee engagement strategies.

Rethink the framework of the employer- employee relationship.

The employer-employee relationship is a social contract. And, as a social contract it can be described in terms of social exchange theory, which proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process. It is about give-and-take or balance and reciprocity. 

Social exchange suggests that it is the valuing of the benefits and the costs of a relationship that determines whether we chose to continue a social association. The exact same thing happens in your relationship with your employees. 

In healthy relationships, both parties evaluate the benefits and costs of the relationship. However, frequently in organizations, it is a one-sided evaluation. As a result, companies institute one-size-fits-all employee engagement strategies that only marginally enhance engagement.

Now is the time in your company to define the employer–employer relationship as a social contract that empowers and equips employees to identify and own what they need to be engaged and fulfilled in our new world of work. Once your employees have clarified what they need to be gratified at work, invite them to participate in a thoughtful conversation about how to create a mutually beneficial way to work that supports both parties in achieving their goals. 

Cultivate positive social interactions and relationships.

Human beings are social animals with a fundamental need for connection. Social needs are treated the same way in the brain as the need for food and water. This is why positive social interactions and relationships are considered primal needs. Social connections motivate your employees and fuel innovation, creativity, and productivity.

To create more positive social interactions, especially in our Zoom-driven world, use the Platinum Rule. You approach people with the intention to first understand how they want to be treated and then adapt your interactions with them to meet their needs. The Platinum Rule is a powerful way to foster mutual respect and understanding so you can build vibrant relationships. It also can help you avoid making a negative assumption about someone’s behavior, which undermines constructive social interaction.

To help understand how your employees wanted to be treated, let’s explore the concept of work styles. Your work style is the way you think about, organize, and complete your tasks.

    In any office you will find four types of work styles:

  • Logical, analytical, and data-oriented
  • Organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented
  • Strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented

Think about the following questions to determine the work style of your employees:

  • Does she consistently complete work early, in advance of deadlines, or wait until the last minute?
  • Does he send emails with only a few words or write novels?
  • Does she gesture and use her hands while talking? Or is she more controlled and stoic in her movements?

These clues, both subtle and overt, will give you insight to your employee’s work style.

Once you have identified your employee’s work style, tailor your communication style to align with how they want to communicate.

  • Your logical, analytical, and data-oriented colleagues want you to focus on data and the facts. Be brief, succinct, clear, and precise. If you send an email, keep it short.
  • Your organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented colleagues want you to stay on topic, present your ideas in a sequential, organized manner and provide detailed timelines. If you send an email, outline your main points and clearly state next action steps and due dates.
  • Your supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented colleagues want the conversation to be informal, open, and warm. If you send an email, include a salutation and connect with them personally before you transition to the topic of the email.
  • Your strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented colleagues want you to communicate with minimal details, provide the big picture with visuals and metaphors, and articulate how the project aligns with the organization’s strategy. If you send an email, provide the context and avoid too many details.
Empower employees to be active designers and creators of their professional experience.

Encourage your employees to be active designers and creators of their professional experience by shaping their work in the following three areas: task, relational and cognitive.

Task – Employees make behavioral changes to how they perform their set of assigned job activities. They either adjust the scope or nature of assignments involved in their job or take on additional responsibilities. 

Ask your employees to consider the following two questions: 

  • What job duty could I modify so that I can more fully use my strengths to add more meaning to my job? 
  • What strength am I not using that I want to use to unlock more significance in my work? 

Relational – Employees make changes to their professional relationships. They either alter the extent or nature of your affiliation with their colleagues or develop and build new associations.

Ask your employees to consider the following two questions: 

  • Who want to connect with to create an opportunity for more significance in your work?
  • Who do you want to connect with who has a skill you want to develop or has held a position in your company you want to have? 

Cognitive – Employees make proactive psychological changes to their perceptions of their job. They redefine what they see as the type and nature of the duties or relationships involved in their job. And employees reframe their job to see it as a meaningful whole that positively impacts others rather than a collection of separate responsibilities.

Work has fundamentally and radically changed. Rethink the framework of your relationship with your employees. It is a social contract and both parties are responsible for the vitality of the relationship. Promote a culture of positive social interactions. Identify the work style of your employees and tailor your communication to how they want to interact. Empower your employees to active designers of their professional experience. A one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement is no longer viable.

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/05/coronavirus-stress-mental-health-issues-rising-among-workers-html.

2 M. D. Liberman and N. I. Eisenberger, “Pain and Pleasures of Social Life,” Science 323, no. 5916 (February 13, 2009): 890–91.

 3 Shawn Anchor, The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success In Work and Life (New York, Crown Business, 2010).

 4 For additional information on work styles, please reference my first book, Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style. And if you want to take my assessment to identify your work style, please go to www.workingsimply.com.