Over the past 10 years working in the HR tech and employee engagement software industry, I’ve formulated a philosophy on how to effectively engage employees, which I call the employee engagement bridge.

Pay and benefits are no longer enough to ensure employee engagement. Though they create a solid foundation, you also need to consider the well-being of your employees. Even that will not be enough. Many other aspects of your business will factor into engagement as well: open and honest communication; purpose, meaning, and values; leadership and management; job design; recognition; learning and development; and workspace.

[Glenn Elliott]
[Glenn Elliott]

Engagement is essential to the success of a company. This is not, like many people believe, because they will devote their discretionary time to work, but for three main reasons: engaged employees make better decisions because they understand more; engaged employees are more productive because they like, or love, what they are doing; and engaged employees innovate more, because they want their organization to succeed. Basically, engaged employees think in terms of the long-term results of the company.

I always say you cannot force employee engagement, but you can influence it. Employee engagement starts with company culture. What you do, and what you encourage your employees to do, will ripple through the company. It’s important that leadership doesn’t just express what you believe the company culture should be. You need to truly live and breathe your culture within the company. If you say you have open and honest communication, you need to follow through on that no matter what to prevent your employees from losing faith and trust in you. If you say, “In this company we believe...” and then leadership is doing something entirely different, why would the rest of the company follow through on what it is said that company believes?

You might be surprised to learn that one way to drastically increase employee engagement is incredibly simple: say thank you. People who feel appreciated will work harder. It’s simple really – would you feel like helping someone or something succeed if you felt unappreciated? But when was the last time that you were thanked, or that you’ve thanked someone else?

Some people believe that recognition needs to be structured and have monetary value. Simply not true. There was one time early in my career that I was given an award with a monetary bonus attached for a job well done on a project I had worked on. It needed to go through an approval process and it took so long that by the time I actually received the award, I couldn’t even remember why I’d received it. That’s not very motivating, is it?

Recognition does not need to be something so large that it needs to go through an approval process. It does not need to come with a big ceremony and a press photo. It can be as simple as a thank you note or a quick email. At Reward Gateway, we have e-cards that we send internally, to say “good job” or “thanks!” It’s something so simple, but employees love sending and receiving them. It creates a sense of community and shows that we appreciate each other.

It doesn’t need to be when you feel someone goes above and beyond, either – though you definitely should then. It can be a simple daily thank you, or a “thank you for everything you’ve done this quarter.” You can change someone’s entire day just by saying thank you. The smile alone is well worth the effort.

Recognition also helps with something else that is very important to your business’s success: retention. People working in a culture of gratitude and know that their efforts are appreciated are not likely to want to leave. Don’t you want to be part of a company where your employees can come in and say they turned down a very good job offer because they’d genuinely prefer to stay with you at your company? They’ll care more, and their desire to succeed will line up with the company’s success.

Employee engagement is a choice. Is it one you can afford not to make?

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