By Teri Sullivan
Why should associations strive to cultivate highly engaged employees?
Engaged professionals are more likely to stay with your organization, build stronger relationships with customers and coworkers, act as effective brand ambassadors, and help increase profitability. Moreover, they are more likely to go above and beyond to ensure your organization’s success.
But remember, job satisfaction does not equate to employee engagement. It’s possible that an actively disengaged employee is perfectly happy in his or her job.
Consider the first date. You expect your date will be clean, courteous, and respectful. If they do not meet your minimum standard, then you probably won’t go out on a second date.
These basic qualifications are like job satisfaction requirements—fair pay, adequate time off, and medical benefits. And while the benefits are necessary, they won’t necessarily make an employee feel engaged with his or her work.
To fall in love—with a significant other or job—you need to look to other qualities, things like personality, humor, and values. Those sparks make you feel attracted and are called on-the-job engagement drivers. Here are effective strategies to make all employees feel more engaged at work.
Various researchers may categorize these differently, but they all agree on a few simple truths about what drives employee engagement.
Success. This is likely the most important of all engagement drivers. Nobody wants to feel unsuccessful, and research shows that the more successful employees feel, the more dedicated to the job they become. Important aspects of feeling successful are knowing what is expected on the job, a strong match between the job and the employee’s core strengths (including talents and personality) and having the tools to perform well.
Employees are more engaged when they see the positive outcomes from work, understand how to contribute to the organization’s mission and success, and have their ideas incorporated to help the organization succeed.
Autonomy. A good rule of thumb is that management decides on what needs to be done, leaving individual staff to decide on how best to do it. This does not mean that managers avoid standard policies and procedures, but associations should empower employees to apply their own thinking and ideas in the performance of their work as much as possible.
Connection. Staff members are not machines. They need personal connections. When staff feel heard and valued, they become more engaged. Gallup’s considerable research on employee engagement shows that employees need positive feedback at least once a week, or they begin to disengage. Feedback should be specific and authentic. For example, “You guys are doing a great job!” is not very meaningful to staff. Something better would be, “Sandra, your presentation today was interesting and informative.”
Growth. People are more engaged when someone shows interest in their development and provides opportunities to grow and improve. And according to a recent survey, job training and career development are key to a psychologically healthy workplace.
Meaning. Most of us need to feel meaning and purpose in our jobs. Staff want to make a difference for others and feel proud of what they do. When an employee identifies with the organization’s mission and believes it is doing good in the world, that goes a long way toward building meaning.
Impact. Employees are more engaged when they see the positive outcomes from work, understand how to contribute to the organization’s mission and success, and have their ideas incorporated to help the organization succeed.
These six qualifiers of employee engagement are true regardless of age, career level, salary, location, industry, etc. And recent research has shown that, contrary to what some believe, millennials generally do not value meaning or growth more than other groups (with the exception of those close to retirement who may not value growth and development as much).
Not surprisingly, association leaders cannot make anyone become more engaged, but they can create environments that foster engagement. Consider a garden with healthy soil, adequate water, and plenty of sunshine—most plants will thrive, but some seeds simply will not sprout. If you create the perfect garden for engagement to grow, most staff will be engaged, but there will likely be some who do not.
Sometimes association leaders and managers assume unengaged employees are those seeds that won’t sprout. You might say, “What else do these people want?” And think an employee outing, pizza party, or bonuses, might improve morale. Unfortunately, even though these are positive efforts, they do not drive engagement.
Although there are some bad seeds, most staff will become more engaged if you ensure they feel successful in performing meaningful work, with people they can connect with and trust, while constantly growing and improving.