It’s 8:59am. You clock in and take a seat in your gray cubicle under a dropped ceiling with fluorescent lighting – just like your other 150 colleagues in the same room. You try to meet your daily target of phone calls while keeping your pee breaks as short as possible. After all, you only get 15 minutes a day. You clock out at 5:01pm. How engaged and motivated would you be in a work environment like this?
Turns out, the cubicles of the 1960s weren’t so great for keeping employees engaged and motivated. And that’s why work environments had to change. As society changed, so did the needs of employees. Fast forward to 2022. What are today’s best practices for keeping employees engaged at big corporations? And what can you do as a HR professional?
Engagement, what is it?
We’ve already written about how to keep employees engaged at rapidly-growing organizations. In this article, we explained what employee engagement is and why it’s important.
To summarize, engaged employees are motivated and passionate about their work – they feel emotionally connected to it. They’re dedicated, identify with the organization, find satisfaction in their work, and feel energized.
This is important because engaged employees are more than twice as productive as less satisfied employees. And engaged employees are your best brand ambassadors. Both in terms of bringing in and maintaining clients, as well as attracting new talent.
Investing in employee engagement increases quality and turnover, as well as decreasing operational accidents and absenteeism.
Companies with high employee engagement benefit from the following:
- 45% increased job satisfaction
- 42% increased commitment at work
- 38% increased employee retention
- 24% increased client focus
- 21% more efficient employees
What are the challenges for big corporations?
Size matters. It’s harder for large corporations to keep employees engaged than it is for small businesses. That’s why employee engagement is significantly lower at companies with more than 1000 employees than it is at smaller organizations. This gap gets even wider above 5000 employees.
The following causes are to blame:
- Employees at big corporations are more likely to feel that they aren’t doing what they do best
- They identify less with the company’s mission and purpose
- They have less of a sense that their role matters
- They feel they have less access to the appropriate tools and resources they need to do their job well
- They have fewer learning and development opportunities
How do you keep employees engaged?
As previously mentioned, our society is evolving rapidly. The needs of employees, and as such methods of keeping them engaged, are constantly changing. With the pandemic pretty much behind us, we’re currently riding a new wave of change. According to the Boston Consulting Group, this is taking place on four fronts:
- How we work
- How we lead
- How we organize ourselves
- What we need
By looking critically at these four topics and responding to them, you’ll ensure that you continue to meet the needs of employees in the workplace. Within these topics, we’ll list a number of methods that will help your organization to do this. As an HR professional, you’ll be able to implement some of these methods yourself and others you’ll need to implement with the assistance of management.
How we work
There’s no point in trying to push back against the way expectations have changed for 21st century employees. On the contrary, you should embrace it and take advantage of it!
1. Supporting hybrid or remote workers
Research from earlier this year shows that 80 percent of remote workers would like to keep working from home, at least partially, after the pandemic. Employees also want more flexibility in terms of their working schedule. This is part of the trend of looking for a better work-life balance – no longer living around your working day, but integrating work into your daily life.
You’ll keep your employees satisfied by playing into this. By allowing hybrid working and not having strict working hours. Develop different models for this: Which roles can only be performed on site, but allow for flexible working hours? Which roles can be partly carried out at home, but require occasional physical collaboration? Which roles can be fully remote?
Dell has been doing this for years. Long before lockdown, HR and IT worked together to provide employees with the right technology and collaboration tools to make remote working possible. The result? Engaged employees, a 20 percent higher Net Promoter Score (a metric that measures customer satisfaction and projected growth) and an annual saving on office space of $12 million.
2. Focus on impact
In manufacturing environments, it’s often easy to measure employee productivity. How many kilos of tomatoes were picked or how many trucks were assembled? In the knowledge sector, it’s more difficult. You can’t measure productivity in terms of how many emails someone sends or how many meetings they’ve attended. Still, we often see companies focusing on hard targets.
It’s better to focus on impact. To what degree does somebody add value to the company. This usually comes down to non-tangible, non-measurable things, such as creativity, strengthening bonds between colleagues, collaborating on new proposals, or making clients particularly happy.
Focusing on impact means prioritizing tasks that contribute to the success of the company and dodging obstacles as much as possible. Verizon discovered that 25 percent of its meetings were actually unnecessary. So, it adopted an “as-few-meetings-as-possible” policy. This means that there’s more time for the things that matter.
3. Develop a culture of trust and transparency
In a world where hybrid working is becoming more common, trust is important. Managers and HR professionals have less control over how people spend their time – and that’s okay. Trust that the work will get done. When there’s a culture of trust and accountability, people naturally take more responsibility.
How we lead
We’ve already witnessed the evolution from micro-management to macro-management, but there continues to be changes in terms of the expectations employees have for their leaders.
4. Delegate decision making
The best way to make workers feel engaged is to involve them in the decision-making process. Don’t leave all the decisions to management, instead let employees at all levels of the organization have a say. For example, with town hall meetings, votes or committees.
These are already common at startups and scaleups. The biotech company AgBiome doesn’t have managers, instead it has committees of passionate employees who make the decisions. Increasing numbers of companies are going in this direction.
Sometimes it’s all about taking a small first step. For example, the CEO of American fast-food chain Arby’s, Paul Brown, managed to avoid bankruptcy by asking his restaurant employees what they would do if they were in his shoes.
Sometimes it’s on a larger scale. WordPress, W.L. Gore, Semco and GitHub operate under a non-hierarchical organizational structure – and to great success.
5. Mission-driven culture
It’s also important for employees to feel that they’re contributing to a clear mission. Strive to clearly define your company’s mission and communicate it regularly: What unique roles does your organization play in the world? And what is the impact of this?
A mission shows employees how their activities influence the success of the company and the corporate culture. It keeps them engaged in the positive contribution your company is making as they go about their daily activities. What’s more, it helps both employees and management prioritize their work tasks.
6. Social leadership
People like working for organizations that make a positive contribution to society. Beyond the fact that – given the current state of the world – it’s probably the duty of big corporations to do this, it also helps to keep employees engaged. It’s always a lot easier to bring your work in line with your personal values and goals if you stand behind the company’s mission.
Therefore, as an organization, think about how you’re positively contributing to issues like tackling climate change, opportunity and income equality, and fighting against discrimination. Preferably as a permanent part of your core business.
The mission of outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is a lovely example: “We’re in business to save our home planet”. What’s more, they live by these words.
How we organize ourselves
Adaptive organizations that give employees autonomy are the organizations of tomorrow.
7. Focus on autonomy
Autonomy is the degree to which employees have the freedom to make decisions for themselves about the content and organization of their work. It is one of the most important factors for employee engagement.
Let’s use Patagonia again as an example. Because Patagonia is very inspirational. Founder Yvon Chouinard has this to say about autonomy: “Hire the people you trust, who are passionate about their job, passionate about what they’re doing. Just leave them alone, and they’ll get the job done.”
As long as Patagonia employees get the job done, they can walk out the door whenever they like. In their case, that’s mostly when the waves are perfect for surfing.
8. Be adaptive
Agile is the magic word at successful startups. Agile teams are small, multidisciplinary groups, often focused on innovation. These teams follow iterative processes in short “sprints” and with quick feedback loops. Agile teams are more productive, have higher morale, and are less likely to fall into the traps associated with traditional ways of working.
The same applies at big corporations. We’d call these agile-at-scale. Some large companies, such as Spotify and Netflix, have been agile since the start. Others, such as Amazon, LEGO, Cisco, PlayStation, Fitbit and John Deere, have made the transition.
Switching over to an agile model requires a complete overhaul of your entire company model: the structure, roles, processes, people, culture, and digital tools. It’s a big step for the company as a whole. This means you might want to start with a small selection of teams.
What we need
Finally, a number of conditions need to be met to keep employees engaged. Employees need the right setting, tools and learning opportunities, in order to remain motivated and energetic.
9. Developing a healthy, human-centered work environment
What function does your work environment perform in your organization? There’s a good chance that your answer to this question has changed now that more people are working from home. Your working environment is probably a place for social interaction, connection, collective learning, and collaborating.
Research shows – and Google demonstrates this in practice – that creating informal hangouts at work is very valuable. So, make sure there are plenty of places where people can meet, such as work cafés, a collective lunch space, a spacious coffee corner with nice places to sit, a cute terrace with picnic benches, a table tennis table, you name it. Then create plenty of time for people to work together.
Finally, getting enough daylight, clean air and greenery will keep energy levels high throughout the day. Because you can’t be engaged if you have no energy.
10. Offer the right tools and resources
Use tools and instruments that help employees to be productive, to manage tasks and scheduling, and to promote engagement. Choose carefully to avoid employees getting lost in a sea of apps.
Useful tools for hybrid meetings
- Teams, Zoom, Webex, Google Meet. You know them all too well.
- Miro: a simple digital whiteboard to use during hybrid meetings.
- Sli.do: a live poll, Q&A and survey platform for both digital and live meetings with up to 5000 participants.
- MURAL: a digital whiteboard for teams to collaborate visually. During meetings and workshops.
- GreenhatPeople: team building events through gamification. Can be used during live and hybrid events.
👉 For more tools, see this list.
Tools for efficient collaboration
- Trello: a tool for organizing your projects. You can see what everyone is working on and where tasks fall in the overall process.
- Slack: a communication tool for sending reports and files via various channels (for example by team, project, to a specific person or to the whole organization).
- Asana: a collaboration tool where you can track your work using to-do lists, reminders for deadlines and requests to colleagues.
👉 Read this article by TechRadar for more tools.
11. Offer plenty of opportunities for development
Finally, the degree to which employees can learn and develop contributes to how engaged they are at work. This can take the form of formal courses and training sessions. However, to experience a really steep learning curve at work, you want learning to be thoroughly embedded into your daily work tasks.
This means that employees – both managers and team members – need to be constantly engaged in coaching, asking questions, observing and giving feedback. Make time to reflect!
So, no more cubicles; it’s all about Trello boards now. Forget clocking in and out; it’s time to trust employees to get the work done. Swap fluorescent lights for daylight. It’s time for autonomy. Instead of fixed working hours, let employees go surfing when the waves are good and work when the waves are bad.