5 Steps to Improve Employee Engagement

Business owner and employees

One of the key factors to running a successful business is knowing how to engage and motivate your employees. Having an engaged workforce can promote employee retention and productivity, foster customer loyalty and improve organizational performance.

While some methods of employee engagement, such as raising wages and offering more expansive health and retirement benefits, aren’t always possible for every small business right away, there are many simple and cost-effective ways that employers can prioritize employee engagement.

In this article, Pursuit partner Pacific Community Ventures offers five practical steps from their new toolkit, Good Jobs, Good Business, to help small business owners create and maintain jobs that will boost employee engagement and their business’s bottom line.  

1. Create a culture of mutual respect and trust

When employees feel respected and trusted, they’re more loyal to their employer and more invested in their work. When employees feel a sense of loyalty and respect, they’re more likely to stay at a business long-term, have a dependable attendance record, provide high-quality customer service, and recruit their friends to join the company.

Here are a couple of ways you can create a culture of trust and respect at your company:

Enable an open dialogue between employees and management/ownershipCompanies that report high levels of employee engagement often allow employees to speak with management or the owner(s) whenever they want. Providing an open opportunity for your employees to communicate challenges, ask questions, or seek advice from you or your managers demonstrates mutual respect.

Encourage employee participation. Most employees want to feel empowered to make decisions and have a degree of ownership in the work they do. Productivity and engagement increase when employees have a say in how they perform their role. Actively and regularly asking for employee input on ways to improve efficiency can go a long way in motivating and empowering employees.

Recognize employee success. According to a Gallup study, companies that do a good job when it comes to employee recognition have 19% less turnover than ones who don’t.

2. Identify key success metrics – and connect them to employees’ roles

Sharing critical metrics with employees helps to create broad-based involvement and a sense of ownership for employees. It’s important that your workers understand the metrics you use, the targets you’re aiming for, and the key drivers of success, and that you regularly communicate progress toward the goals to everyone. Communicating these numbers with all staff in regular company meetings, email updates, or via a scoreboard in a widely visible location creates an environment of accountability and helps to provide targeted motivation toward specific goals.

The key to effective engagement around metrics is helping employees understand how their own individual roles and responsibilities impact these numbers. When employees can see how their day-to-day actions can influence the overall mission and business results, it creates a sense of motivation and meaning in the work. Better yet, business owners can give employees a stake in the outcome by providing incentives such as bonuses for meeting specific targets or profit-sharing opportunities.

3. Enable employees to innovate and participate in decision-making

When employees are encouraged to innovate, they’re more likely to enjoy their jobs and feel loyal to their company. By providing a setting that encourages innovation and openness to your employees’ ideas, you can help them to feel that they have an impact on the success of the business.

Whether it’s hosting brainstorming sessions or creating an ongoing open dialogue, you can create opportunities for innovation by openly sharing business challenges or new opportunities. To support employees in offering valuable ideas, it’s helpful to share your understanding of business challenges, pinpoint root causes, discuss the constraints of current approaches, and clearly articulate the end goal.

4. Emphasize core values

Communicating your business’s unique core values to your employees early and often helps to encourage a culture where employees understand and embody the values. Core values can include a positive attitude, high-quality customer service, open communication – whatever works well for your business and your goals.

Consider these ways of engaging employees in the core values of your business:

Start the messaging earlyWhen on-boarding new employees, you should start communicating the importance of the values, and even have workers sign a mission and values statement.

Reinforce the values. After onboarding, you can continue to reinforce these values through ongoing trainings, email communications, and visual signage.

Make it rewarding. Many businesses have had success with employee recognition programs, where leadership or staff nominate employees on monthly, quarterly, or annual bases who demonstrate the business’s core values. Winners then receive an incentive such as a bonus or an extra day of paid time off.

 5. Encourage employee growth

Supporting your workers growth and development is critical to building a productive and engaged workforce. Tactics to help employees grow vary by business, but here are a few ways to make employees feel like they’re growing with the company:

Set clear goals and expectations. It’s key for you and your managers to set defined and realistic performance expectations for your employees. These goal-setting conversations are most effective during initial employee onboarding, as well as during periodic performance reviews.

Help employees succeed. As a business owner, it’s helpful to understand that problems with scheduling, childcare, health and transportation, can impact your employee’s levels of engagement and success. Be open to working with your employees on ways to effectively manage and mitigate these issues and obstacles.

Provide one-on-one time between employees and managers. When owners or managers spend time with employees on a one-on-one basis, employees feel more engaged. If possible, regular check-ins between employees and managers can help to create an engaged and equitable work environment.

Map out how employees can advance in their careers. Potential for employee advancement may vary depending on the size of your business. Regardless of size, there are many ways to support employee development. If possible, consider providing opportunities for employees to:

  • Communicate with you regularly about their career goals during check-ins or reviews
  • Engage with an expert in the field or participate in a formal mentorship program
  • Take on increasing levels of responsibility – either in their role, or by periodically filling in for higher-level roles
  • Work with and learn from staff in other parts of your business (e.g., different locations, different functions, different seniority levels)
  • Teach other employees how to perform a specific task or responsibility
  • Allow them to take on or participate in special projects
  • Provide feedback on managerial decisions
  • Pursue coursework and outside training and professional development programs with tuition reimbursement
  • Attend relevant industry events and conferences

It’s OK to ask for help getting started

Meet with an expert or get advice from a peer. If you’d like additional guidance, various public and nonprofit services can connect you to advisors with personal experience running a small business, including SBA Small Business Development Centers, Pursuit’s business advisory services and Pacific Community Ventures’ free BusinessAdvising.org platform. It connects small business owners like you from anywhere in the country with experienced pro bono business advisors who can offer ongoing advice on a range of issues, including HR, marketing, IT, operations, and other small business concerns. To find other services in your area, visit the SBA’s “Local Assistance” page.

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