If your organization has room to improve when it comes to employee engagement, you’re in good company.

As I discussed last month, there’s ample evidence that most U.S. workers are at least somewhat disengaged at work. Changing this begins with an understanding that respect is at the core of employee engagement. At the best companies, respect for the organization, its leadership, their co-workers and their work bonds employees to the company and gives them a passion for what they do. However, knowing what undergirds employee engagement is just the start. It’s also important to know what specifically must be done to foster it. Here are a few keys to success:

• Know the current state. Most organizations assume their employees are engaged, but the statistics cited above indicate that only a minority of companies are correct. Do you know where you stand, or are you just guessing? If the latter, it’s critical to do an objective study to know what your employees really think.

• Build your employer brand. If you want your employees to respect your organization, you need to tell your story. This includes sharing employee testimonials, keeping an eye on your employer reputation and responding to reviews on sites like Glassdoor, aligning employee recruitment and retention with your public relations efforts, and making a good first impression via your onboarding plan — all key ways to instill pride in your employees.

• Know the leader’s role in communication. Great leaders take every opportunity to reinforce the mission, vision and values; listen to employees when they identify what’s getting in the way; and make changes where needed. The listening component is what matters most, however — and it’s the principal way in which leaders earn respect.

• Schedule recurring check-ins to improve communication. Often, what’s really on an employee’s mind can get lost in focus on day-to-day details, so recurring check-ins are a good antidote to this. Meet with each of your direct reports weekly, or monthly at minimum, and focus on their priorities, how you can help and how well equipped they are to progress toward their goals.

• Understand and openly discuss differences among your team members. Everyone knows that teams are stronger when they are diverse in skills, knowledge and work styles. It’s much less common, however, to leverage that diversity. Tools like DISC can generate productive discussion about your team’s differences and how they can work through them.

• Clarify responsibilities and hold team members accountable. Disrespect among team members is sometimes the result of misunderstandings about who is responsible for what, and respect for leadership can erode when it appears that the rules aren’t the same for everyone. Make responsibilities, roles and expectations clear so there’s less competition internally and less opportunity for misunderstanding.

• Give individual credit when warranted but reinforce the team’s contributions. Just as it’s important to assign responsibility, it’s equally important to acknowledge successes achieved by specific team members. To avoid hard feelings, though, always keep in mind the people who contribute, even in small ways, to these successes.

• Insist on all voices being heard and reward voices of dissent. To get the most out of your team, you must create an environment that encourages them to share ideas, voice concerns and embrace healthy conflict. This is easier said than done, especially given their different personalities. To ensure you’re tapping into their knowledge and perspectives, draw out those who are quiet and show your team, by example, that its OK, and even good, to voice contrary opinions.

• Invest in training. One of the primary drivers of employee engagement is the degree to which a company invests in its employees. If you provide them with training, they’ll be better equipped to do their jobs and see you as a partner in their professional development. If you don’t, they’ll see you as an impediment to it. Yes, training can be expensive, but not nearly as much as recruiting new employees to replace those you didn’t train.

• Empower your employees. Oversight is necessary to get new employees up and running, but as they demonstrate competency they should be given more and more autonomy. This not only improves productivity, but it gives your team members more ownership of their work.

As this implies, achieving high levels of employee engagement isn’t easy. However, in today’s hyper-competitive environment, there is truly no alternative, and no simple solutions. Either keep pace with companies on the leading edge of engagement, or be prepared for them to recruit your best talent.

ANTHONY JULIANO is a marketing and social media strategist, teacher, trainer and writer. He is vice president of marketing and social media strategy at Asher Agency in Fort Wayne, and he teaches social media and marketing classes at Indiana Tech and Purdue University Fort Wayne. Connect with him at LinkedIn.com/in/anthonyjuliano or via email at anthonyj@asheragency.com.

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