5 Actions That Spark Employee Engagement

Countless studies have shown that a happy workforce is more productive than a dissatisfied one. When a company can turn itself into a community, miraculous things happen. Unity takes hold and the company’s goals become the individual’s goals. Word gets out the company is a great place to work, and that it in turn helps it to attract even more stellar talent. A perpetual workplace culture of talent is created.

I see this dynamic at play over and over in the companies that I work with. For some leaders, building this level of engagement comes naturally. For others it’s a real daily challenge.

The following five steps are relatively simple, practical and doable. Leaders of all shapes and sizes can start today:

Engage: In this era of social media, leadership by walking around may sound like an anachronism. But guess what? It works. There is simply no substitute for being seen and heard in person. So make time every day – I recommend at least an hour – to get out there, introduce yourself to your people, ask them how things are going, solicit their input and suggestions. I’m not talking about getting all huggy or making best friends. I’m talking about engaging people with respect, curiosity, and admiration.

When a company can turn itself into a community, miraculous things happen.

Recognize: When someone does good work, recognize and reward it. I can be something as simple as a “thank you” or it can be a bonus check. Avoid cheesy plaques and gift certificates to the Olive Garden, they scream generic and not genuine. If possible customize the reward to the individual. If Allan is a foodie, give him a six-week cooking course. If Pam is a Red Sox fanatic give her box seats for a game at Fenway. Whatever the reward, make sure everyone knows it. A little celebration never hurts. And never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note. It is, quite simply, one of the most effective business tools in existence.

Be honest: In this day and age, employees have finely tuned bullshit meters. Never lie, dissemble or prevaricate. When a leader is dishonest, respect and trust go out the window. And they’re triply hard to earn back. We can accept bad news far more easily when it’s delivered to us with simple honesty and respect. Look people in the eye and tell them the truth.

Nurture: As you see your community growing more unified and productive, looks for ways to nurture it. Arrange group classes and outings, preferably based on suggestions from community members. Pay for advanced schooling. Establish on-site yoga, meditation, and exercise classes. Supply wholesome food (and the occasional tray of killer brownies). A workplace isn’t home, don’t pretend it is. But to the greatest extent possible make it a safe, fun, energizing place where everyone’s best self can flourish.

And never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note.

Delegate: If all or some of the above are truly and honestly out of your wheelhouse, don’t force it. It’s awkward and embarrassing to see a leader with poor social skills try and be “one of the gang”. If you’re lousy at personal engagement, delegate the interface to someone who is a natural. That said, you must let everyone know why you’re delegating. Just be honest and admit your shortcoming. It’s very disarming. Your people will “get it”. Yes, their leader is brilliant in certain things and not so great in others. That admission alone is an act of employee engagement.

Companies at their best are wondrous, multifaceted organisms that benefit all their stakeholders, and the world at large. Leading them is an exciting, even thrilling, challenge. It simply can’t be done without full-throttle engagement with everyone in the organization. Let’s get to work (and have some fun doing it PLEASE).

Note from the team at ExchangeGain. Meghan co-authored a book over at Lead Change Group. It’s a collection of perspectives on the importance of character-based leadership. Check it out.

Image credit: eskay / 123RF Stock Photo

Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized HR + technology analyst, brand strategist, author, speaker and social media champion. She is founder of TalentCulture and hosts #WorkTrends a popular Twitter Chat and podcast every Wednesday. Her storied career spans across recruiting, HR technology and brand management for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She has been a guest on numerous radio and television shows and has been a featured speaker at global HR and technology conferences. Meghan co-authored The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time. Meghan regularly serves on advisory boards and committees for leading HR and technology brands.

  • Al Smith

    Wow. Thanks Meghan. Simply one of the best I have read in awhile. I can only hope that leaders will not only read this, but maybe put these 5 simple suggestions into practice. What a difference it makes, when leaders show they CARE.
    Thanks again for all you do. Your writing and posts are fantastic.

  • Jim Naleid

    Meghan…I’m weary of the all of the ‘numbered’ lists of best this and that, but I couldn’t pass by your blog today and it is spot on! I’ve Linked, Twittered and Face-booked it and will be making sure all of my executive clients also get a copy. Thanks!

  • johanngauthierakamrrenaissance

    Happiness and performance go hand in hand doesn’t it? Absolutely! Thanks Meghan for setting remarkable standards on a daily basis for all of us! YOU are an inspiration!

  • TedCoine

    Meghan, Impatient little kid that I am, I’ve hated to wait for this post to come to fruition: I knew it would be worth the wait, and you have exceeded my already-high expectations! Brava, my friend, Brava. You prove once again that you are all about “actionable inspiration,” not just nice fluffy thoughts.

    On the handwritten note: Jack Welch taught us that in “Winning,” and I’m honored to say he once proved it to me as well. If he could take time from his schedule running one of the world’s largest multinationals, I think the rest of us can find the time as well.

    Thanks for the great ideas. Hopefully, more than a few people will USE them, too!

  • Chris Galloway

    Thanks for your post, Meghan. Authenticity and connection are the prerequisites to happiness and engagement, and too often we are resorting to technology to do the connecting for us. That just doesn’t work (and I know because I work in the online recognition and rewards industry)! The fact is, it takes a personal approach to win hearts and minds.
    Like it or not, we are all in the people business and we all have internal human drives to connect and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Your message is spot on, and so needed in our work lives!

  • Tim Ryan

    meghan – thanks for the fun and helpful post; but, i would argue that the olive garden salad and breadstick combo with a bottle of chianti make for a great meal:)

    i like the reminder for leaders to walk about the office/company and engage with employees. you’re right about the bs meter too: trust can only be created through consistency and honesty.

    i also like the suggestion to give simple forms of recognition and rewards that are transparent and personalized. a simple pat on the back and a thank you can make someone’s day. we just blogged about the different types of recognition and ideas for giving it without it being weird: https://youearnedit.com/blog/7741-11-ways-to-give-recognition/


    tim ryan

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  • Megan Rene Burkett

    As always- great post Meghan. Although these steps are a great way for leader’s to spark engagement I would also make them a call to action for employees to apply. I think employees can empower their own engagement and applying these perspectives/ approaches equips them for a more engaged work experience on a daily basis. Let the community build some healthy peer pressure :)

  • Michael Clark

    Thank you, Meghan!

    This piece is crystal clear and completely actionable.

    If any leader in any organization engages your 5 actions, transformation is guaranteed.

    What more do we need to know?

    All that’s left is to do and be the words.

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  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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