Five practical ways to increase employee engagement

January 24, 2016
Five practical ways to increase employee engagement

Statistics from a recent review conducted by Deloitte show that only 13% of employees are “highly engaged” at work, and 26% are “actively disengaged”. This means that a staggering 87% of employees fall below the highly engaged benchmark, making employee engagement strategies a significant issue for employers.

So how do you engage your workers? First, it’s essential to understand why it’s necessary. Employee engagement is a measure of an employee’s sense of attachment to and satisfaction with their work and organisation. It contributes to employee motivation to use discretionary or extra effort to further the best interests of the organisation. High employee engagement can increase productivity by decreasing absenteeism and presentism, increasing morale, contribute to employee retention and even improve safety by having highly focused employees.

On the flip side, disengaged employees can negatively affect these factors and ultimately be a liability to an organisation.

Drawing on recent studies and literature in the area and our own expertise in managing workplace solutions, here are five ways employers can go about implementing genuine employee engagement strategies.

1. Start at the top and continue in the middle

An unengaged CEO is unlikely to inspire an organisation no matter how motivated the rest of the management team might be. Positive engagement starts at the top. Positively engaged executives can produce a rippling effect. Employee engagement is a shared responsibility which should not be and cannot be the sole domain of human resources staff.

However, the executive team can only do so much to influence employee engagement. Middle managers have significant influence as they typically have the most direct and regular contact with employees. To maximise employee engagement, middle managers need to play a role that is more than just delivering directions and managing work. High performing managers regularly and directly communicate with employees, assist employees in setting realistic, clear and achievable goals, coach employees to build their strengths and are future and development oriented1.

Organisations would be wise to invest in these managers and equip them with the tools to manage engaged employees. This may include providing them with specific training and mentoring.

2. Reward productivity

Fair and competitive remuneration is undoubtedly important in attracting and retaining quality employees. However, remuneration is not the only key to employee engagement. Research suggests that there is no significant difference in employee engagement between different pay levels2.

Incentive and recognition schemes can be helpful in encouraging employee engagement where they endeavour to strike a balance between rewarding the employee and encouraging contributions that are in the best interests of the business. Short term incentive and recognition programs can often produce immediate results, as there is a short time frame between the work and the reward3.

There are many types of incentive and recognitions programs employers could implement, some may include monetary bonuses, a points system which allows the collection of points to “purchase” a reward, gift cards or social or sporting activities.

3. Provide flexibility

Flexible work arrangements are common today because few modern workplaces need to be restrained by physical locations and times, given the digital nature of much work and advances in technology.

In many cases, employees can be more productive if they have control over how and when they do their work. Arrangements such as flexible working hours, working from home, part-time employment, job sharing and career breaks, can all have a positive effect on employee engagement4.

Flexibility has the benefit of attracting and retaining employees who have particular work / life balance needs, such as caring for children. For example, a recent study has found that women with flexible work arrangements appear to be the most productive workers in the workforce, and that “In an average year, these women effectively deliver an extra week and a half of productive work, simply by using their time more wisely”5.

4. Create opportunities for growth

In order for employees to be engaged in the long term, they must see a developmental path within the organisation in the long term. However, more and more organisations are becoming flatter in structure by generally decreasing the number of management positions, which has in turn decreased the opportunity for traditional promotions.

Organisations need to become smarter and more creative about offering career progression. Aside from traditional promotion, employers should consider how employees can enhance their skills within existing roles. Strategies such as providing opportunities for growth through on-the-job learning, special assignments, job sharing, mentoring or formal education opportunities may achieve these outcomes.

To encourage a culture where career growth is nurtured, organisations should consider rewarding managers who are able to demonstrate that they are focusing on developing their employees.

5. Encourage a positive, healthy and inclusive work environment

While technology makes work easier in many ways, it also means employees can be contacted anywhere at any time. Keeping psychological health in mind, it is now commonplace for many workplaces to offer benefits to encourage positive, healthy and well balanced lives. Such benefits might include free health food, paid gym memberships, access to wellness programs, free dry cleaning services and so on.

An inclusive and diverse workplace allows employees to feel at ease by being themselves at work. However, trust must co-exist with diversity and inclusion in the organisation for there to be a positive effect on employee engagement6.

Legal compliance check list

It goes without saying that a productive and engaged workplace will only operate effectively within a broader framework of workplace law compliance. To achieve optimal employee engagement and also protect the legal interests of the organisation, when implementing employee engagement strategies employers should consider the following check list:

  • Does the organisation have policies and procedures in place that prohibit discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying and do these comply with the latest legal requirements?
  • Do employees receive regular training face to face (at least once a year) on compliance with discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying compliance?
  • Do bonus or incentive reward arrangements need to be included in contracts of employment in a manner that would be enforceable and protect the employer’s interests?
  • Do flexible work arrangements comply with the Fair Work Act and any modern award or enterprise agreement requirements?
  • Does the organisation need a working from home policy that complies with work health and safety obligations so as to reduce accidents and hazards that occur when work is performed away from the traditional workplace?
  • Is it necessary or desirable to include employee engagement benefits and productivity objectives in contracts of employment or an enterprise agreement to attract and retain employees?

1 Aon Hewitt, The multiplier effect: insights into how senior leaders drive employee engagement higher and Deloitte Review, Becoming irresistible, Issue 16, 2015.

2 Gallup, State of the global workplace 2013.

3 HayGroup, The role of rewards in building employee engagement.

4 WorldatWork survey on Workplace Flexibility 2013.

5 Ernst & Young, Untapped Opportunity: The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential, July 2013.

6 “The role of diversity practices and inclusion in promoting trust and employee engagement”, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 45, Issue 1.