In a nutshell: Use education, career development and feedback to make sure your employees feel connected to and satisfied by the work they’re doing.

 

Busy employees are happy employees, right?

Well, hopefully. But there’s a difference between busy and engaged. And while busy can be good, engaged is even better.

What does it mean to have engaged employees? It means employees who come to work eager to tackle their job. They understand how their work fits into the overall operation. They see how their efforts help the company succeed.

They feel both valued and satisfied with their job. That, in turn, leads to more success for the company itself.

That’s why encouraging engaged employees is a mainstay of strong leadership.

Why Employee Engagement is Important

In a study conducted by Deloitte of employers, 48 percent said employee engagement and retention is “very important.” About 85 percent of those in leadership positions said the issue is either “important” or “very important.”

The main driver behind this is that employees who are engaged are easier to retain and more productive. Some companies have reported as much as 22 percent higher productivity. They also report lower absenteeism and employee turnover, according to Harvard Business Review. Some also report fewer on-the-job accidents.

That’s led to companies competing against each other to create strong corporate cultures, offer flexible benefits and design better workspaces. With an improving job market, it’s made the issue even more imperative. Workers now have more choices on when and where they want to work.

Education and Training

One of the first — and best — steps an employer can take is to offer employees education and training that both make them better at their job and increase the chances for advancement, potentially into company leadership.

This can happen in many ways. In some cases, speakers are brought in to talk to employees about aspects of their job and industry. Education also can involve setting up training courses that are either held in-house or done by a company-sponsored outside contractor.

Large, successful companies know this pays off in the long run. For example, General Electric and AT&T spend more than $1 billion a year on employee training programs, according to Inc.

On the flip side, Inc. quoted from a survey of employees working for companies with few education and training programs and found that 41 percent planned to leave the company within the next year.

This is a situation where both employees and employers win. Employees, who may work for as many as five or more companies in their career, learn valuable skills that help them adapt to a changing job market. And employers get better trained, more engaged employees who not only become more productive but also have a better chance of staying with the company.

That last part — employee retention — is critical. Retaining good employees not only provides a company with experienced and dedicated workers, but also saves the cost of recruiting and training new employees.

Career Paths

In addition to education and training, providing employees with a clear career path is vital.

How big an issue is this? The Work Institute’s 2018 report on employee retention estimates that 42 million workers will leave their jobs during 2018. And the top reason they gave was the lack of opportunity to learn new skills.

In some cases, cross-training is needed to provide employees a clear career path. That creates a more flexible workforce that can handle many different jobs. It also relieves a lot of the stress for employees concerned they do not have enough advanced job skills.

Cross-training also allows employees to fill in for each other, creating more opportunities for vacations.

Employees also should be encouraged to devise a plan for themselves. What jobs would they eventually like? What training do they need to reach those jobs? Are there training, mentoring or shadowing opportunities available to accomplish their goals?

Employees also should be encouraged not just to look up, but also to the side. Not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder. Sometimes, the best jobs are in other departments or different positions.

Getting Feedback

The drive to improve employee engagement has changed how companies measure the issue. In the past, companies simply conducted annual surveys to determine the overall mood of employees. Now, according to the Deloitte study, more companies are turning to human resources departments for continuous data on company culture.

This allows for decisions to be made quickly and throughout the year.

It’s an issue worthy of the attention. The American Psychological Association found in a recent survey of workers that half are worried about how their jobs are changing and many do not feel they have the support they need from supervisors or the company as a whole. Less than half also reported not feeling motivated to do their work.

Much like constructive criticism that managers give employees, the feedback from employees should be clear, concise and delivered in private, one-on-one meetings. Getting this feedback allows employers to identify problems early and formulate plans to combat them.

Employee engagement is a multi-tiered issue, but one that employers both big and small need to address. The payoff — productive employees who are less likely to quit — is more than worth the effort.

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