How Connection, Care and Leadership can unlock employee engagement

Employee engagement is still a hot topic, but has progress frozen?

Click here to explore David’s thoughts on the global state of employee engagement…

How connection, care and leadership can unlock employee engagement

Employee engagement is still a hot topic, but has progress frozen?

According to recent Gallup data, 85% of employees are either ‘not engaged’ or actively ‘disengaged’ in their job. You might think the global state of employee engagement is a lost cause, but there are things we can do. 

An intimate understanding of your employee community, fostering connection and demonstrating care every day goes a long way to improve engagement. It’s not an ‘us and them’ situation: 71% of executives believe employee engagement is crucial to the success of their business and 74% of employees would be prepared to take a pay cut for a chance to work at their ideal job. ­­­­It seems like everyone is gunning for the same outcome. The answer to employee engagement is to be in it together.

Build Connection

Being in it together means being in touch, not out of touch. That means employers who invest in understanding the lives and lifestyles of employees can prov­ide support and opportunities that their people value. 

‘Support’ and ‘opportunities’ will look different depending on your context. For example, Monzo offers great benefits to enable flexible working and development (all employees have a learning budget of £1,000 a year for books, training courses and conferences). Other companies, like Nokia, with their commitment to close the unexplained pay gap and bring diverse perspectives into their business are creating opportunities by increasing representation and participation from diverse groups of people.

The failsafe approach is to listen, understand and empathise, then design employee solutions from their perspective. Just as customer behaviour dictates service design; employees are a company’s best source of insight when it comes to designing employee experiences that level the playing field, lock in loyalty, and foster lifelong connections. 

Demonstrate Care

At the end of every shift or working day, millions of people return to their homes carrying the emotion of the day with them. For some, the conversation around the dinner table will be upbeat because they’re energised by their work. For others, there will be frustrations to offload or harbour. 

Making sure managers are upskilled and resourced to make the lives of their teams better every day and support their development increases engagement. Great Place to Work found that 37% of employees cite recognition as the driver of great work and 94% of the most engaged employees would stay longer if their company invested in their career development.

Care is shown most tangibly through the daily conversations managers have with their teams. NKD has identified four essential conversations that managers need to be expert at to demonstrate care and support people’s development:

Employee Engagement - conversations model image

Lead Change

Leaders who empower their people everyday lay the foundations for a focused and successful business. The fundamentals of people-leadership are constant, but employee expectations change over time. So too does your business context. 

That means leaders need to keep on learning and refining their focus, skills and behaviours to navigate change and keep people engaged.

Our belief at NKD is that change provides a great engagement opportunity because it chimes with employees needs to be heard, involved and grow. Having fostered connections and demonstrated care as your key engagement strategies, you have created a strong platform of trust. From there, you can involve people in conversations about change rather than protecting them from it. Just like the ‘IKEA effect’, when people have been involved in building change, they are more committed and engaged to deliver it.

Recognise engaging leaders

Being in it together is also about recognising that leaders are employees too. Just half of leaders and managers feel they have enough time to do a quality job, and only 48% feel they can detach from work. A culture of stress permeates an organisation and damages employee engagement.

Recognising great leaders is as much part of employee engagement as recognising great employees at other levels. Here are five traits of engaging leaders to notice and celebrate:

  1. Know others and know themself
  2. Have a growth mindset
  3. Communicate their vision clearly and positively
  4. Are skilled in people-management
  5. Show resilience through change

What’s next for employee engagement?

Right now, many employees are enjoying a buoyant job market but feeling the pressures of inflationary price rises. Hope on the one hand, worry on the other. But even against a backdrop of war, social unrest and economic instability, companies can do a lot to create psychological safety and shape workplaces where employees enjoy their work and develop their careers. 

Engagement will always be a hot topic because we spend so much of our lives at work. Employee engagement is not just a strategic conversation, it’s a fundamentally human one.

Click here to explore more ways discover your inclusive leadership traits…