Employee engagement: getting the best from your people

Everyone seems to be talking about employee engagement. While most employers would agree they would like to see high levels of commitment and engagement from their workforce, for many it has become the Holy Grail of management.


Employee engagement is about creating opportunities for employees to connect with their colleagues, managers and wider organization. It is also about creating an environment where employees are motivated to connect with their work and really care about doing a good job.

We probably all know instinctively that committed employees are much more productive and act as great ambassadors for the brand. They’re less likely to take sick leave. And, they’re more likely to remain loyal.

An employee engagement program is good for your staff and for business. Here are the things you need to consider in putting one in place.

1. Effective leadership is key.

Effective leadership is important if you want to maintain a high level of employee engagement. These are some of the characteristics you expect leaders to display:

  • It’s critical that the boss shows that they value their employees. After all, employee engagement is a huge reflection of how the employee feels about their boss.
  • If you offer opportunities for employees, they are far more likely to be engaged with their job and the organization.
  • Clarity of communication is vital. Employees need to understand the vision of the company, why it’s important, and what their role is in achieving it.
  • Congratulating success and achievements, while showing how employees are contributing to the success of the organization in a meaningful way, is paramount.
  • Working in teams can be far more productive than working on an individual basis. Leaders need to be team-builders and create an environment that fosters trust and collaboration.
  • Leaders should show confidence in decision-making and uphold high ethical standards to maintain their company’s reputation.

2. Show you have a plan.

Whether in good times or bad, it’s essential that employees are made aware of your company strategy. It’s very difficult for employees to feel engaged if they don’t truly understand the direction the organization is moving in, or why. As well as creating a confused and nervous workforce, this stores up problems for the future.

Be transparent about your plans and in communicating your long-term strategy. Not only will you ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal, you demonstrate your confidence in the organization’s future as it focuses on what you can do, rather than what you can’t — particularly vital in times of economic uncertainty. The result will be a committed and confident workforce who see themselves as an integral part of your long-term plan and vision.

3. Create a sense of purpose.

Employees need to feel a sense of purpose for being at work, a reason and motivation as to why they come in every day and work for someone else. The public sector is often seen as a flag-bearer for getting this right as it naturally attracts employees who want to make a difference to the wider community. But the private sector can achieve the same commitment from its employees as long as the company’s values and purpose are clearly communicated. By understanding and believing in what the company stands for, seeing the value in its goods or services and seeing these delivered ethically and to a high standard, employees will have a clear sense of purpose and will feel more impassioned and committed to their objectives. Instilling a sense of purpose amongst your employees will ultimately give them the desire to contribute and really make a difference, which in turn will lead to higher motivation and productivity levels.

4. Employee performance management.

Your employees want to know where they stand and how they are doing. And they deserve to know too. Regular feedback on both an informal and formal basis is essential. Creating an ongoing dialogue around agreeing to reasonable (yet stretching) goals and performance improvements is a necessary part of any manager’s role.

Good performance management should be supportive, intended to bring out the best in people. All too often it is seen as the remedial action — and in some cases even a rather blunt tool for weeding out your poorer performers. But using performance management to manage out the under-performers is just as likely to scare off your best performers too. In an ideal world your performance management should go beyond the set-piece appraisals. Cultivate a culture that values open and actionable conversations.

5. Values and culture.

An organization’s values are its DNA. They define how the business behaves and what it intrinsically stands for. If your employees share these same values, of course they are more likely to believe in the organization.

While recruiting professionals who identify with your corporate values is a good start, your organizational culture must empower them in practice. A firm that prides itself on teamwork is likely to stifle its people if collaborative working isn’t actively encouraged, recognized, or barriers to it aren’t removed. By fostering the type of environment where your chosen values can be lived, breathed and tangibly demonstrated, you are more likely to motivate your people to want to connect with their work.

6. Know what success looks like.

It’s human nature to aspire, whether personally, socially or professionally. So clearly communicate the vision of where your organization wants to be, and how every member of staff plays a part in achieving that aspiration by upholding the corporate strategy.

Painting a picture of what success looks like — at an individual, team, divisional and corporate level — will help keep it real and ultimately achievable. Ensure there are milestones and make these even more tangible by showcasing individual and corporate successes along the way. Charting progress and recognizing key milestones will help foster unilateral positivity, pride and a sense of achievement.

7. Offer recognition.

Having an ongoing programme for recognizing employees can be effective in creating a culture of appreciation and a highly motivated workforce. And, recognizing employees doesn’t need to be an expensive exercise. It’s often the personal touch which makes all the difference.

However you do it, it should be linked to your company mission or vision. It’s also important to encourage employees at all levels to openly and visibly recognize their colleagues, not always relying on the management team to be responsible for making it happen. Get your approach to recognition right and it could improve your financial performance. Research suggests there is a direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, and between customer satisfaction and improved financial performance.

8. Empowerment.

People will flourish in an environment that builds independence, self-belief and personal achievement. As a manager, it is your responsibility to allow your people to be participative, involved, accountable, encouraged and to get on with the tasks they think they should be doing — to be treated like an adult no matter where they sit in the hierarchy. Giving your employees the leeway and encouragement to succeed is an essential building block of engagement.

Focus on the results, rather than detailing exactly how the work should be done. Helping others to reach their true potential doesn’t come easily to every manager, but micromanaging is a sure fire way of turning your employees off. Learn to strike the balance between giving your people enough space to use their abilities to best effect, while still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure that the job is done correctly and effectively.

9. What to communicate.

It is reasonable for employees to expect to be kept informed. The alternative is a rumour mill.

Employers need to think about what they are going to communicate. Show respect for your employees by not covering up bad news with positive spin or most people will be able to see straight through you — tell it how it is. Employees will not be able to help their department or company to proactively embrace change if they are not made aware of the situation, what senior management’s view is, and what the benefits of your chosen course of action will be.

You need to be able to tell your employees what you expect of them, sympathise with their situation and publically recognise individual and team performances. In short, communicate as much as possible about as much as possible. And don’t worry about repeating yourself. Constant reinforcement of key messages improves memory and understanding.

10. How to communicate.

There’s no doubt about it: face to face communication is always the best — and particularly when times are challenging. Make good use of your line managers. Employees are far more likely to believe what their immediate boss tells them than the senior management. Line managers can listen, debate and connect on an emotional level with their teams, which is vital to building and maintaining trust.

Constant reinforcement of key messages on a daily basis is essential. Email and particularly dialogue are crucial for engagement. Make appropriate use of all available media. Company intranets, blogs, social networks, team briefings and newsletters all have their place.

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