Let’s Get Engaged

There are talented people everywhere. In every office, in every position, in every state and country. They’re all contributing to their companies at different levels and in different ways. But maybe they slack off, don’t give their all. They don’t seem as interested, or motivated. It’s a talking point we’ve heard from office managers all over; it a conversation we have within our own walls. How do you improve employee engagement?

If we’re being honest, who can blame those unengaged employees? When you’re just working for a paycheck, a quote from the old classic Office Space comes to mind: “The thing is, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.” It’s obviously not an attitude that companies want any employee to have. On the same hand, neither does anybody employee want to have that attitude; after all, work is what we all spend most of our time doing.

At the end of the day, you’re trying to put together the most kickass team ever assembled in your field. This means not only hiring the best around but also ensuring they’re putting forth their best effort, and that they are actively engaged and motivated every day. There are various ways to think about employee engagement, but this is our favorite: they’re so excited about what they’re working on that they can’t help but talk to their non-work friends about work-related things. 

But how do we get (and keep) people engaged?

How do we encourage employees to be invested, eager, or involved? To be as committed as the people enthusiastically looking forward to that perfect matrimony usually only found in corny movies?

There are a ton of cliches on the topic. Take no offense if you’ve used one (or all) – each has an element of truth to it. Let’s just knock a few out real quick:

  • We think of ourselves as a second family
  • Everybody on the team’s important
  • A bad apple can spoil the bunch
  • It’s all about culture
  • We do things a little different
  • Everybody should love what they’re doing
  • We value diversity of all kinds

Peel away the platitudes

You’ll notice a common theme in all of those tropes: everybody wants to feel wanted, needed, respected. People want to know what they’re doing matters, is making a difference, and is appreciated.

No reason to overthink this.

We say be real. Be appreciative and know what makes each person tick. Some may want company-wide recognition, some may want to go celebrate as a team after accomplishing a big milestone. Some even may loathe the hullabaloo and just appreciate a simple thanks. (Although secretly even the biggest grumpy pants appreciate appreciation.) Employee engagement isn’t something your employees will fight you on – in a way, they want it just as badly as you do.

Everything circles back to encouraging, even demanding, raw honesty

For managers, this could mean using a “Start. Stop. Continue” policy, which means critically critiquing projects every step of the way, and having employees do the same in return. Patty McCord, the chief talent officer who was responsible for putting together the amazing team at Netflix as they skyrocketed through the stratosphere, has stated she believes motivating with challenging work is the biggest motivator in any career.

Beyond this, she argues waiting for annual reviews are detrimental – a dialogue should be continuously running, not from the top down or bottom up, but in every direction. Doing so takes work – it takes the courage to admit when other people’s ideas are better. It means taking the time to understand where each member is coming from. But it’s worth it – it really is. When everybody feels like their voice is heard, that they matter, they’re far more likely to buy in and give it their all.

Honesty and feedback is the only way to get through to everybody

Too often, we think of work as different than anything else in our lives. That there’s a magic solution, how an idea that revolutionized one company should work for ours. We spend our time thinking that the magic formula that makes the grass greener on the other side can be found out there. How amazing would that be? The fact of the matter though? Employee engagement isn’t anything like that.

Think of it like school

Some people like the goofy shit, some are too cool, some are too busy thinking about LEGOs or cooties. Point is, everybody’s different – but they all get along at some point. (Well, until parents and preconceived notions get involved).

That’s weird, right? But it doesn’t have to be; it shouldn’t be. After all, true love never happens on the first date – it takes time to cultivate. You’ve got to work, communicate, and relate in order for that to happen.

Let’s make it personal

Listen. Be real, honest. Transparency means nothing when said. But it makes all the difference in the world when done. Don’t pay lip service to ideas of culture just so you can encourage employee engagement. It’s not even always necessary to talk up or promote a shift towards this line of thinking. After all, actions speak louder than words.

People notice when companies walk the walk, and they want to go to bat for them if they do. There’s something intensely satisfying about being a necessary part of a successful operation. No matter what you’re doing in life, it feels good to win – and you can encourage this engagement by making everybody a part of those victories in a genuine manner. That doesn’t mean ignoring the losses, or brushing them aside. Rather, you can use any losses as mistakes to learn from, not ones to start bickering or pointing fingers over.

So think about yourself

Not in a selfish way, in an empathetic one. You don’t want to be pandered to. You want to be respected, to know your goals and roles and given a high five (or whatever it is) when you nail them.

You’re tired of games and politics, because while they’re impossible to avoid, they’re easily minimized when everybody’s on the same page. You want to be part of a community, just like ones you’re into outside of the office. You want to be respected and valued.

It’s as easy (and hard) as thinking of everybody that way

The thing everybody wants is to feel truly included in something. Doesn’t matter if they’re a boomer, a millennial, Gen Z – it’s a need that every human feels. 

But the truth is, people need to be encouraged to bring their unique perspectives to light. If we’re all forced to act and work the same way, the beauty of the human connection is lost. Differences are what makes every group tick. Celebrating and encouraging them through open dialogue fosters the passion you’re looking for, resulting in surprisingly great, well, results. And a focused team all on the same page. Even if they’re getting to it from different chapters.

Example time!

Let’s take it to a hypothetical micro level. There are two bars. One encourages employees to be themselves, to feel free to think of events and promotions they’re into, to have their own friends come by and chat. The other mandates strict professionalism only allows events the owner wants thought of from outside vendors and discourages fraternizing with the patrons. Which one sounds like a better time?

The same experience can be applied to offices of all sizes. People need to be encouraged to bring their unique perspectives to light – if everybody’s forced to act and work the same way, they don’t feel a connection. Just think about any social group you’re in that you enjoy – not everybody acts, thinks, or believes the same. But those differences are what makes the crew special to everybody in it.

Why does this all matter so much?

If you’re this far along, you already know. Getting talent is just the first step. Keeping them and keeping them interested is a different beast altogether. It’s a little counterintuitive, but when you nail the latter, the former becomes much easier. It’s inevitable for people to talk about work outside of it, and each industry, no matter how big or small, is a little incestuous.

When people are passionate and happy at their job, others are quick to hear about it, and jealously want to join. There’s no secret solution, and every office is different, but it all starts with that honest, open dialogue. Where that takes you is anybody’s guess, but from our experience employee empowerment translates to employee engagement.

From there, it’s up to you.