Keeping employees engaged is a no-brainer when it comes to ensuring the success of a company. Aside from the plethora of research supporting it, even employees themselves will tell you that when they are engaged, they are top notch.
According to Gallup, "[more than] 70 percent of American workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work, which is costing the U.S. economy $450 billion to $550 billion annually."
Sure enough, academic research on employee engagement supports this notion. In fact, an MIT Sloan Management Review research paper offered significant evidence that "high levels of employee engagement are associated with higher rates of profitability growth."
The obvious follow-up question becomes: how can companies and management increase employee engagement? After surveying the research, there seem to be three primarily strong strategies in which there is much evidence of increased engagement:
- Goal setting
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Everyone knows that setting goals is a basic, important tenet for any job. But it is the type of goal which matters most. Setting hyper-specific goals for employees to reach is extra-effective because employees can hit them quickly. Instead of a yearly goal, or even quarterly, an executive or manager would be wise to set up monthly or even weekly goals. The feeling of fast completion and possible reward is enough to have an employee feeling satisfied and ultimately engaged, on a relatively ongoing basis.
Google has been using a particular goal setting system known as the OKR system, adopted from Intel. It stands for Objectives and Key Results, and its goals are made to be particularly ambitious as well as easily quantifiable. Google has about four to six OKR's per quarter, which fits the bill of bi-weekly goals, thus aiding the flow of constant engagement for an employee.
A Gamified Workplace
Don't confuse gamification with games, or even game-based learning. The notion of gamification in the workplace is a different animal than the standard gamification of learning, as corporate gamification is indeed a strategy that companies can use to splice elements of gameplay within actual work tasks. This ultimately improves attention and engagement.
There are a few operational definitions of gamification. Corporate gamification, as defined by eLearning Mind, is "the craft of applying the best parts of gameplay, the mechanics and experience design that trigger intrinsic motivation factors and emotional connection, to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve certain behaviors or goals." This takes the psychological enjoyment of playing a standard video game and applying it to a corporate task for an employee to enjoy.
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On a broader level, there is the idea of enterprise gamification, as explained by Cognizant: "At an organizational level, gamification needs to be integrated with the enterprise architecture. It is not a process that works in silos. Leaders need to set their expectations and put the right person in charge of the process, which would be someone with sensitivity to human behavior and experience relating the gamification process to the company’s values." Sure, gamification is important, but only effective if executed by someone who understands both human behavior and the company's values.
A research paper by Dr. Ian Glover from Sheffield Hallam University, titled Play As You Learn: Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners provides great insight as to the motivating factors behind gamification. The primary takeaway from gamification research is that gamifying specific tasks within the workplace can and will increase employee engagement, which as we know, increases productivity.
Transparency from the Top
Transparency is an often forgotten workplace idea when it comes to an engagement strategy. Academic research, however, is rather clear about the value of transparency across all spectrums. In an article for Leadership Quarterly titled The mediating effects of leader integrity with transparency in communication and work engagement/performance, Gretchen R. Vogelgesanga, Hannes Leroyb, & Bruce J. Avoliod conducted a three-month study in which they found overwhelming evidence that leader transparency improved employee engagement, which in turn increased performance:
"Our findings show that followers who rated their leaders as exhibiting more transparent communication (at the outset), also rated themselves as more engaged in their work role (three weeks later)." The paper goes on to state that those employees experiencing increased engagement ultimately performed better.
The general rule with transparency, as touched on by the Leadership Quarterly article, is that transparency starts with the C-Suite, and inevitably trickles down through all levels of management. Fortune.com sums it up best: If the CEO and executive team actively practice open dialogues that include discussing the impact their choices and behaviors will have in the workplace, others will follow. As a result, it will create a healthier and more productive work environment.
Of course, transparency can manifest in other ways. Take Facebook, for example. Their open area work environment encourages transparency by a sheer lack of privacy. Another extreme but positive example is Buffer, in which transparency includes listing employees' salary and equity.
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Engagement is Key
As outlined above, productivity is directly connected to employees who feel engaged with both the tasks at hand as well as the management divvying up the work. Through goal setting, elements of gamification, and wide-ranging transparency, an organization can raise their levels of engagement at a rapid and fulfilling pace.