HR professional Tara Wolckenhauer, who has two decades of experience, offers her insights to help small business owners spark engagement among employees.
Your employees play a critical role in the success of your business. That's why having an engaged workforce is critical. In fact, a Harvard Business Review report found that more than 70 percent of executives believe employee engagement is very important to achieving organizational success.
Having worked in human resources for more than two decades, Tara Wolckenhauer knows the importance of an engaged workforce. Wolckenhauer currently serves as a division vice president of enterprise-wide HR functions at ADP.
We recently spoke with Wolckenhauer about employee engagement and what steps you can take to boost it among your staff.
Q. How do you define employee engagement?
A. Employee engagement, to me, means an all-around commitment by employees to their work, the values of the company and its people. Engaged employees are all in and feel they are part of something bigger. They understand that the job is hard sometimes, but because they love their job and are engaged in the work, they feel connected to the company's mission, products, and people.
Q. What are the benefits of keeping employees engaged?
A. The biggest benefit of an engaged workforce is having employees that are committed to the company and the work product. Engaged employees are active contributors and pursue proactive work. They are the idea generators. Engaged associates also stick around. They are usually the top talent on teams that companies want to retain.
According to a study from the ADP Research Institute, the work itself, work hours and flexibility are among the top reasons people stay with a company. Knowing that, managers need to make sure employees have clearly defined goals when it comes to their work, that employees feel supported and know they can turn to their supervisor for coaching and help.
Q. What are the dangers that come from an unengaged staff?
A. With a disengaged staff, you run the risk that people just don't care – they are not committed to the company, its values or its financial well-being.
Associates that are not engaged often feel hopeless and that their work doesn't matter. They may not seek to advance their career and lack the feeling that they are part of something bigger. They are also the people looking to leave. The number of flight risks increases when employees don't feel that sense of connection to your company or its mission.
Q. How do you know if you have employees who are engaged? What signs should you look for?
A. Sometimes it's tough to tell who is and who is not engaged, but there are signs that employers and managers should look for.
When employees are engaged, they show up to work on time and want to be involved. They ask questions, volunteer, attend extracurricular activities and raise their hands for extra assignments.
Engaged employees also express interest in their career paths and what comes next. They ask their managers what they should do more of to advance their careers and are always learning how to better themselves.
Q. What tips do you have for businesses trying to increase employee engagement?
A. To increase engagement, businesses really need to know their associates and understand what makes them tick. What makes them happy? A common misconception I see is companies adding items like ping pong tables to offices, but does that really make their employees happy? In some cases, based on the company culture, it does; other times, I don't believe it helps in the way they think it does.
Engagement can be activated through the type of work, growth opportunities or other activities outside the office that allow employees to get to know each other.
Employers should solicit ideas regularly from their associates to make sure they are meeting their people's needs. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a lunchtime picnic or a yoga class.
Once companies know what people like, it is easier for managers to ensure that employees are sharing in the journey and are a part of the greater solution.
Q. Whose responsibility is it to ensure employees stay engaged? Is it upper management, direct supervisors, the employees themselves? All of the above?
A. A lot of the responsibility falls on managers, but it's also on employees to make sure they are showing up in the right way. Employees need to ask themselves, "Am I in the right job? Am I asking for the right work?"
A lot of this is also on managers to ensure that employees are asking themselves these questions. Managers should make sure that they are being as honest as possible when recruiting candidates, such as in job descriptions, to ensure that candidates are clear on what they are signing up for.
Q. Are there any tools you should use to monitor or boost employee engagement?
A. At ADP, we recently started using StandOut, Powered by ADP, which is a talent-activation solution that helps people identify where their strengths lie and then enables them to work with their team leader to do more of what they love. [Related: Interested in HR Outsourcing Services?Check out our best picks.]
The key to engagement and performance is enabling your people to play to their strengths every day. With StandOut, team leaders and associates have frequent, regular check-ins to ensure alignment on top priories and connect individual strengths to those priorities.
In addition to tools like StandOut, I think the most effective method is still the one-on-one check-ins between managers and associates. These conversations are key to understanding whether employees are engaged.
Competition for talent is high right now, which can lead to lower employee loyalty. When you consider that job hopping is at an all-time high, that 42 percent of employees are open to the idea of a new job, and 66 percent are actively looking, it's now more important than ever that organizations focus on ways to develop and engage their top talent.
Ensuring that managers have these touchpoints regularly, even if it's just for 15 minutes a week, allows them to keep a better pulse on employee engagement.