Employee engagement—the act of getting employees to feel connected to, and enthusiastic about, their jobs—is vital to productivity. Engaged employees become engaged leaders who inspire those around them. To foster engagement, you must walk the talk: How you behave shows the truth of your company as much as, if not more than, what you say. And if you haven’t engaged people from the outset, you may have a more difficult time down the line.
Begin at the interview. By emphasizing how the company conducts its business and why that matters, managers help potential employees understand what they’re getting into. This gives interviewees the chance to withdraw if the corporate culture doesn’t appeal to them, or to shine if it does.
When joining a company that has an established brand, employees should come in with expectations that match the company’s and engage in its culture straight away.
Show, don’t tell. No matter what a manager says during recruitment, the interviewee will notice if there are nonverbal cues that don’t match up. If your recruitment process is formal, with multiple layers of screening, assessments and interviews, don’t say the culture is casual and flexible. If the culture is informal and collaborative, make sure the hiring process reflects that. Take a good look at your recruitment strategies. Do they reflect the kind of person the organization wants to attract?
Include an office tour as part of the process, to give recruits a chance to see if the office is quiet, with employees working solo, or if there is a lot of activity and loud discussion. Create opportunities for candidates to talk with employees as well as managers so they can see for themselves that your company is a great place to work.
Employees who are fully engaged in your business are likely to work harder and to act as ambassadors for your brand. But engagement can also ensure the longevity of your workforce by supporting retention. This is particularly vital as the economy picks up, when the first to leave are likely to be the most talented.
Welcome them to the club. Think about what happens when you meet new people socially. The experience of being introduced into a tight-knit group of friends can be alienating: Their close bond and inside jokes can make you feel excluded.
The same can happen in organizations. The richer and more engaging your workplace is, the more satisfying it will be for existing employees. But this also means new recruits are more likely to feel left out. As you induct people into the organization, make sure to help them settle in, join social outings and learn the intricacies of your corporate culture as well as the practicalities.
A company social media space, whether it’s an in-house design or a private space on an existing platform, can help to create connections within the organization. It’s a natural place to build mentor-mentee links, provide incentives for work and let employees update others on their progress. By connecting social systems with work progress and encouraging interaction, you can help make the workplace more than just a 9-to-5 grind.
Personalize things. As much as technology and social media can help people make connections, they can also hurt relationship-building. Put down the mobile devices and engage with new employees personally. Go to lunch. Find out what matters to the employee and then use that to tailor how you manage and reward her. Treating employees as replaceable cogs in a wheel is a sure way to demoralize and disengage them. Standard operating procedures, policies and structures are important, but so is knowing when to be flexible.
Just be careful to offer everyone this type of personalization, and be open about the process to avoid creating jealousy among existing employees.
Engagement can shift with workload, season and time of day. So don’t assume that the way you managed and rewarded an employee when she started will work a year or two later. Stay engaged with the process yourself, constantly looking for ways to update your approach.
Engaging employees can be very time-consuming. As a manager, you will need to find the right balance between the time you invest and the benefits of a more engaged workforce. If you use these techniques to fully engage your new employees, the time it takes for them to add value to the organization will drop dramatically. What you get back will be productive, positive employees who stick with you—priceless.
Mark Lukens is a founding partner of Method3, a management consulting firm in Camp Hill, Pa.