There's no one winning formula for improving employee engagement or creating employee engagement initiatives, and what works for one organization will differ from what works best for another.
But at IGS Energy, where I serve as the chief people officer, we discovered specific elements that are crucial for achieving success with employee engagement, no matter the initiative.
Take the Pulse of Your Workplace
Before launching any new employee engagement initiatives, gather feedback directly from your employees. How do they feel about your organization and its culture? How are they currently engaging with that culture? What gaps do you need to fill? Knowing how employees feel is especially important in today's hybrid work environment because more traditional feedback channels (i.e., an in-person conversation) may not be available to all employees.
When it comes to gathering this information, it's important to consider both quantitative and qualitative data. One way is by regularly polling your employees through both formal, multi-question surveys like the one offered through Great Place to Work, as well as shorter pulse surveys, which allow you to check in with your workforce and gather key data quickly and consistently.
You can also gather anecdotal feedback through small focus groups, one-on-one conversations, internal channels (including the intranet and internal social media feed), and external channels like Glassdoor. Pay attention to how employees engage with content on channels like LinkedIn, too. A one-off statement about a specific element of your company culture may be exactly the insight you need to move forward with, or re-examine, an engagement initiative.
Create a Sense of Community
It was by gathering candid employee feedback that IGS developed our DEBI (diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion) action plan, as well as IGS Communities, our version of employee resource groups (ERGs). After completing two years of research, focus groups and interviews, we landed on a set of actions and measurements to guide us toward a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
The value of this feedback from our people cannot be overstated. In the past few years, this feedback has also served as the foundation for:
- Pay equity analysis and the launch of a pay transparency initiative.
- The creation of implicit bias training for leaders and employees.
- New mental health benefits offerings for our team.
It's important to communicate regularly and transparently with employees. One way we do this is through a monthly "People Are Why" employee newsletter that features the information our teams need to know now, as well as regular communication related to our financial performance.
Lay a Foundation, Then Let Employees Lead the Way
When we launched IGS Communities in 2021, we knew it was essential that our employees have as much input as company leaders. These resource groups, after all, exist to support our people and are created and led by employees.
Our Communities offer a platform for traditionally underrepresented employees to have a collective voice and be able to discuss and amplify the issues that matter most to their communities. Our current Communities include IGS Pride (supporting LGBTQ+ employees), Living La Vida Latinx (supporting Latino employees), Melanin Moments (supporting Black and African American employees), and the IGS Women's Network. New groups are developed when employees identify and voice a need.
To ensure the success of an employee group, company leadership must provide the necessary assistance and resources. One way to do this is to ensure each community has structure and a set of goals and outcomes they're focused on. IGS Communities are also required to have a leader/sponsor who lends support and guidance, and each group receives a budget to support their programming, events, supplies and resources.
Focus on Authenticity—and Keep Initiatives Voluntary
Whether it's an onsite happy hour, a weekend event designed to engage employees' families, or the activities created by our IGS Communities, engagement initiatives at IGS are voluntary. Our goal is to foster moments of connection, which is accomplished best when our people have the freedom to engage where and when it works for them. Keeping these groups voluntary guarantees that those who join do so because they genuinely want to, and the participation adds value to their lives.
Creating a more engaged workplace requires time, conversation, education, and a willingness to take the right actions and remove barriers to success. In starting with employee feedback, you're ensuring that, at minimum, your employee engagement efforts are meeting an authentic employee need.
Jenni Kovach is the chief people officer at IGS Energy, a natural gas and electric supplier based in Ohio.