The mantra of work these days is to do more with less, which means companies are hyper-focused on hiring and fostering highly productive employees. They throw in surface-level perks like Margarita Mondays, ping pong tables and more in hopes of driving up engagement and ultimately better business results. What companies should really be striving for is authentic, true employee engagement with a culture that supports it. We know that engaged employees show passion, drive, optimism and resilience, but their sustained engagement relies on organizational support and culture.
Have you thought about how well your culture supports employee engagement? Is it working for or against engagement? Creating a culture that supports well-being and engagement is crucial to the success of your business. Culture is the collective values, norms and beliefs of your organization, also known as “how things are done around here.” While it can be hard to define, the key is that your culture needs to align with the engagement climate you’re creating.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is the engine of the organization—the way stuff happens, the way results are achieved, because of the energy people have from being engaged. That burst of energy you feel comes from a deep sense of purpose and connection to your work, not just with how satisfied you are while you’re there or how many tasks you’re checking off your to-do list. It’s also about being “in the flow”—when you get so caught up in what you’re doing that you lose track of time. You’re challenged, but not overwhelmed.
Just because people work long hours and attend happy-hours doesn’t mean they’re more productive, complete more tasks, or feel more engaged in their work. High-productivity doesn’t necessarily mean engagement, either. Instead, think of productivity as an outcome of engagement. Engagement is all about energy and purpose. Engaged employees have a deep and real emotional connection to their work, and that drives extra energy and purpose. Productivity defines how much an employee produces, but without the energy, care and purpose behind an employee’s daily work, there’s a lack in initiative, adaptability, creativity and extra effort.
What does engagement look like?
Engagement isn’t an all-or-nothing game. Employees can be invested in their work but not in the company they work for. Or they might feel connected to their team but not feel aligned with their higher purpose.
When people are engaged, they’re persistent and take initiative without their manager having to tell them what to do. They’re adaptable and understand how they fit into the larger picture. They go above and beyond to think about their role more broadly and step outside of their usual responsibilities to help others or solve problems for the business. And that’s critical because it means your employees are deeply connected and “all in.”
So, true engagement benefits both the employee and the employer.
The benefits of bringing hearts and minds to work
What research has found repeatedly is this: well-being and engagement are connected. When you invest in an employee’s well-being — their emotional, financial, physical and work well-being — they invest back in the company. In fact, when people feel supported by their employer, they’re 38 percent more engaged and 28 percent more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work. And they’re 17 percent more likely to still be employed there in a year.
In other words, when people feel supported in bringing their hearts and minds to work, the results speak for themselves.
Here’s how to help people bring their hearts and minds to work:
- Support people holistically. Individuals feel more valued when their organization genuinely cares about them. Offer activities and benefits that help them improve their well-being. Value and treat your people fairly by frequently recognizing a job well done, providing new opportunities and encouraging them to recharge. At the leadership level, invest in teaching managers how to be effective and train them on how to support the well-being of their team.
- Empower your people to find meaning. To truly engage your people, you must help them find meaning and purpose in their work. Really lean on managers for this. Managers can talk to employees about how they contribute to the overall mission of the company and their own personal mission in life. When you connect people to a higher purpose at work and they feel truly supported by not only managers but also leaders and the company itself, everyone benefits.
- Focus on job design and foster the talent you have. When an employee is disengaged or not challenged, take a hard look at the job and how it’s designed. This is a totally solvable issue, but it takes a flexible, thoughtful mindset to design the right position. Think through what your employee does every day and ask yourself: Are their responsibilities directly tied to solving a real business problem? Is there enough ownership and room for growth in the role? If not, adjust or even reinvent their job so it’s a better fit.
- Support growth and learning. Keeping people engaged requires a steady stream of new challenges and career advancement opportunities (not just moving up). Make sure your people are building new skills and can take on stretch assignments when they feel ready. Most importantly, establish a regular cadence of feedback, so your employees can actually improve and grow.
- Create community and be a culture architect. Help people connect to your mission and align with your values—across teams, peers, affinity groups and more. When people feel genuinely included, they’ll also feel more connected and committed to the company. Don’t be afraid to openly address culture with your employees. Encourage employees to be culture champions—people who serve as role models by living the culture every day. This strong sense of community will lift up the whole company and help people navigate difficult times together.
Employee engagement and a great culture are more than friends at work, productivity levels, or how many hours an employee tracks a day. Find what makes your employees’ hearts and minds tick, and emotionally connect to their daily work. With every burst of energy comes a higher sense of purpose, belonging and commitment. Most importantly, take the time to intentionally invest in your people and commit to bringing hearts and minds to work. The results will follow.
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