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How can you improve employee engagement?

Engaged employees are more invested in their work, more productive, provide better service and stay longer. So how can you better engage your employees? It starts by showing them you care.

A recent Gallup report found that 34% of U.S. workers are “engaged” — that is, involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work. The good news is that this ties the highest level of engagement since Gallup began reporting the national figure in 2000. The bad news is that this means two out of three employees at your organization are disengaged.

Engagement leads to an improved bottom line

Study after study shows that engaged employees are more invested in their work, more productive, provide better service and stay longer. In turn, this leads to happier customers who buy more and refer brands, products, services and companies, which drives greater sales and profits. Publicly traded companies that are the best in engaging their employees achieve earnings-per-share growth more than four times that of their competitors.

The changing workforce demographics also require companies to reevaluate how they are engaging employees. In 2017, millennials became the largest generational sector in the workforce. By 2020, they are forecasted to make up more than half the American workforce, and by 2025, 75% of the global workforce. This is a huge shift for the workplace, and employers will need to adapt to the motivations of this generation.

Millennials have a social mindset

Millennials want to do well by doing good and have a real impact. They seek employers that offer them a chance to give back and be active in their communities. According to Cone Research, two-thirds will not even consider a job if the organization does not have strong corporate social responsibly values.

Addressing these two factors — disengaged employees and the reshaping of the workforce — will require business owners to adopt flexible styles and meet employees where they are.

During my 20-year corporate career, I led all types of diverse teams across functions and geographies, from small internal startups to well-established, multisite organizations with thousands of employees. I attended dozens of workshops and seminars related to better engaging employees and frequently had my teams assessed by national consultant firms and third-party experts. I was taught many different approaches and tactics, but I found one simple principle that worked best for me.

Starting with ‘I’

Let’s start with the problem. I saw manager after manager attempt to model their teams based on personal preferences. Managers would ask for feedback on how to better engage their teams, but they just wanted employees to conform to their rules, directed employees on how to get work done and used meetings to communicate their preferences and desires. What I saw was managers whose actions showed they did not care about their employees, and as result, their teams were less productive and provided less-than-stellar customer service.

Genuinely care

I had a few good teachers along the way, learned from my mistakes and found the best way for me to engage my team. It came down to one distinct action: show them I care! I worked hard to understand what was important to them, so that I could better understood how to connect and communicate with them.

The next question is, how do you figure out what is important to your team? The obvious answer is to ask them. But it takes more than that. You may not want to believe this, but your employees most likely care more about what is happening outside of work than in the office. Find out how they choose to spend their personal time. They may be active members of their communities, volunteering at nonprofits or for their children’s scholastic, art and athletic programs. They may donate things and money to causes they are passionate about. If you understand this, you then understand what is important to them.

I carried this concept into cofounding seedership. We are driven to help organizations grow from the good they do. This includes inviting your team to collaborate in the good you do while also gaining insight into the causes and organizations that matter most to them. So if you really want to engage your employees, spend time learning what is important to them. Spend time understanding how they want to improve their communities. Show them you care and engage with them in what they care about rather than asking them to engage in what matters most to you.

Written by Ray Smithberger, cofounder of seedership, a social  impact and storytelling marketing platform for purpose-driven businesses and organizations to grow and strengthen connections through the good they do.

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