If you’re a CEO, do you treat employee engagement as solely the domain of the Human Resources (HR) department? And if you’re an HR professional, do you find yourself trying to persuade your CEO that employee engagement should also be a C-suite concern? SHRM says, “Many company leaders… are not accustomed to thinking about the nuts and bolts of engaging employees, and they probably haven't considered the impact they can make by taking relatively simple actions.”
As the CEO of Achievers, it’s important to share with other CEOs the value of the employee engagement. I’ve had a firsthand view of the benefits of engaging employees and putting them first. The fact is that employee engagement is a vital force for moving your company forward, but the impact and value of this force won’t be realized unless your entire leadership team (including the C-suite) participates. It’s time for organizations to realize that culture and engagement is not just an HR thing.
Leadership has an important role to play when it comes to employee engagement, and this is especially important give nearly half (45%) of workers say leadership is “minimally” or “not at all” committed to improving company culture. In fact, 78% of employees confirmed that any change to culture needs to be driven by the CEO.
Below, we explain why leaders need to become employee engagement champions and lay out five key points that every CEO needs to understand about making engagement a priority.
1. View your company as a social enterprise
In its recent Global Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte found that when CEOs were asked to rate their most important measure of success, the number one issue they cited was “impact on society, including income inequality, diversity, and the environment.” Deloitte goes on to explain, “While businesses must generate a profit and deliver a return to shareholders, they must do so while also improving the lot of workers, customers, and the communities in which we live.” Many factors go into “improving the lot of workers,” but the Deloitte research points out that employee engagement is a key indicator of this issue. They state, “Eighty five percent of employees around the world are not engaged or are actively disengaged from their jobs.”
The benchmarks for improving the engagement and well-being of workers all center around revisioning the company as a social enterprise with a human focus. This includes such actions as building employee networks within the company, focusing on personal relationships, and discussing company challenges openly.
2. Leverage the power of leadership recognition
CEOs are constantly juggling too many claims on their time, so it’s easy for them to wholly delegate the issue of employee recognition to HR and lower-level managers. However, an organization can’t truly take advantage of the massive power of employee recognition unless a culture of recognition is initiated by company leaders. The only way to create a workplace culture that accurately represents the company's core values is for leadership to step up and take a prime role in building a positive culture. Too many company leaders make the mistake of undervaluing the power of employee recognition.
When asked how organizations could better support them through the COVID-19 pandemic, one-third (35%) of employees said they wanted more recognition. This was especially true for more senior respondents such as VPs/directors (53%) and senior managers (42%). Employees of all levels, including your leadership peers, crave recognition. As a CEO, you have the power to build a culture of recognition where every employee feels valued and appreciated. In fact, the most memorable recognition comes most often from an employee's manager (28%), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24%).
“A sincere hand-written acknowledgement note is powerful, powerful, powerful. I’ve come to realize that most people are starving for recognition and appreciation. If you want to encourage someone’s development into their best selves, write a note.” - Robert Isherwood, CEO of Ambac International
When recognition is done right, though, it becomes a leadership superpower. The result? Organization that rate their culture of recognition highly are 3x more likely to see increased employee retention, 2.5x more likely to see increased employee engagement, and 79% more likely to give their employer brand a high rating. With recognition having the greatest impact on employee engagement, executives need to lead by example and make recognition an everyday habit.
Bonus tip: Check out my blog post covering why leaders need to be recognition champions.
3. Encourage employee voice
CEOs achieve their positions through their own initiative, creativity, insight, and other personal qualities. Fortunately, however, they aren’t solely reliant on their own skills and those of the highest-level C-suite members. The power of employee voice is always available to be tapped; all that the CEO (or any leader) has to do is ask. The workforce wants to be heard — they’re ready to give feedback, and taking action on that feedback leads to positive business results and stronger employee engagement. Conversely, if a CEO neglects to prioritize employee voice, the outcome can damage the entire organization. Currently, 90% of workers say they’re more likely to stay at an employer that takes and acts on feedback. It’s vital to recognize that listening to workers is only the first step. It’s critical that leaders at all levels take action on the feedback they’re given and build collaborative action plans with their teams. This listening-action loop always needs to be completed, in order to move the needle on employee engagement.
"There's so much that goes into a great employee experience--most notably trust--and employees aren't getting it from their employers. Employee experience isn't about free food or parties. Employees are craving genuine workplace relationships where they feel safe, valued, and their manager has faith in their ability to get the job done." - Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity
4. Take advantage of technology
Technology is essential to remaining connected to today’s employees, who are accustomed to establishing and maintaining conversations via social media. Two-thirds of respondents in a survey of executives agree that “if my company does not become significantly more digitalized, it will no longer be competitive.” According to Gartner, spending on technology now amounts to 3.5% to 9.5% of the average HR budget and 88% of CHROs say their organization needs to invest in three or more technologies over the next two years.
However, technology for its own sake won’t magically enhance employee engagement. Gartner urges company leaders to “Listen to what employees need so you can determine what they value.” They point out that it’s not helpful to assume you know what is most valuable to your employees. Instead, the technology you use must be (in Gartner’s analysis) “connected, transparent, personalized, interactive, and fast.”
5. Individualize employee rewards
You wouldn’t give the same exact gift to your 20-year-old niece and your 75-year-old grandfather, would you? Employee rewards are also gifts and they carry more weight when they suit the recipient’s personal style. To build an attractive set of employee rewards, you need to truly see each person for who they are and empower your people to state their preferences.
Your employee rewards system should reflect your company culture. Deloitte found that only 11% of respondents said their rewards systems were highly aligned with their organizational goals and 23% reported that they didn’t know what rewards their workers value. When you build a good line of communication with your workers, you will organically know the things they value. And a flexible points-based recognition and rewards platform empowers each employee to accrue points and redeem them for a reward of their choosing that is uniquely meaningful.
Bonus tips for the CEO: How to become an employee engagement champion
- Focus on your company’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Often, employers don’t stop to think about marketing their company to the people who already work there.
- Design jobs to strengthen career passions and nurture personal growth for your employees.
- Use one-click recognitions so that you’re never too busy to appreciate good work.
- Leverage both monetary and social recognition to build a positive company culture.
- Go beyond the annual years of service awards and celebrate achievements and personal milestones on a frequent basis.
- Adopt a more continuous listening approach to measuring engagement.
- Make it your priority to build trust and empower your employees.
- Remember this saying: “What gets recognized gets repeated.”
Did you know 64% of executives put “improve operational excellence” at the top of their list of objectives. When you bring employee engagement into the C-suite, and identify it as a goal, that’s your first step towards achieving operational excellence. After all, organizations with a high level of engagement report 22% higher productivity and a 20% increase in sales. Also, employee engagement can help reduce turnover, improve quality of work and health, and lower absenteeism.
For some specific words of advice from CHROs themselves, download our white paper, “The Future of Employee Engagement: Informal Chats with Today’s Leading CHROs and Executive HR Leaders.”
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