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Employee engagement 101

January 22, 2021 / US

2020 was a roller coaster of a year. One of the biggest outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a shift to remote working. At the height of early lockdowns last April, more than half of Americans were working entirely from home. 

Employers were often putting policies and technology into place in real time. Employees learned to adjust to those changes quickly. And while employees have experienced other benefits, like a more relaxed dress code, working from home may reduce motivation and employee engagement—and the latter in particular has been shown to play a key role in an organization’s profitability, productivity, and overall success.  

What is employee engagement?

Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Employee engagement can fluctuate regularly, and it’s primarily driven by an employee’s experience in the workplace. 

An employee who has a manager invested in their well-being, has regular conversations about professional development, and feels connected to colleagues is likely engaged. An employee with a manager who is task-oriented and uninterested in their overall development will likely not be an engaged member of their organization. 

Just how engaged are employees, anyway? A 2018 study found that nearly 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. In the U.S., rates historically hover around 65%. 

Why is employee engagement important? 

According to Gallup, robust employee engagement is a “strong predictor of performance during tough times such as economic recessions.” Businesses with engaged employees have 41% lower absenteeism, 21% higher profitability, and 17% higher productivity, among other positive performance outcomes. 

A recent study found that business units that score in the top half of employee engagement more than double their odds of success. Businesses in the 99th percentile of employee engagement have nearly 5 times the success rate of those in the first percentile. 

How can employee engagement improve?

Many companies do not plan to return to the office until mid-2021. Even with a return, many businesses plan to implement more remote options for flexible employee work. In fact, 61% of CEOs recently surveyed by PwC believe low-density workplaces will be an enduring shift after the pandemic is over. 

In a July 2020 interview, Uber’s Vice President of Workplace and Real Estate, Michael Huaco, echoed these trends, saying that companies will go back to offices: “There’s a real need if you think about human nature. People want to be together…. That’s where innovation really happens.”

With that in mind, keeping engagement high, no matter where employees are, will remain key throughout 2021 and beyond. We turned to some of the leading employee engagement experts to see how they recommend ensuring that employees are engaged. Here are 3 of their top tips: 

Motivate employees by solving meaningful problems

In an article detailing how to keep remote employees motivated and engaged, Harvard Business Review encourages business leaders to task teams with the opportunity to experiment and create impactful work. 

While this may not be a quick fix, or even easily identifiable, it encourages leaders to ask employees what they feel the organization needs. Some questions to start with include: 

  • How can we improve our customer experience? 
  • What is broken that we can fix? 
  • What is a meaningful change we can make, even when things are uncertain?
  • Why are these problems important for us to focus on? 

This could include more simplified fixes, like improving email communication with customers, and more enhanced updates, such as adding a new product to fill a gap in your offerings.

Encourage strong relationships with colleagues

While employee engagement is often viewed as solely an HR initiative, managers and leaders throughout your organization should be actively involved. Gallup reports that “managers affect 70% of the variance in team engagement.” 

It’s important to encourage managers to take an even more proactive approach to employee engagement, asking questions about topics such as professional development, regular goal setting, and feedback. Managers are responsible for the relationship between them and their employees, and that relationship greatly affects an employee’s experience and their overall engagement level. 

This points to an opportunity for further investment in management training. It’s also an opportunity to encourage employees to get to know their leaders and one another. 

While teams may not be able to meet in person, encourage managers to book time for virtual team-building activities. Something as simple as a team lunch, where employees can choose their favorite meal for delivery, can go a long way toward building relationships and driving collaboration. 

Focus on holistic wellness

According to Accenture, wellness is a key component for keeping employees engaged—especially with younger generations of workers. Employees value their health, and businesses value healthy employees, says Accenture. Employee wellness programs can have as high as a six-to-one return on investment. 

Accenture recommends focusing on stress-reduction technologies and cultivating a human-first culture. Adding health technology might mean providing access to a meditation app, wearables, or a stipend for healthy meals or a gym membership; a human-first culture is a larger initiative. 

From the top down, that means an empathetic workplace with the opportunity to send feedback upward. Good mental and physical health are key to keeping employees safe and engaged members of your workforce. 

What’s the first step? 

There’s no need to completely overhaul your employee engagement efforts. Instead, work with employees to determine what is most desired to increase engagement and impact. Begin by communicating with employees about their needs. This might take the form of a company-wide survey, but it should also include conversations between employees and their managers. 

Take time to explore opportunities, especially after the pandemic is over: What are employees looking for? A flexible working environment? More professional development? Team collaboration? Wellness opportunities? Listen to your employees—they can provide the greatest insight when it comes to what will help them remain engaged and important members of your organization. 

Whether employees are in an office or working remotely, their engagement is largely driven by employee relationships. You can strengthen relationships throughout the employee experience. A few options to encourage engagement include: 

  • Recruiting meals: Get started on the right foot with potential new hires by sending a voucher for a meal during interviews, like Shopify does. After all, the employee experience begins with the recruiting process.
  • Virtual events: Include sharing meals together at these events (and eventually in-person), like Samsara has done throughout the pandemic. 
  • Meal programs: Encourage wellness by implementing an employee meal program so teams don’t need to worry about cooking. GoodRx, a healthcare savings resource, has implemented meal offerings to prioritize the well-being of their team and their families as they work remotely. 
  • Surprise and delight: Offer employees a one-off reward, give gifts of appreciation, or surprise and delight them. In 2020, Coca-Cola provided employees with $100 gift cards to use on Uber Eats to thank them for their hard work during a difficult year. 

Once employees begin returning to the office as vaccines become increasingly available, employee engagement should remain top of mind. Something as simple as encouraging teams to share a meal during a call, or providing lunch vouchers for employees back at the office, is a great way to continue to show them you’re thinking about their well-being. 

Learn more about Uber Eats and how to set up Vouchers to keep your employees engaged and well fed.