Company Dynamics Out of Whack? Time to Evaluate Employee Engagement

“Ding!” the convenience store bell chimes as I walk through the door. “Hello!” someone says warmly, and I turn to find the source. The voice came from behind the counter, from a woman wearing a visor, a name tag, and a smile. I sniff the air—and am assaulted by the overwhelming aroma of coffee. Yep, I’m definitely in a convenience store. But the clerk said hello, made eye contact, acknowledged my presence. That’s not normal. And that’s because I’m in Sheetz, the Mid-Atlantic convenience store and gas station chain that has developed a cult following thanks to its tasty menu (I never leave without the mozzarella sticks, even if I’m just making a pit stop), and has set itself apart by employing the most pleasant service agents I’ve ever encountered anywhere. In any industry. Ever.

So it’s not surprising to learn that Sheetz has been named one of the best places to work. If the graveyard shifts and rowdy customers can’t dampen the spirits of Sheetz employees, the company must be doing something right to make an otherwise thankless job worthwhile. Engaging employees appropriately so they’ll stay loyal, motivated, and maintain a low turnover rate isn’t rocket science. But you do have to pay attention to your employees: understand their lifestyles, support their aspirations, ask for feedback, and communicate honestly with them to engender an atmosphere of sincere engagement.  

Make It a Home Away from Home

Fifty-one percent of the 5.4 million participants in a Gallup employee engagement survey admitted to not being engaged in their work. From that statistic you could infer that, potentially, half of your employees aren’t completely involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to the work they’re doing for you or your workplace. Perhaps people aren’t engaged because they’re thinking of the places they’d rather be, like at home.

And if home is where your employees want to be, and telecommuting isn’t an option, then figure out how to make “work time” as pleasant as “home time” with creative employee engagement activities. Offer places to recharge and relax: a lounge, comfortable eating areas, heck, even a game room (who doesn’t love a good game of foosball?). Provide healthier snack options besides vending machines with soda and chips: a break room stocked with fresh fruits and veggies, free for the taking. Create exercise opportunities: an on-site gym, lunchtime yoga classes, or a space to play frisbee. Designate a private room for use by nursing moms or cubicle workers who need to find a moment of privacy during the day.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money (but you can if you want to) or get terribly fancy to make your employees happy. Things as simple as repainting the asylum-white walls, opening up the floor plan, and maintaining a pleasant (not antarctic or equatorial) room temperature can make the environment more comfortable, and a far more invigorating place to work. Think of your relationship with your employees like a marriage (and if you’re divorced, then think about how you’d do it differently on a second go-round): compromise, give them space, provide support, and let them control the thermostat. Much of the day is spent at the office—so it’s a-ok to make work fun.

Nurture ALL of Your Employees

In some industries, it’s easy to overlook the warehouse folks, customer service, factory workers, drivers, or custodial staff—but they’re all there, doing their jobs, even though they might not be in full sight of the employees with desk jobs or the 8-to-6ers. But Mac the warehouse newbie should feel comfortable reaching out to higher-ups to share a new idea for efficiency or sales. And Tracey from accounting should be confident that her packaging suggestion will be received with goodwill even though it’s not technically in her wheelhouse.

Companies that thrive embolden their employees and encourage them to learn more, better themselves, and reach their goals. Companies that stunt an employee’s growth for fear of losing them to another corporation—or even to another department within the company—are creating their own in-house disaster.

Avoid employee mutiny. Nurture the talents of everyone on your staff. Allow for promotions from department to department. Don’t be exclusionary within your own business! Encourage your employees to share not only their ideas for your company with you, but also their interests and professional goals—and they shouldn’t have to worry that you’ll say, “Tsk, tsk, just do your job, please.” You feed employee dedication with responses like: “You want to learn more about web design? Sweet. One of our coders was looking to host a workshop—let’s do this thing!” Engage your employees with authentic attention and follow-through, from the biggest suggestion to the most minuscule detail.

Consider Employees with Every Major Business Decision

In the small town of Union, New Jersey, the Smarties candy factory fills the air inside and outside with the scent of sweetness. This generations-old business has remained in this incongruous location—even though more sensible and cost-effective business offers to move have come and gone—because they value the quality of life of their employees too much to move elsewhere.

Relocation is a huge company decision, even if it’s just to move to a new building across town. Don’t mess with an employee and their commute if you don’t want stress levels to rise exponentially. And definitely don’t screw up an employee’s good thing they have going with the hard-to-find babysitter or daycare. You might be moving to a more modern facility, but productivity will take a hit—so ask yourself if the move is worth the repercussions.

Maybe you want to roll out virtual agents online. Smart move—by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their business relationships without any human interaction, according to Gartner. But to make this plan work, customer service agents need to be aware of what’s ahead for their typical work day as the kinks get worked out, and you should be prepared to compensate them for their dedication to helping this change find its footing. Your in-house IT department needs to know they have the power to outsource—or feel comfortable asking for assistance—so they don’t have too many balls in the air (not everyone can or wants to juggle). Every innovation must be carefully planned out from start to finish so it ends up being the boon to employees that you know it will be.

Think about what you’re asking of your employees that goes above and beyond their current job description. Avoid naively making a change that’s good for the bottom line without first taking into account how your employees fit into the transition. Ask your employees what they think about major company changes—ask everyone. Engage them. And listen to their responses.    

Communicate with Your Employees

On my first week in a new job, the CEO had a company-wide meeting where he announced that sales were down and bonuses were going to be cut completely that year. Was he being honest? Absolutely. A little too much information? Perhaps. There is something to be said for being completely transparent about the inner workings of your company, but there is also a time and a place for certain information to be disseminated. It’s critical to communicate with your employees, but you have to strike the right balance.

Engaging with your employees means communicating with them, in a variety of ways. Good employer-employee communication involves observing, listening, sharing, and talking. Ultimately, your employees are your first customers—except they know way more about your company than your customers do and they still stick around (hopefully). You want low employee turnover. You want employees who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and your workplace. So spend time making that happen—don’t expect committed employees to develop loyalty entirely on their own.

Maybe you don’t say, “Bonuses are out this year.” Instead you might say, “Bonuses are being reshaped this year,” and offer perks like more vacation days, sick days, or a spot in the company box at Heinz Field. Your employees get wind of what’s going on behind closed doors, and while you don’t need to explain the minutiae of every higher-up decision, making it clear that their jobs are safe, but the perks might be shifting, is essential. Don’t let the grapevine do the work for you—engage your employees and they’ll respect you more for the honest message you’re delivering, even if it’s not what they want to hear.  

Engagement can happen through an inspirational video sent company-wide every Monday. It can be a potluck dinner every quarter. Try different methods and don’t stop exploring ways to engage your employees—ask them what they want and figure out how to supply it as best you can. If your employees are engaged, they’ll be happy. They’ll stick around. They’ll be better representatives of your company. How your employees feel about their job is often the difference between company success and failure.



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