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Five Unchanging Employee Engagement Strategies

Through unprecedented changes in industries, 'black swan' events, and more, these are the five employee engagement strategies that remain evergreen.


In today's business environment, change is the only constant. Technological advancements are disrupting whole industries, enabled by real-time data, machine learning, and automation. We also encounter 'Black Swan' events that can cripple entire industries.

But one crucial aspect doesn't change — having motivated and engaged employees, who are productive, innovative, engaged and committed to their work. Such employees can grow a business ably, helping companies adapt by thinking of new ways of survival when unexpected external shocks hit. 

How do you improve employee engagement? We speak to John O'Brien, Vice President of Employee Performance Group at BI WORLDWIDE to learn about some long-standing fundamental principles behind employee engagement and recognition. Rooted in behavioural science — a systematic study of human behaviour — these principles are behind some of the best employee engagement strategies, easily adapted to each company's specific goals and needs.

Establish an emotional connection

The first principle that companies have to understand is that engagement is an outcome of emotional connection

John O'Brien says, "77% of the decisions we make as employees, colleagues, family members, and friends, are based on how we feel. So, we make decisions somewhat irrationally, but it is important." Recognition and engagement strategies can create a behavioural change when the company establishes an emotional connection with the employees.

A shocking statistic is that 40% of employees who leave their jobs after six months are simply bored, shares O'Brien. "They're probably not onboarded well to understand the company's mission and vision, their skill sets are not developed quickly, and most likely, they probably don't have a good, solid connection with their teams and managers," he says.

A company can rectify this by aligning employees, be it new or old, to a defined mission, vision, and values. Establishing your company's employee value proposition, presented as an ecosystem of support, recognition and company values, allows managers to build an emotional connection.

Another way is to think: "What do employees need to do to be successful?" To that end, successful organisations have set up whole ecosystems of programmes and platforms, offering:

  • Peer-to-peer appraisal
  • Manager discretionary rewards, where managers have a budget to recognise and reward achievers in the team immediately 
  • Incremental performance employee rewards and results-based recognition 
  • Health and wellness initiatives
  • Service awards, now starting earlier from one-year, two-year, to five-year anniversaries

"We have data that supports that the frequency of manager rewards and recognition and vice versa correlates directly to employee retention," says O'Brien. "I always say this, 'What you don't recognise, don't expect it to be repeated," he adds. 

Thinking about and addressing your employees' needs will go a long way towards increasing your team's discretionary effort. This means that employees will not just do the minimum to get by, but will be motivated to put in more effort, above and beyond the minimum required.

Imagine what that can achieve for your firm if your employees are driven at work, performing at their peak levels and continually thinking out of the box to help the business, instead of merely ticking off assigned tasks on a to-do list.

Understand what employees are most concerned about today

Proactively establishing an emotional connection with your employees is essential — hearing from your employees on issues they face in the workplace may provide a useful feedback loop, giving you a starting point to work with your team and resolve these issues. Making your employees feel happy and motivated is not a one-way street, after all. 

This is especially critical since work-from-home has suddenly become more viable than before. Employees don't need to see managers face to face, and it is likely we might never return to a full-office environment. Hence, it has never been more important to listen to what employees are feeling and thinking.

"We have now realised that even with work-from-home, productivity is maintained at a very good clip, but inspiration and innovation are compromised since employees are not collaborating in teams and serving customers face to face," says O'Brien. "In fact, we are seeing a bit of fatigue with the use of online conference tools, such as Zoom and Teams, which impacts the level of employee engagement," he adds. 

To understand what exactly is bothering employees, or what is working well for them — especially since everyone's home environments are different — companies can carry out regular check-ins, or pulse surveys through solutions like BI WORLDWIDE's WorkHappier app.

Additionally, if companies are thinking about resuming business-as-usual in physical office spaces, then the next step would be to bring employees back safely and practice a duty of care as an employer. "Employees who are returning to physical workplaces want to be safe and acknowledged," adds O'Brien. 

Measure and observe employee behaviour

Another engagement principle is to measure your results. After putting in all the work, it would be a waste not to get an accurate report card on how effective your efforts are. 

This can be done through participation metrics and analytics on the DayMaker employee recognition platform, says O'Brien. "In the DayMaker platform, we can see how engaged employees and managers are in the tool. Are they using the discretionary budgets to reward employees? Are they logging in? How many unique logins, givers, receivers do we have? These participation metrics give a good indication of how employees and managers are engaged," he adds. 

Measurable results include: 

  • Participation metrics 
  • Employee motivation 
  • Employee satisfaction scores, through surveys 
  • Correlation between frequency of recognition and level of employee satisfaction 
  • Net promoter score 

BI WORLDWIDE's DayMaker also reminds managers to recognise their employees and allows managers to conduct surveys through the WorkHappier app. Managers can set questions around employee satisfaction and their intensity to perform, which is how far employees go to put in discretionary effort. These features and appraisal tools can be customised and presented in a brand-smart platform that consistently reflects your company's branding. 

You may also realise through data collected that your employees are working on different platforms, not just on the desktop. In that case, your solutions need to cater to that. O'Brien says, "At BI WORLDWIDE, we are starting the concept of 'Recognition Anywhere'. We use technology to drive recognition, on whichever platform they are, be it Slack, Outlook, or a mobile app. We do that through plugins and are constantly looking at how to leverage data, artificial intelligence and so on to help the end user."

It's been proven that satisfied employees are more productive and efficient. Improving employee engagement can attract new talent and retain existing performers, which will lead to upsides for your business.

Uncover exciting employee incentives

The concept of incentives hasn't changed much. Ultimately, you want to reward your employees by understanding what they need. But what used to excite your workers, like a vacation to another continent, may not work as well as an ergonomic chair that helps their posture and eases backaches at their work or home desks in today's circumstances. 

O'Brien notes, "Rewards are changing to accommodate everyday lifestyles and new ways to get things done. Many firms are offering recognition rewards to help their employees equip themselves at home with technology like ergonomic chairs, wireless computer mouses," he adds. 

To that end, global employee incentive programmes such as Merchandise Marketplace can offer many choices and flexibility. A sophisticated system that offers merchandise, tickets, and experiences, and integrates gamification techniques, making the platform fun, engaging, and highly social.


Acknowledge culture and individual nuances

"Recognition is personal," says O'Brien. Using tools that can profile your employees with personality types, managers can understand their staff and what motivates each of them as individuals. It's not a one-size-fits-all, but rather, it's essential to tailor the recognition to the employee.

"A manager who is more amiable and loves small talk can easily disengage an employee who is more logical and analytical," O'Brien shares. So, the solution will be to understand what sort of recognition works and cater to employees' needs. Some cultures would also prefer team recognition over individual recognition as loud praises and high attention levels can make individuals feel uncomfortable. 

"We are located where our customers and employees are, and that helps us be global and local at the same time in that we structure teams locally to serve our clients. That's what makes BI WORLDWIDE different. We have thought leadership that comes from across the globe. Our technology can segment behaviour based on where they work," adds O'Brien. 

To be specific to the audience they want to reach, managers need to fine-tune how they communicate, empower, train and reward. To that end, you need cleverly designed talent management solutions and competencies to cater to different departments, even individuals.

Whichever industry a business is in, a people-first approach will ensure sustainable and long-term productivity and growth. When thinking about engaging employees, these five engagement principles are useful starting points and can be adapted and re-applied in a frequently evolving business environment.

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