Strategies for Driving Employee Engagement with Technology
Employee engagement continues to be a priority for employers. A 2015 Gallup survey found that only 30 per cent of employees say they are engaged in their job. More than 50 per cent say there are not engaged and a further 20 per cent are actively disengaged.
In years past, employee engagement was driven by compensation, benefits and workplace perks, but those things don’t necessarily engage employees anymore. In the modern workplace they pale in comparison to impactful work, meaningful feedback, development opportunities and a connection to both the company’s purpose and their team.
According to Forbes, employee engagement is “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” Engaged employees aren’t there just for the paycheque; they want the company to succeed. Given that engagement has been empirically linked to stronger performance, productivity, profitability, reduced turnover and a stronger customer experience, it should be a priority for employers to increase engagement in their organizations.
The Technology Connection
Interestingly, while technology has had a significant impact in developing today’s business economy, in more recent years, its significance within the personal domain has grown exponentially. In doing so, it has highlighted both the engaging potential and the perilous reality for employers.
According to Mike Ettling, president of SAP SuccessFactors, “a causal factor in employee disengagement is the fact that the technology people use in their personal lives is exponentially better (faster, more accurate and a substantially better user experience) than the technology they interact with in the workplace.”
Ettling believes that providing employees with technology at work that matches the capabilities of personal lives, technology can enable new levels of engagement. When people go from lightning speed, immediate, information and social connectedness in their personal lives, to antiquated, slow, static, non-collaborative tools in the workplace, they experience frustration and a disconnect that leads to disengagement. As a result, to increase engagement, it is imperative that employers use technology at work in ways that interest, inspire and motivate their employees.
Strategies for Technology-based Engagement
Some of the ideas that follow require an investment in online tools and software, but many of them can be implemented at a reasonable cost. Investing in engagement should be considered a cost with a high ROI and be part of any business budget.
Make Social Engagement a Policy: More people connect via social media than they do in person. This alone makes having a corporate presence and policy essential. Access is immediate, intimate and engaging. It also breaks down the walls when workers are siloed in offices or cubicles, and only interact socially in the lunch room or at staff meetings, the need for social engagement is not met.
Most importantly, build bridges online which lead to greater social engagement in the real world. Create opportunities for greater collaborative working, make room for social connections (pot luck lunches, pizza Fridays, go on wellness walks) and as appropriate, consider rearranging workspaces to allow for more interaction.
Appreciate the Power of Recognition: An appreciated employee is an engaged employee. A recent study by Bersin by Deloitte found that contrary to traditional legacy recognition (the gold watch after 10 years), modern recognition programs have a huge impact on performance and engagement. Specifically, companies that scored in the top 20 per cent for building a recognition-rich culture experienced 31 per cent lower voluntary turnover rates. Further research conducted by socialcast.com indicates that 69 per cent of employees would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.
One-on-one real-time feedback and recognition are very important. There are a number of technology options that enhance recognition in the workplace and increase social connectedness. While recognition from management is a significant factor in employee retention, peer-to-peer recognition is a dynamic process, which contributes to employees feeling valued, not just by their company but by their co-workers. Many of these software tools are reasonably priced and can have a dramatic effect in building a recognition culture. Some tools to explore: workstars.com, higherground.com, giveawow.com, socialcast.com and kudosnow.com).
Make Feedback a Priority:? Employees want to be heard and valued for their ideas as much as their work. Often, companies make strategic HR plans and set goals according to what leadership think employees want, but there can be a disconnect between what they assume and what is reality because they’ve never asked. Asking employees what they want and how they feel about things at work is one of the most important strategic initiatives a company can undertake. Using online surveys like surveymonkey.com or surveygizmo.com can be an inexpensive way of getting feedback that should inform business decisions.
One client was spending huge amounts of money on expensive birthday cakes for each employee, gathering the team to sing Happy Birthday at the end of the day. In a satisfaction survey, they were shocked to find out that 80 per cent of employees hated the birthday ritual. Many were no longer eating sugary sweets. Most didn’t like what they perceived as “forced attention” from their co-workers. Almost all said they would be happy if the birthday cake was abolished. Asking what was important to them led to making much-appreciated changes.
A cautionary note: if you ask, you’ll get honest feedback, and you need to be prepared to take action. While you can’t implement every suggestion or give heed to every complaint, a response is imperative to the integrity of the feedback process and increases trust and loyalty.
Collaborate and Communicate: Better, faster, more accurate, efficient, real-time collaboration with communication and task management is important, especially to the younger workforce. This includes not only how teams communicate, but how they collaborate on projects and tasks. Find a tool that fits your needs and incorporate greater collaboration to see engagement, efficiency and productivity grow.
Communication/productivity tools like Slack, Asana, and Monday.com, to name just a few, allow for team members to connect with one another to share information, as well as to track progress on projects and increase efficiencies in managing tasks. Collaborative meeting tools like Go2Meeting, Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts give employees the opportunity to meet face-to-face, which is especially important for remote workers to stay connected.
Expand Learning and Development: If your learning and development opportunities are limited to one-day seminars or formal education, you are missing the boat. Less than 15 per cent of employees take advantage of employer sponsored development opportunities. A reasonable assumption for this low uptake is that the traditional development offerings are too static, traditional or difficult to access because of fixed schedules. People are learning online in increasing numbers. Education user sites like Udemy have become wildly successful by providing affordable online courses on almost every subject imaginable. Courses can be taken at the student’s leisure, access is easy and courses are delivered through a variety of modalities.
Masterclass.com is gaining popularity as professional authors, filmmakers, screenwriters, chefs, musicians etc. offer online master classes to the masses.
Quick, accessible, affordable education that can be accessed on a variety of platforms (computer, tablet, smart phone) is the way of the future for learning and development. Don’t completely get rid of your old options—they can be valuable —but acknowledge that online options can bring as much value as traditional learning opportunities, and more so regarding engagement.
Level Up the Fun Factor: Gamification is the process of taking something that already exists—a website, an enterprise application, an online community—and integrating game mechanics into it to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty. Opportunities to ‘play’ and ‘level up’ at work in some sort of task or mission can be a strong motivator. Consider how an online, gamified onboarding process might get new team members super-charged when joining your organization.
Engaging employees in opportunities to have fun while they work, in ways that inspire work, can create a high level of engagement. Just as customers love games, such as “enter to win” contests, employees enjoy healthy competition. A workplace wellness initiative called gettheworldmoving.com gamifies the action of increasing steps toward a healthier lifestyle by putting people on teams and having them compete for the most steps. Online learning programs that incorporate quizzes, timed competition, or earning badges or levels are more effective than those which have no such interactions.
Shift the Focus for Effect
Our relationship with technology is ever-evolving and embracing it as part of workplace culture is necessary for modern business, However, there is a dark side. If not implemented properly, it can contribute to a significant waste of time: the steep learning curves for particularly complex softwares, the use of programs or tools that create rather than solve problems, the increased stress that comes with technology that makes work more difficult or time-consuming.
The solution, according to Noelle Chesley, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is to “cultivate the skills and techniques necessary to use technology effectively. We need to shift the focus from discussion of whether to use it, to one in which both employees and employers work together to figure out what sorts of technology-based practices are effective and which ones are not worth the trouble.”
Implementing technology for the sake of technology will not necessarily increase engagement. However, careful, well-planned, thoughtful approaches—that bring your team together and make their work lives easier and more interesting—will lead to the increased engagement that is the holy grail for most businesses.
As principal of SMART HR, Ingrid Vaughan’s focus is building systems and processes that keep organizations’ HR running smoothly, and providing tools to help managed teams in a powerful and effective way.