Many business leaders today recognize that their employees are key differentiators in today’s uber-competitive business environment. That’s particularly the case right now as job openings in the U.S. reach record highs. Keeping employees happy has become an important imperative within the executive ranks.
However, while happiness is a noble and vital goal for a workforce, company leaders must ensure that the steps they’re taking to increase employee connectedness to a company go beyond simple happiness. They must align employee and company interests for the future. What matters above all else today is not simply employee happiness, but employee activation. Fortunately, the two can and should go hand-in-hand.
The Tricky Notion of Engagement
In Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, the researchers wisely caution against judging the state of a company’s workforce based on the level of friendly chatter happening around the water cooler or — increasingly — on a company’s digital communication platforms. The authors note: “Employees may feel connected to their team members, but if, among other challenges, they don’t know what’s expected of them (a basic need), don’t have the appropriate materials and equipment (a basic need), or are not able to do what they do best (an individual need), their affiliation with their team members is unlikely to have a positive impact on their performance. Instead, time spent with their peers may more closely resemble a gripe session than productive teamwork.”
Indeed, positive employee interactions are crucial for driving business results. But companies must be discerning when monitoring and measuring these interactions. Are the employees truly engaged with their work and the organization? Or are they merely engaged with their co-workers? It’s easy to confuse the two.
That’s where employee activation comes in. Activation goes beyond basic measures of employee satisfaction and interaction to identify workforce attributes that contribute meaningfully to business results. An activated employee is one who feels and acts with ownership over the company’s success. They are continuously trying to improve the company – with product and service improvements, customer experience improvements, and by identifying opportunities to be more efficient on the job.
They are a gold mine of potential.
Why Activation Matters
Unfortunately, most U.S. employees today are not activated for the good of their companies. According to Gallup, only 21 percent of employees say their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. The overall attitude toward jobs these days is, unfortunately, one of overwhelming indifference. And that matters greatly to business success. According to Gallup, companies whose employees are involved and committed to their work see the following benefits:
- 10 percent higher customer metrics
- 17 percent higher productivity
- 20 percent higher sales
- 21 percent higher profitability
In short, the benefits of an activated workforce are quantifiable and significant. So, how can businesses fuel activation among their teams?
How Leaders Build Activated Employees
Improving employee activation within a company’s workforce requires a commitment to not only meeting employee needs, but also giving them the tools to interact and contribute meaningfully to solving a company’s challenges. Leaders of companies with the strongest employee activation focus on the following:
- Designing and delivering an employee experience that is compelling and consistent with the employer’s brand. It’s important to walk the talk. If a company prides itself on its customer commitment, it needs to extend to its own team members. This means not overwhelming them with unnecessary, unfocused communication and ensuring that employees have a way to provide feedback to management.
- Taking employee engagement from a survey to an ongoing activity that improves performance. Survey results are useful. But if a company doesn’t act on what its employees are telling it, employee activation can actually take a step backward.
- Approaching performance management in ways that motivate employees. Companies need to give team members a reason to want to succeed, as well as a clear path to success.
- Offering benefits and perks that influence attraction and retention. Even the most activated employees need to know that their companies care enough to continue investing in them.
- Enabling people to work successfully from locations other than the office. Flexibility is becoming the new expectation. A company’s systems must enable employees to remain meaningfully engaged in work, even when remote.
- Constructing office environments that honor privacy while encouraging collaboration. Employees’ desire for flexibility extends to their physical spaces as well.
- Improving clarity and communication for employees who work on multiple teams. The digital age has given rise to tools and means of increasing visibility into team operations. Make sure the platforms you’re using will do more than enable digital water cooler talk. Look for ones where real work can happen.
Employee activation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Companies need to make a concerted effort to enable employees to meaningfully contribute to the success of their organizations. The question isn’t whether businesses can afford to implement such programs and tools. Quite simply, businesses no longer can afford to not make that effort.