Let’s talk about HR’s biggest challenge in 2019 — employee engagement.
The industry has seemingly tackled this topic with the boom of office practices like in-house yoga, work gamification and walk-and-talk meetings. And the science-driven data backing such strategies continue to gain momentum…
So, what’s left to talk about?
The data, the charts and the in-office practices that boost wellness practices are all important — even foundational — to any modern HR practice. We can’t argue against them.
This said, employees with access to massage chairs and work-from-home afternoons still suffer from burnout or feel unfulfilled in overwhelming numbers. And disengagement continues to be on the rise, affecting up to 70% of the workforce, according to a recent Gallup study.
If you want to achieve higher levels of employee engagement, you have to first understand and get underneath the hood of what drives human behaviour in the workplace.
Taking a Feelings-First Approach
From a psychological perspective, satisfaction at work goes beyond surface metrics on which we base many strategic, but short-term HR decisions, such as retention, absenteeism or even engagement itself.
Occupational psychology in particular taps into core feelings like pride, trust, loyalty, even anticipation. We have to base our approaches on how to effectively speak to those feelings.
Human engagement is a complex, emotional state. Meanwhile, emotions tend to be difficult to measure and transform into actionable data. So what should a modern office do?
For employee surveys to be productive, we have to open the scope of questions we ask to meaningfully grasp employee sentiment and to effectively turn employee feedback into meaningful action. Traditional employee surveys have often failed to follow this concept.
Why Traditional Surveys Don’t Work
Relationships require ongoing nourishment.
That’s why lengthy, paper-based annual surveys, the traditional vehicles for gauging employee sentiment based on prescriptive engagement metrics, tend to be ineffective.
Checking in once a year isn’t the path to creating an agile and mutually beneficial relationship with your employees. Even if the surveys occur quarterly, you’re still gathering a mere fraction of the complete and current perspective of employee experience.
Surveys have to serve as an ongoing, long-term approach toward a fulfilling relationship.
Plus, most traditional surveys share one fallacy — they answer the quantitative “what” employees think but not the qualitative “why” employees think the way they do. And, the method behind traditional surveys is often flawed. The long, paper-based annual surveys take ages to collate, only to get insights from employees that may have already left the company. It’s important to give your employees more opportunities to provide feedback.
As with any data, the questions you ask are the foundation for gaining actionable insights. The survey continues to be a valuable method for measuring employee engagement, but whether or not it serves as a holistic overview of the employee voice is what makes the difference. It’s time to tap into the “why.” How? Neuroscience, psychology and sociology offer some insight.
The Science Behind Employee Engagement
According to the latest research, engagement is a precursor to productivity — not a by-product. The science behind the statement is fairly simple. When people are engaged at work, they experience more positive feelings more often. As positive emotion emerges with the release of dopamine and serotonin, the brain can analyse data on a deeper level, better retain information and perform at its fullest potential.
Many of us know this already — that’s why we’re here in the first place.
So what drives engagement? The answer, which isn’t a new concept yet continues to be neglected, is social connection.
The largest study of its kind, conducted by Harvard, tracked a large group of men for an ongoing eighty years to find the secret to success and happiness. The verdict? Quality relationships.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs echoes the exact point, as do hundreds of other social studies and theories. At our core, human beings are social creatures — and meaningfully belonging to a community is key to a thriving mind.
Human Connection: The Key to Employee Engagement
Humans are hardwired to connect. Moreover, the human brain cannot function at its fullest potential unless we’re part of a healthy group. Once that connection is there, we are innately driven to work harder, be more motivated and deliver our best ideas.
But what does this mean for your employee surveys and other HR initiatives?
Employee engagement approaches must mimic science to be truly effective. To echo a previous point, surveys can be used as a way to foster a relationship and a sense of trust with your employees. Giving employees a regular, permanent voice boosts engagement partly because it empowers them to receive resources they need for strong performance outcomes.
Employee surveys can serve as a vehicle for trust, but leadership must do their part to keep the trust alive. Offer transparency into survey results, be open about expectations and treat every survey as a two-way conversation, as you would in a healthy relationship. That’s how you create an aligned vision, values and in-office relationships that optimise engagement.
So dive in deeper. Strive to understand your employees and what unleashes their engagement. And to do that, you have to ask the right questions, and, ultimately, listen.
If you want to improve employee engagement surveys, you must abandon stale approaches that give “corporate initiatives” its bad connotation.
You must put engagement and a positive culture first.
Ryan Tahmassebi is Hive’s Director of People Science. When he’s not on the road visiting customers and solving complex People issues with People Science, he’ll either be imparting knowledge on employee engagement or exercising his vocal chords from his desk! Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn.