Best Practices for Every Stage of Employee Experience: Stage 4, Engage
Eighty-one thousand hours. That’s how much the average person works in their life, according to Gallup. The only thing we spend more time on? Sleep.
With so much of our lives dedicated to work, the experiences we have there matter. It’s why so many businesses talk about employee experience strategy — though not as many act on it.
Employee experience includes every interaction a worker has with an organization. It also includes workers' feelings and attitudes toward the company, going far beyond employee satisfaction.
Employee experience is broken down into seven stages, called the employee journey or employee lifecycle:
In this series, we’re covering best practices for employee experience at every stage in the journey. Read the previous articles in the series to learn what experts have to say about attracting, hiring and onboarding top talent.
Our focus now: stage four of the employee journey, employee engagement.
Employee Experience Stage 4: Employee Engagement
The engage stage of the employee experience occurs after onboarding, when a person is, ideally, fully integrated within the organization but has not yet had opportunities to develop and grow.
This is a time when leaders need to focus on how to increase employee engagement — growing workers' involvement and enthusiasm for their positions and workplace. And they do that by building on employee strengths and driving purpose.
Employee engagement research shows that engagement leads to:
- Reduced turnover
- Reduced absenteeism
- Improved sales and profits
- Improved customer satisfaction loyalty
- Improved customer service ratings
Despite the benefits, though, workplaces are falling short.
Data from Gallup found only 21% of employees are engaged at work. And of the 79% not engaged, 19% are actively disengaged — meaning they’re miserable and potentially willing to undermine coworkers.
“When you think about engaged employees, it’s really the key for any organization's success,” said Burgette White, VP of human resources at Adecco North America, with previous experience at multinational organizations like Chevron, Target, Delta Airlines and Kimberly Clark.
“Any business,” White said, “is a people business.”
Related Article: 10 Gifts That Really Show Employees You Appreciate Them
Employee Experience Stage 4: Best Practices
Engaged employees accelerate business performance. They're interested in their work, satisfied with the company they work for and act as great indicators to any new employee on what the employee experience will look like.
Some best practices for this stage of the employee journey, according to experts, include:
Offer the Right Benefits
“One of the best ways to improve the employee experience is to offer the right programs and benefits that support them at every stage of their lifecycle at the company,” said Dan Schawbel, New York Times bestselling author and managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, an organization that focuses on trends shaping the current and future workplace.
Some employees might crave learning and development opportunities (more on that later). Others might tie a positive employee experience to ample vacation time, wellness initiatives or paid commute costs.
A survey from SHRM found the top 10 most important benefits to foster a positive employee experience to be:
- Health-related benefits
- Retirement savings and planning benefits
- Leave benefits
- Family care benefits
- Flexible work benefits
- Professional and career development benefits
- Financial (non-retirement) benefits
- Wellness benefits
- Education benefits
- Technology benefits
It’s important to remember that what benefits matter to employees will shift based on the employees themselves (age, location, industry, department, etc.) and where they are within the employee journey.
Foster Social Connection
Social connection drives key metrics like employee engagement, productivity and fulfillment, said Schwabel, because we spend so much of our lives working.
In a study with Airspeed, Schawbel said they found that the feeling of disconnection is the top reason why workers say they’d quit their job — and 66% of executives agree.
“Establishing a socially connecting workforce starts with values and culture,” he explained. “You need to create the right atmosphere and the right programs and opportunities for people to connect and then hire, promote and train managers to ensure that all teams have a socially connected experience.”
For example, he said, CEOs with fully remote workforces might have quarterly, semiannual or annual events where everyone gets together in person for team-building activities that improve employee engagement.
“When people feel more socially connected and build strong relationships, they are less likely to quit for more money because those relationships hold just as much if not more value to them,” Schawbel said.
Related Article: Employees Crave Connection: Here's How to Build It
Build Employee-Manager Relationships
One of the biggest investments an organization can make is in their managers, White said. “Because an employee sees the organizations through the lens of proximity and who they work with and who they work for.”
Managers, she said, can invest, engage, support and build a relationship with their team members — something vital to employee engagement and organizational success.
“It's through the conversations, the real-time coaching and feedback so that that person knows what they're doing is helpful,” said White. “And if they need to course correct, they can do that quickly.”
Managers must create a space for employee feedback and insights, where employees can ask questions and have meaningful conversations that extend to what’s important to the employee, including their personal life.
And organizations need to equip leaders with the right skills to manage. “Building them up so that they can better manage their people. And the people that stay with the organization are more engaged, more dynamic, more excited about what they do and who they do it with," said White.
Don’t Rely (Entirely) on Technology
Everyone is dependent on technology, said Schawbel, and that dependency will continue to increase as technologies improve and become more immersive.
But leaders who depend too much on technology "will miss the human interactions that are required to communicate key moments like recognizing an employee or offering critical feedback,” he said, “both of which are less effective through a text message."
Schawbel said part of this new way of thinking includes understanding the most appropriate means of communicating based on the situation and objective because how and what leaders communicate can greatly impact employee satisfaction and the overall employee experience.
Think of all the communication methods the typical digital workplace employee has at their fingertips — email, instant message, video call, phone call, etc. Leaders need to know the best way to communicate, which could change on an employee and situational basis.
“For instance,” said Schawbel, “if they find themselves emailing back and forth too much, then their point hasn't gotten across, and they should have picked up the phone instead.”
Drive Employee Purpose
Many employees think and reflect on the work they do, and research from McKinsey found that 70% of employees define their sense of purpose by their work.
People might ask themselves questions like: Is the work meaningful? Do I enjoy it? Does it have purpose beyond the monotonous?
White said one way companies can drive purpose in this stage of the employee journey is by communicating and showcasing employee impact. Leaders can help employees understand how their work contributes to the team, organization and, ultimately, the end consumer.
She pointed to a former employer, one that made diapers. The work can feel routine, she said, whether you’re packaging, testing quality or somewhere else in the process. “But the end purpose and use is you are creating a diaper that someone uses,” she said. “And so bringing that to purpose, you could liken it to premature babies in the hospital or that first hug. And what we do then becomes giving that experience.”
She added: “Resonating purpose helps engage employees because they think about what they do” and know what they do matters beyond themselves.
Facilitate Growth and Development
Employees start thinking about what’s next from day one, said White. Even during the interview, it's on future employees' minds.
They’re wondering: Is the organization a good fit? Where do I go next? Can I grow? Will I be challenged? Do I see a role beyond this one that I’m applying for?
As such, employers need to think about trajectories within the employee experience and communicate opportunities and expectations early and often.
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In her experience, White said mature organizations use talent reviews to not only assess past performance but also to determine whether someone has the potential to be a leader in the organization or move to the next level.
“It’s a level of supporting that person’s growth,” said White. Not just in saying you think that employee is great, but truly identifying the next steps for that person based on that person’s skill, will and interest in growth.
Schawbel said it's important because employees are willing to leave if they don’t get these growth opportunities. In a study with Amazon, Workplace Intelligence found that 74% of Millenial and Gen Z employees are likely to quit this year due to lack of skill development opportunities.
“By offering learning and development in the form of mentoring and courses, you can support younger workers and enable them to grow at your company," Schawbel said.
Prioritize Employee Recognition
It seems simple — people like to hear when they’ve done a good job. That recognition plays a factor in the employee experience.
Yet, managers often forget to praise employees when they go above and beyond. In fact, 81% of leaders in a Gallup survey said recognition is not a major strategic priority for their organization.
It's unfortunate because the data clearly shows that when recognition is done right, employees are:
- 4 times as likely to be engaged
- 73% less likely to feel “always” or “very often” burned out
- 56% less likely to look for other job opportunities
What does recognition done right look like? The report shows that employee recognition has the most impact when it is authentic, equitable, personalized, embedded in the culture and fulfilling to employees’ expectations and needs.
This culture of recognition can ultimately save a 10,000-employee company up to $16.1 million in turnover costs each year. (Meta, for context, has 58,000+ employees.)
Focus on Work-Life Integration
Instead of work-life balance, companies can reduce stress within the employee journey with work-life integration, said Schawbel.
“Work-life integration puts the power in the hands of employees who each have different life situations, priorities and work styles,” he said. Someone who has to take their children to school in the morning, for example, might like to go to the gym in the afternoon and spend evenings working.
“People in today's culture like to incorporate their personal and professional lives in a way that best suits them,” he said. “I've been studying the connection between work and life for years and have found that there's a direct link between both. If we have stress from work, it impacts our personal lives.”
In a survey from The Workplace Institute, employees said workplace stress negatively impacts their home life (71%), wellbeing (64%) and relationships (62%). And 78% said stress negatively impacts their work performance.
“Companies that promote work-life integration are typically the same ones that embrace hybrid and remote work,” said Schawbel, “because they understand that their employees want the flexibility to manage their own time, instead of doing it for them, which reduces stress and improves their quality of life and work performance.”
Cultivate a Culture of Belonging
One thing organizations can do to boost employee engagement is to create a culture of belonging, said White.
Research found that a sense of belonging at work is linked to a 56% increase in performance, 50% drop in turnover risk and 75% reduction in sick days. That equals out to $52 million in savings for a 10,000-person company.
One possible avenue for creating belonging? Community outreach — volunteer work that benefits the places where everyone lives and works.
Another idea is an employee resource group. These groups, said White, started as a space for diverse talent to build communities around AI initiatives. But today, they’ve evolved to be communities of shared interests and experiences.
Now, an employee resource group might extend beyond ethnic or demographic diversity, she said, and instead focus on parenting, military veterans or another experience or topic entirely.
Fostering this culture becomes a little more challenging in the digital workplace. But one solution White said she’s found useful is giving options. For instance, an after-work video cocktail hour for those who want to socialize or a quick video coffee chat for those who want bite-sized interactions throughout the workday.
Aim Always for Authenticity
Anything a manager or organization does has to feel authentic, White said. Otherwise, they not only threaten employee engagement but also employee belief in the organization’s contributions and value. And that skepticism, she said, tends to permeate the organization.
“Inauthenticity leads to those elements of skepticism that it’s hard for…managers and leaders at all levels to change that perception and provide different experiences,” she said.
Authenticity might take time to get right, though. Employees are all different. They’re interested in different things, and what is valuable to one employee may not be to another. As such, managers might have to try a few different avenues and options before they get it right.
But trying, at the very least, is essential. “Anything that we do that is disingenuous as employers, as organizations, as individuals in an organization — that’s worse than not doing anything at all,” said White.
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A Positive Employee Experience Relies on Employee Engagement
The engage stage of the employee journey is not one to ignore. Today’s employees think long and hard about the work they do and the people (and companies) they do it with. They’re looking for purpose, inclusion and work-life satisfaction.
Leaders have the tools to drive improve employee engagement. And ideally, they should continuously look back at employee journey mapping to see where they can improve each stage of the employee's journey.
Next time, in part five, we'll see what experts have to say about the perform stage of the employee journey — a time in the employee experience that's all about employer and employee expectations, feedback and recognition.
About the Author
Michelle Hawley is an experienced journalist who specializes in reporting on the impact of technology on society. As a senior editor at Simpler Media Group and a reporter for CMSWire and Reworked, she provides in-depth coverage of a range of important topics including employee experience, leadership, customer experience, marketing and more. With an MFA in creative writing and background in inbound marketing, she offers unique insights on the topics of leadership, customer experience, marketing and employee experience. Michelle previously contributed to publications like The Press Enterprise and The Ladders. She currently resides in Pennsylvania with her two dogs.