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Building an Employee Engagement Program

published: March 18, 2020

Most articles related to employee engagement offer quick-fixes and best practices on how to boost employee engagement. Such as offering advice like “give employees flexible hours.”

It can be helpful to know what solutions have seen success for other businesses, of course. And many of these tips do increase employee engagement and morale in the short term.

However, if your goal is to achieve profound and systemic improvements in employee engagement, implementing singular short-term solutions just won’t cut it.

Think about it from this perspective: if you wanted to improve your overall physical health permanently, what should you do? Go on a fad diet to get quick weight loss results. Or, alternatively, you could change your entire lifestyle through a multifaceted program built from proper diet, nutrition, and exercise, and other activities slowly over time.

Undoubtedly, the quick fix fad diet is an excellent route if you want to lose weight quickly. But it’s ineffective if your goal is to achieve long-term permanent improvements in your overall physical health.

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Asset 86iZoom Out: A Long-Term Strategy

The same logic applies to an Employee Engagement Program. You can’t expect to experience long-term results by implementing any corporate trend.

Organizations must take a multi-step approach.

The first stepzoom out. Look at the big picture. What does your business wish to achieve in terms of employee engagement: a lower employee turnover rate? Higher productivity? Greater employee satisfaction? Every organization has its own unique set of problems. Contemplate these issues and formulate your Employee Engagement Strategy around solving them.

This exercise will inform the next stepchoosing tactics, which are the main drivers of your employee engagement program.

Initiatives vs Tactics

Asset 28-1The two basic building blocks of Employee Engagement Programs are tactics and initiatives.

First off, tactics are the primary building blocks. And they can be further broken down into specific initiatives.

Think about it like this—you have an overarching goal to lose 20 lbs.

A weight loss program consists of core tactics such as cardio exercise, weight training, nutrition, to reach your weight loss goal.

This is a good start, but the program is not detailed enough; “cardio exercise” can be so many things. As such, the precise actions to achieve the overarching goal should be articulated. I.e. What type of cardio exercise should I do? What type of food should I eat? How often should I exercise?

Answering these questions will bring you to your specific initiatives. For example, "cardio exercise" can be broken down into specific actions, such as running, spinning, swimming, tennis, etc.

The specific action (or initiatives) you choose to invest in it—whether it's swimming, running, or spinning—has a strong impact on how fast and efficiently you will reach your higher objective. In other words, although this may seem tedious, it is a crucial part of the planning process.

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7 Common Employee Engagement Program Tactics

When it comes to your engagement program, there are seven (7) core tactics (i.e. dimensions of employee engagement) that are the most important contributors to employee happiness and satisfaction.

  1. Communication & Goal Setting
  2. Organizational Transparency
  3. Autonomy & Challenge
  4. Rewards & Recognition
  5. Training & Learning Opportunities
  6. Compensation & Benefits
  7. Work-Life Balance

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Remember, these are tactics, the main building blocks for your program. For example, we know that improving work-life balance is an effective tactic to boost employee engagement. However, work-life must be "brought to life" with various initiatives. For example, with half-day Fridays, flexible hours, work from home policies, etc.

When building a long-term engagement plan, pick 2-3 tactics and ask yourself: how can these be expressed in our organization? This exercise will help identify key initiatives to roll out.

In summary, key initiatives are very specific and actionable. They should reflect and embody the values and personality of your brand. They must also be directly related to the issue you’re attempting to overcome.

Deciding which tactics to focus on

That said, you might be unsure of which area of employee engagement requires the most attention in your business. 

To make the most strategic decision, go straight to the source—your employees. A standard method of auditing engagement is to administer surveys specifically designed to measure employee engagement. 

If you're on a budget, you can create a survey from scratch. Otherwise, you can use an outside service like Applauz Pulse Surveys to gather valuable insights on the health of your organization. 

The results of the employee surveys will help reveal which domain of employee engagement needs improvement and attention.

Employee Engagement Initiatives: A Few Ideas

Here are several common employee engagement initiatives; each initiative is the extension of a high-level tactic.

Asset 84iCommunication & goal setting

  • Institutionalize bi-monthly 1:1 meetings between employees and direct managers
  • Implement a performance tracking or goal management software
  • Institutionalize formal communications training for managers

Organizational transparency

  • Launch a monthly company updates email or newsletter
  • Implement a yearly company-wide executive presentation and lunch
  • Implement an anonymous feedback system, where any employee can send suggestions to executives

Autonomy & challenge

  • Institutionalize a work from home policy
  • Implement a monthly “think tank” brainstorm, anyone can join and pitch improvement ideas

Asset 30Rewards & recognition

  • Implement a formal recognition software
  • Implement a Years of Service Program
  • Give a free birthday lunch and celebration for employee’s birthdays

Training & learning opportunities

  • Offer to subsidize enrollment in outside training and educational opportunities like online courses or workshops
  • Subscribe and give access to print and digital publications of interest to skills or knowledge development
  • Bring in experts to conduct discussions, workshops, or presentations on topics of interest to employees

Compensation & benefits

  • Implement a bonus program
  • Improve health insurance policy
  • Conduct a wage audit to ensure wages are fair and competitive

Asset 37Work-life balance

  • Institutionalize a flexible start time policy
  • Implement a half-day Friday policy
  • Improve the company's PTO policy

Some of these initiatives are quite simple and straightforward—requiring little resources or investment. However, others might be more complex to implement and require more time and resources.

Ultimately, the initiatives that you pick to implement must be targeted to the engagement issue you’re attempting to overcome and also fit within the framework of your budget and overall resources plan.

Final Thoughts

Now you understand the essence of building a long-term Employee Engagement Program. Zooming out and looking at the year ahead and asking, "which tactics are we neglecting in our business.”

The biggest challenge lies in respecting the bandwidth of your organization—in terms of budget, time, and other resources.

As a result, building a plan doesn't only involve carefully choosing which tactics and initiatives have priority, but also assessing how manageable it would be to implement. It's normal to expect a plan to go through several revisions before final approval.

On a final note: documenting and revising your program is also vital to success and is, therefore, the most important first step towards long-term employee engagement. Be assured, that by reading this, you’re already on the right track!