Across the board, employee engagement is a top priority for today’s business leaders. American businesses spend hundreds of millions of dollars on employee engagement initiatives each year, but with less than impressive results. What if we are focusing on the wrong thing? What if employee engagement is more of a symptom than a solution?
We know it is wise to monitor our blood pressure. However, is low blood pressure really what we are striving for? Our ultimate goal is a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Blood pressure is just a sign of whether or not we are on the right path.
Similarly, low employee engagement is more a sign that something else is missing. I have argued before that putting engagement front-and-center is misguided. Fortunately, business leaders are increasingly shifting the focus to the other E: the employee experience.
What is the employee experience?
Employee experience is a more ambitious and holistic approach to engagement. For decades, the primary end goal of engagement efforts was increased performance and reduced turnover. Those remain important objectives, but the new approach embraces the employee as a whole person. The goal now is to create jobs that are not just satisfying, but meaningful.
For example, the word health was previously defined as merely the absence of disease. However, with the new focus on wellness, there has been a paradigm shift. Health is now defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
In that same vein, creating an optimal employee experience is not just a matter of fine-tuning a job and adding additional perks. It represents a fundamental shift in perspective—looking at the workplace through the lens of the employee and not the employer. This shift parallels the emergence of the idea of servant leadership–leaders who focus on helping their employees thrive.
When employees thrive, performance and profits will follow. When the employee experience is meaningful and fulfilling, higher engagement numbers will follow.
Keep your finger on the pulse
It is essential for business leaders to know what their employees are thinking and feeling. Although they are no solution in themselves, biannual employee surveys are an effective way to gauge your employees’ needs, desires and interests. Employee interest surveys uncover if your organization is providing suitable perks, benefits and wellness programs. If there seems to be a discrepancy between the feedback you receive from employees and what you are offering, you can adjust accordingly to improve your employees’ experience.
A more innovative tool is the stay interview. While the exit interview looks back and tends to focus on what was lacking, the stay interview is forward-looking and focuses on what is going well. What does the employee find most rewarding about the job? How can you work together to build on those positive experiences and create new challenges and growth? A stay interview helps you learn why your employees continue to work for your organization.
Encourage work-life integration
Although I contend that work-life balance is a flawed concept, today’s business leaders must help employees solve the work-life equation in the manner that works best for them. In some cases that might mean offering a flex work schedule. In other cases, it may mean coming up with a mix of remote and on-site work.
The bottom line is that you do not want employees seeing their work as competition with the other parts of their lives. The technological tools we have at our disposal now allow us to customize the work experience and keep our talent happy, and we should not pass up that opportunity.
Invest in your employees
Just as often as employees leave for better pay, they also cite opportunities for personal and professional growth. A robust menu of options for training, coaching, and mentoring will assure employees that their job is more than a paycheck—it is an opportunity for them to deepen existing strengths and discover new ones.
Take the time to understand your employees’ dreams and aspirations. Investing in the employee experience is the equivalent to investing in research and development. It is about managing with the long view in mind.
The quality of the employee experience is tied to the health of your organization’s culture, and nothing is more critical to culture than trust. Trust includes transparency and honesty, but goes beyond those qualities. Employees genuinely trust a company when they believe in its mission and purpose, when they take pride in how it carries itself as a corporate citizen.
Trust and belief—in conjunction with the knowledge that a company is doing everything it can to invest in its employees’ wellbeing and self-development—translates into motivation. Motivated employees not only have a positive work experience, but they also improve company culture and engagement.
It is not that employee engagement is unimportant. Like regular blood pressure measurements, it gives us a metric to gauge progress, whereas the employee experience is difficult to quantify. The quality of the employee experience is the beating heart of workplace culture. When that heart is strong and thriving, employee engagement numbers will soar, and so will your company’s performance.