9 Time Tested Employee Engagement Ideas That Even Work For Millennials

According to Gallup, only 29 percent of Millennials are engaged at work (emotionally and behaviorally connected to their job and company), which is why about 60 percent of Millennials say they are open to a different job opportunity.

This Millennial engagement epidemic and the turnover costs associated with it are impacting the U.S. economy more than $30.5 billion annually.  As organizations continue to grow with a Millennial workforce, it’s critical to engage Millennials to avoid the high recruiting, training, and productivity costs associated with employee disengagement. 

source How This Chief Heart Officer Engages a Workforce of 80 Percent Millennials

While roughly 7 out of 10 of your employees are disengaged working for you, the good news is that all employers are dealing with this issue.  It’s a level playing field!  Turn this issue into a unique competitive advantage for your organization. 

America’s disengaged workforce is costing us billions of dollars annually, with no end in sight.  The impact to your productivity, quality, delivery, reputation, and morale cannot be ignored.

“With a workforce that is 80 percent Millennials, VaynerMedia–the full-service digital agency founded by Gary Vaynerchuk–believes creating more company heart is the solution to better engage their 600-plus Millennial employees.” 

– Ryan Jenkins

source How This Chief Heart Officer Engages a Workforce of 80 Percent Millennials

After repeated employee engagement surveys, year after year and talking with hundreds of employees, common themes reveal why our workforce has checked out.

  • Distrust of leadership
  • Excessive turnover
  • Imbalanced contingent workforce
  • Excessive overtime
  • Favoritism (or the perception thereof)
  • Work/Life out of balance
  • Communication gaps creating frustration
  • Lack of appreciation and recognition
  • No relationship with the leadership

Engaging your workforce is more than picnics, parties, and events.  With more than 25 years’ experience in the trenches of industry, I am convinced there is nothing new under the sun. Even Millennials!

9 Employee Engagement Ideas

1. Employment Is Not Just A Transaction

Take the time upfront to select and onboard the right people into the organization. You can’t develop what doesn’t exist, so hold out for the right candidate and do not compromise in filling the position. As the old saying goes, “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel”.

Involve front-line leaders in the process for selecting the people they will lead. Most of them have a keen sense for sniffing out “the bad apples” and are less likely to whimsically dismiss someone new when they personally participated in their selection. Add value to the selection process with the consistent application of an objective assessment tool.  A lot of attention is given to candidates to a variety of factors such as skills, organizational fit, and background checks, but an often-overlooked element may be the actual job fit.

In other words, the peg may be the right height, length, and width, but not the right shape.  A square peg does not fit in a round hole. The churn of new employees is frustrating for both leaders and the workforce. Picking up the slack in the form of overtime and re-training because of poor employment decisions is detrimental to your workforce keeping their head in the game.

2. Provide A Safe Workplace

A single serious injury or a trend of less serious injuries, dominates the thinking of the workforce afterwards with common questions – What is management doing about this? Do they care about me as a person?

The unfortunate experience of leading in the aftermath of a workplace fatality taught me an important lesson on this topic. Workforce engagement and safety clearly feed off each other. I witnessed the workforce come together.  Instead of checking out, the workforce was “all-in” to insure needs were met, and that as a “family” we got through the tragedy together. The leadership team was passionate about effectively communicating what happened, and kept the workforce informed on the corrective action plan until complete.

Attentive kindness and compassion was shown to those that attended the scene, former co-workers, and the victim’s family. We operated on principle, not policy.  The policy did not provide for, nor support what was done.  For example, if we would have blindly followed the policy, we would have given attendance occurrences, and charged vacation hours to co-workers who chose to attend the funeral.

“Employee engagement is more than picnics, parties, and events.”

3. Raw, Real, and Relevant Communication

 Leaders must give feedback consistently that is raw, real, and relevant.  Tell them what they said or did, and why you thought it was effective.  If not, share with them an alternative and why the alternative would have been more effective.

 Small round-table meetings in neutral locations are highly effective in reducing communication barriers and talking through relevant issues by the participants.  Skipping levels of leadership in attendance introduces a broader perspective to both the leader and team member. Spend time learning and responding to issues as they arise to build credibility, reliability, and approachability.

However, remember there are 3-sides to every issue, version 1, version 2 and the truth.  Say “I don’t know” when necessary but follow up with the appropriate parties afterwards to score a massive hit.  Attempting to appear as knowledgeable or making it up as you go is a monumental miss you will pay for later.

Newsletters, emails, postings, and memos should not take the place of timely, authentic, and face to face communication.  Make your communications raw, real, and relevant. It is more important now than ever, as the Millennial generation demands it.

For example, a routine reminder of your anti-harassment policy could include “10 Reasons Why Sex at Work is Not a Good Idea”. Also, direct home mailing for organization events and contests to inform spouses and other family members reinforces an overall sense of belonging.

4. Make Your Leadership Available  Manage By Walking Around (MBWA).  Insist your leaders get up, walk around, and engage people. Having conversation with people helps gain familiarity, create awareness, and understand what is really happening.

An open-door policy, is just that. Schedule time accordingly if uninterrupted time is needed where it must be closed.  Otherwise, keep your door physically open.

Free up your front-line leaders so that their day is not consumed with routine meetings that prevent time otherwise spent interacting with the workforce.  It is amazing what changes when you “walk and talk”, conduct meetings in work areas, and at stand-up conference tables.

Your front-line leaders are the meat in the proverbial sandwich between Sr. leadership and the front-line team member.  Front-line leaders are challenged to keep both parties happy.  Protect them. As the front-line leader goes, so does your workforce.firends_i509s8_nMc3W4

5. Insist on Trustworthy Leadership  Time for a gut-check.  If a trustworthy leader is necessary for others to freely follow, apply this formula to your own relationships and gain insight on what may be holding you back:

C + R + A / Selfish Ambition = Trust

Simply complete the equation by rating yourself on a scale of 0 – 10 for each of the factors.

Scale: 1 = little; 10 = a lot. 

  • Credibility – Subject matter expert in the field/topic. Knowing what you are talking about.
  • Reliability – Consistent behavior and decisions.  What they see is what they get.
  • Approachability – Ability to listen and relate to a diverse population.
  • Selfish Ambition* – It is all about you, what you want, how you benefit. *Scale: 0, 1, or 2 – 10. Do the math to see the power of this equation 

Who will your workforce go to if they can’t trust you?  Your trustworthiness as a leader matters.

“…front-line leaders are the meat in the proverbial sandwich…”

6. All Leaders are Employee Advocates  Activities traditionally administered by the HR function, must be actively championed, promoted, and attended by the employee’s leader on a regular basis. Examples of nurturing your workforce to promote engagement may include:

  • Attending funerals for employees’ immediate relatives
  • Coordinating relief efforts if someone’s home is damaged by fire
  • Promptly seeking help when suspecting a battered-spouse situation
  • Visiting an employee in the hospital

Don’t underestimate the value of these seemingly simple things, where at the end of the day they are a BIG DEAL to your workforce. Any time “the boss” has an opportunity to show up as a real person is powerful in instilling authenticity and approachability.

7. Operate on Principle, not Policy  Throw out your policy manual and operate on principles of fairness and consistency. While policies may be necessary for regulatory compliance and to set basic expectations (e.g. – compensation, FMLA, attendance), prescriptive policies undermine a leaders’ ability to work with their teams to build solid working relationship built on trust, accountability, equitability, and fairness.

Requiring leaders to think and use good judgment, rather than hiding behind a policy, comes with the territory. 99.9% of the time when I’ve asked employees if they would rather be treated fair or equal, they have said Fair.  Why? Most said because they were their own person, a unique individual, and wanted to be treated like one.  Responding to an employees’ issue with “Because the policy says…” is a great way to start that long, downhill ride on the slippery slope to treated people like numbers.

When in doubt, err on the side of the employee.  The truly guilty party will eventually fire themselves.

8. Promote Personalized Appreciation & Recognition  Recognize your team members with sincere, specific, and timely words, gestures, and through a variety of activities.  A formal program is not necessary and can blow up in your face. A scheme for prizes, awards, and cash may be fun, but if not carefully crafted quickly become an entitlement, inequitable, or viewed as manipulative, spawning resentment and mistrust.

Keep it simple. The bottom line is to have authentic, meaningful interaction. This includes employee compensation.  No one expects to get rich “working for the man”, but competitive compensation and benefits demonstrate commitment to this and other principles listed.  Pinch pennies, and your workforce will make you pay – they always get the last word.

9. Provide Opportunities for Advancement and Learning  Your workforce wants to see their effort payoff. Career growth and advancement are important to most people, and for those where it is not, they live vicariously through their co-workers.

Set goals where your non-entry level positions are filled by those already in the organization.  Remember, “the devil you know, may be better than the devil you don’t know.” A good benchmark would be 80%. If that is not possible, it may be a good time to evaluate your employment and development processes.

 While a small portion of the workforce may live by the “Do my 8 and hit the gate” principle, most want to successfully perform their jobs well. Invest in lifelong learning for your people through workshops, continuing education, and development experiences. If you worry about training people because they will leave to join a competitor, what about those not trained that stick around?

A word of caution: be conscious of the dynamics of promoting someone from within where they would lead former peers. This requires a robust leadership transition effort to insure everyone’s success. Overcoming psychological barriers for all team members is tough. “Peer today – Boss tomorrow” is a tough transition for both the leader and the team.  

Leverage your natural strengths and practice all these employee engagement strategies

You don’t have to be perfect in any of these areas.  Some are easier to implement than others based on your natural strengths.  Practice all these employee engagement strategies, and you will learn those that have the greatest impact for you and your team. Delegate others Each impacts the other and are effective in series to bring about substantial improvement to your workplace culture and workforce engagement level.

Dave Baker
CEO/President

Dave Baker is the founder and CEO at Palmetto Leadership Center in Anderson, SC. He has been helping manufacturing site leaders get results for more than 25 years to improve their organization's culture, performance, and workforce engagement to effectively execute their strategy. His experience spans a variety of manufacturing environments including the automotive, pharmaceutical, and wood products industries. He can be reached directly at (864) 902-4400 or dave@palmettoleadershipcenter.com ; www.palmettoleadershipcenter.com

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