Tina Hodges, CEO and Chief Experience Officer, Advance Financial
Employee engagement may sound like a workplace trend or HR buzz term, but when embraced by company leadership and planned strategically, it’s anything but a fleeting concept.
Taking a holistic approach to employee engagement is a sound business practice even today when digital engagement beckons and entices. People are what make up the heart of every company, and there’s never been a more critical time for open and honest dialogue with employees. Local economies are becoming world economies, and technology is forcing all industries to evolve in order to stay relevant.
It’s proven that positive employee engagement is good for business. When employees feel valued, retention rates rise, and workplaces become more desirable. In Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace report, data shows that business areas with high employee engagement experience 41 percent less absenteeism and a 17 percent increase in productivity. Positive employee engagement is also good for a company’s bottom line. This report also revealed that high employee engagement yields a 20 percent increase in sales and 21 percent higher profitability.
In a world where there are more demands on one’s attention than ever before, how can companies keep employees engaged? In my experience as CEO, I’ve seen that very practical steps lead to positive employee engagement. Every member in a leadership role, from C-Suite executives to departmental managers, should be committed to “ACT” when it comes to employee engagement: That means being Accessible, Community-minded and Transparent.
Let’s take a look at each of these concepts further.
A = accessible. Great business leaders are available to their employees. Some leaders have risen through the ranks at their companies, making them more likely to empathize with the daily operational challenges facing workers, while others have seen the downside of too much bureaucracy that can isolate employees and cause resentment. Whatever the case, I’ve always made a point to be completely accessible to my employees and encourage leadership at my company to do the same. All employees know they can come to any of us no matter the question or issue and we will work with them on it. If it’s something we don’t know ourselves, then we will all learn and grow together.
True accessibility goes beyond just having an open door policy though. Solicit regular feedback from employees on new processes and procedures, and conduct regular surveys that allow for anonymous comments. Don’t ever let employees feel like their feedback is unheard. Consider holding town meetings on a quarterly basis to stay in tune with employee sentiment. And then, act as quickly as you can on what you have learned.
Make sure you are visible as well. Visit departments, attend employee functions and even eat lunch in the break room or take teams out for coffee. And don’t leave out any remote team members – stay accessible to them as well and include them in all employee activities as best as you can. Bottom line: the fewer walls between you and your employees, the better. Giving employees access to leadership provides them with a sense of ownership and reassures them that their opinions matter.
C = community-minded. As a business owner, giving back to the local community is very important to me. Your employees more than likely live, shop and send their kids to school in the community surrounding your business. Supporting local organizations and businesses shows you are a corporate citizen who cares about the community at large. Encourage management to be active in local non-profit organizations and to be visible at community functions. Create a community relations team within your company that is tasked with identifying and organizing volunteer opportunities.
That focus on volunteerism is a fundamental piece of our company culture at Advance Financial. We encourage employees to volunteer their time in their communities, and we provide a set amount of paid leave each year to do so. As a business owner, if you are going to ask your employees to volunteer in their communities, you should not expect them to only do it on the weekend. The best way to help your cause is to give them every opportunity to give back, which means being prepared to compensate them for their time spent volunteering during the week. We also plan company-wide volunteer events to build great camaraderie among employees while they are contributing to the community. To give them a greater sense of ownership over these activities, we created a committee of employees from all levels who are responsible for planning the community events. And our leadership team commits to being present at every event.
A community-minded focus will not only foster a sense of pride within your workforce, it will also promote a natural, organic awareness about your company and brand – one with a warm personal touch that no advertisement or postcard could provide.
T = transparent. There’s nothing worse for employee morale than keeping them in the dark about your company’s strategy and goals. The last thing you want to do is spring new programs or policies on employees without notice. It makes your team members feel like their opinion doesn’t matter, and it creates a barrier between them and company leadership. Employees are more engaged and happier at companies whose cultures support transparency, according to a 2015 Employee Retention Study by TINYpulse.
Remember that new processes and procedures that leadership spent months discussing may be foreign concepts to the people who will be using them. Keep your employees informed on big decisions throughout the process, and give as many details as possible to ensure everyone understands how they will impact the company. Then, once something is rolled out, continue to take time to explain the reasoning behind it, how it will help the company and how employees can get involved.
Make employees part of the decision-making process as much as you can. If you’re in a highly volatile market, be sure they know about the competition and any industry trends that may impact your company’s bottom line. Update employees on financial goals and annual budgets. Share personnel changes and any new vendor relationships. For example, we send monthly internal newsletters, regular company-wide email updates, and hold annual meetings with our managers to ensure all employees are kept up to speed on the changes and growth within the company. After all, it is the employees’ hard work that helps Advance Financial succeed.
Engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees work harder and longer for employers who welcome and value their opinions, foster a sense of community and keep them informed about the state of the company. Improving employee engagement is an ongoing process that should be a priority for companies that want to compete in today’s rapidly evolving economy. ACT now.
About the Author
Tina Hodges is Chief Executive and Chief Experience Officer at Advance Financial in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2017, Advance Financial ranked for the sixth consecutive year on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country. Follow them on Twitter at @AF_247.