Recently, Bill Inman, Vice President of SmartSearch, sat down with the Aleron Group’s Senior Vice President, Jill Whalen Helms. SmartSearch has been a long-term partner of Aleron’s subsidiary, Acara, delivering technology services to them for decades. Together, the two business leaders discussed the critical role that employee engagement has in the success of an organization. Additionally, Jill shares her expertise in the trending changes in engagement that she has observed throughout her career and tips to help measure and improve engagement where necessary.
Changes in employee demand over the last decade
Employee expectations have modified in the last 10 or so years as employees now have autonomy in terms of when, where, and how they choose to work. Due, in part, to the pandemic, gone are the days of each employee arriving at the office at nine in the morning and leaving at five in the evening. Now that employees have experienced this dose of independence, the odds of returning to the former office dynamic are slim.
More than anything, employees want to be heard and understood. As the United States has begun to pay strong attention to the importance of an individual’s mental health, business leaders must provide their employees with the resources that they need to be effective in the workplace. Strong employee engagement is fueled by the connection that people have to both their roles in the workplace and their colleagues.
Why is employee engagement important for your business outcomes?
Each day, your employees take action and make decisions impacting your organization. Disengaged workers place your business at risk and hinder your growth and success. A Gallup study found that when comparing employee engagement levels, the top and bottom-quartile business units and teams had the following differences in business outcomes:
- absenteeism (81%)
- accidents and safety incidents (64%)
- product defects (41%)
- turnover for high-turnover companies (18%) and low-turnover organizations (43%)
- theft (28%)
- profitability (23%)
- sales (18%)
- customer loyalty/engagement (10%)
How to measure engagement
Simply put, employee engagement is done by listening. However, to listen to your employees’ feedback, they must be given the opportunity to provide it. This can be done in two ways:
- Surveys: Surveying employees periodically from the very beginning of their employment. As Jill puts it, “people make a decision in the first 30 days regarding their expectations and perceptions of the company that affects their employment long term.” These surveys are hugely helpful in determining issues employees are having early on in their role and whether expectations are being met, in addition to general insights into company culture and role responsibilities. Results are transparently shared, typically at a company town hall meeting, where employees can see what actions are being taken based on the feedback received. Jill cited an example to prove how effective surveys can be: Aleron’s 2021 survey results showed a large desire for more flexible work arrangements. In turn, this was implemented in 2022 to attract and retain more employees.
- Employee listening strategy: This is a form of collecting information that can be done quickly and more frequently. Employee feedback can be collected on a large scale via surveys, and results should be in real-time with appropriate actions taken based on the data. Employees are often asked about their opinions on “hot topics” and new or existing initiatives or norms in the workplace or the role of the individual. These continuous conversations with employees offer a long-term perspective, allowing leaders to identify areas of successful engagement and those needing improvement from all aspects of the employee experience.
Ways to improve employee engagement
Jill offered the following tips to improve employee engagement:
- Start with where you’re at: Yes, surveys can be intimidating. They are personal and can contain feedback that can be hard to read. However, it is better overall for a company to be aware of any issues than to ignore them and risk losing valuable employees. An organization can never improve engagement rates unless they know where they stand in terms of employee satisfaction, to begin with.
- Walk the talk: An organization must follow through with the promises they have made to its employees. A company should communicate to its employees that they recognize the desired changes are coming. A mutually beneficial employee-manager relationship cannot exist without accountability.
- Technology is key: In summary, technology enables both direct and contractor staff more self-service options. Practices as simple as using technology to customize onboarding processes, client handbook human resource policies, allowing clocking in via mobile phone geotagging, or automated messages regarding documents needed or policy changes offer employees the autonomy they want by having the opportunity to communicate with the necessary department themselves. Additionally, technology platforms, like the ones the Aleron Group uses, utilize artificial intelligence as a customer service tool. Artificial intelligence analyzes the sentiments of open-ended survey questions, eliminates any potential bias from a human receiver of feedback, and directs the data and sentiments to the proper department. Optimization of technology for these purposes not only promotes the desired employee autonomy but also allows for the discovery of trends, whether positive or negative, among employee opinions.
Watch the entire video here.