Employee engagement has always been one of my passions. Throughout my career, I’ve led many employee engagement initiatives and have always enjoyed seeing people get excited about the work they’re doing. In this article, I will present ten engagement techniques you can use to impress upon your employees the importance of their contributions and help them align their activities with your company’s strategies and vision. As you review the techniques, keep in mind that many can’t be performed independently; you may need to combine some of them to be really successful.
There are simple ways to recognize staff without breaking the bank: writing a letter to show the boss’s appreciation for a specific accomplishment; dedicating a special office space to those being recognized; holding a jeans/casual day; or offering an extended lunch. If you have a small budget, consider throwing a pizza lunch, bring in coffee and donuts, or handing out gift cards ($5-10) to the local coffee shop. Lunch out is another great way to recognize individuals or teams!
Get creative, but make sure you tie recognition to goals or initiatives in your area. For instance, I’ve given rewards for top quality, most calls per day/hour, most valuable team player, most valuable employee (or employee of the month), best attendance, etc. And don’t forget about industry awards, like the HDI Analyst of the Year or HDI Desktop Support Technician of the Year Awards. These awards are great ways to recognize team members, and the nomination process isn’t overly challenging.
Regardless of the type of recognition, everyone appreciates being acknowledged for a job well done.
At work, there are many ways to communicate. Ask your team members how they like to receive messages. They may offer up some of the following:
- Small-group meetings
- Team meetings
- One-on-one meetings
- Small group huddles with leaders
- Skip-level meetings
- Town halls
- Online chats
- Social media
- Physical or online message boards
Solicit volunteers to help you with some of these items, and let them express their creativity. For instance, ask for volunteers to write newsletter articles or prepare presentations for use at a town hall. If you do have a town hall, dedicate five minutes to recognizing individual and team accomplishments.
If you’re not holding regular one-on-one meetings with each employee, you need to start. Put together a simple agenda, and be sure to include some personal discussion (i.e., not business). For instance, ask your employee to share a high (something that made her feel good or proud) and a low (something that frustrated or disappointed her during the week). Share yours as well. The conversation may play out like this: “My high for the week was when I finished my first 5K run. It made me feel very proud and excited for my next race! I was disappointed when I learned my favorite television show was ending.” This part of the conversation may be light, but it will spark additional conversation, helping you get to know and further engage your employees.
Training and development enables organizations to increase production and attract and retain talent. In fact, the Association for Talent Development (formerly the American Society for Training and Development) recommends a minimum of forty hours of training a year for every employee.
In the end-user support environment, it may not be easy to pull a large number of people off the phones or away from servicing customers to attend a formal class. So, don’t do that. Instead, take advantage of hands-on, experiential learning. Identify a particular task, technology, tool, etc., that someone is good at and use that person as a trainer. If someone learns a new trick, ask him to write about it in an upcoming newsletter or present it at your team meeting. Showcasing training and development will help build excitement across the team and reinforce its importance to all team members.
For those who may be desk-bound, online training is a good option. If your situation does allow you to take time away, check out the offerings at local colleges, universities, and community colleges.
There are many different types of stretch assignments, but the best stretch assignments are those that create win-win scenarios for your organization and your employees.
Before I transitioned to the service desk, I was working in process improvement. I wanted something new: I was bored, and I felt stuck. I had been talking to my leadership about the opportunity to try something new, but I just couldn’t there were no open opportunities. One day, my manager called me into his office and said he’d found something: one of the managers at service desk had gone out on leave and was likely to be out for a few months. He asked if I’d be interested in filling in for him while he was out. I jumped on the opportunity, and eventually that temporary role turned into a full-time gig.
While I was at the service desk, I remembered how rewarding that experience was. After some of my top performers expressed an interest in deepening their skill sets, specifically in desktop support, I contacted our desktop support management team and asked if they needed any help. I arranged for two of my employees to work on the desktop team for four hours each week. Both of the employees were thrilled! They were able to build their skills and expand their networks.
These decisions weren’t made lightly. I looked at our staffing model and call stats to make sure we wouldn’t miss our metrics. But having laid that initial groundwork, when another top performer reached out to me and expressed an interest in learning more about security engineering. I was able to arrange for him to work with that team for a few hours a week, as well. Eventually, out of the 75-person service desk, 15 percent (eleven people) were on some sort of stretch assignment. Employee engagement improved and, even with fewer staff available, so did our productivity! The team became more energized about their work and the new opportunities, which made the stretch assignments created a win-win situation for both our employees and the organization.
Now, you may be thinking, “I can’t afford to take two people off the phones for four hours a week.” If you can’t do four hours, how about two?
Gamification has become increasingly popular over the last decade. In simplified terms, gamification is all about leveraging competitive thinking to solve everyday problems. You can buy gamification software, but it isn’t necessary. In fact, I was doing it with my team without even realizing it!
By calculating metrics like average calls per hour, average speed to answer, total time between calls, etc., the team was ranked each day and by each shift (i.e., overnight, 8–5, 9–6, etc). These metrics were available for anyone on the team to see, and we encouraged everyone to review them. In doing so, it instilled a sense of competition. At the end of each month, those at the top of the Leader Board were awarded Most Valuable Player status and given a gift card or an extended lunch.
Anything that can be quantified, can be gamified. You’d be amazed at how quickly the thing that no one ever cared about becomes the center of attention!
Team champions are critical for employee engagement. Think of the individuals on your team who are enablers of change; they’re enthusiastic, positive, and, most importantly, passionate about their work. Oftentimes, they’re well connected, and their teammates look up to them. These are your ambassadors, and they should be involved in your employee engagement initiatives.
Ask your champions to come up with ways to help improve engagement. Give them a voice, a budget ,and a time frame for implementation. Then, support their efforts by encouraging participation and responding positively.
Be the Example
I recently attended a branding session with Kaplan Mobray, based on his book, The 10Ks of Personal Branding: Create a Better You. In his presentation, Mobray had us complete an exercise. He asked us take out our phones and take a “normal” selfie: no big smiles or duck faces. He then collected random phones, showed audience members on opposite sides of the auditorium the pictures, and asked them to describe the people. He used my selfie as an example. The adjectives the stranger used to describe me were “serious” and “quiet.” My friends and family would laugh at that description, as neither of those things are true (especially the “quiet” part!). However, the exercise really did get me thinking about how those who don’t know me perceive me. How does my staff perceive me? How do my peers perceive me?
I became more conscious of how I was presenting myself. I exuded more confidence. I concentrated on being upbeat and positive, the attributes I wanted people to remember when they thought of me. And it worked! People related to me differently, and I became valued for my determination and optimism in the face of challenges.
There are countless websites dedicated to team-building activities, but I like to use easy, two-minute icebreakers prior to team meetings, town halls, etc. A simple and fast activity involves putting several questions in a hat and asking each person to pull a question (if you have remote staff, you can send them questions in advance). Then, ask each person to answer the question in just a few words. Some examples include:
- If you could describe yourself by a song title, what would you choose?
- If you were a superhero, what would your talent be?
- If money was no object, where would you go if you had a week off?
As we say goodbye to summer and hello to cooler weather, apple pie, and the holidays, it’s a good time to mix up your employee engagement activities. How about trying some of these team-building activities?
- Fall harvest or Thanksgiving event
- Pumpkin decorating
- Apple picking
- Chili cook-off
- Local sporting events
Ask your team champions to come up with more team building ideas, and then get planning!
Look up synonyms for the word “trust” and you’ll find words like confidence, expectation, assurance, dependence, reliance, certainty, sureness, honesty, sincerity, and integrity. Some opposites of “trust” include disbelief, doubt, uncertainty, hesitation, and reluctance. Trust goes a long way in engaging employees. To show trust, tell the truth, value your employees, and be fair, open, and honest. Model the behaviors you want your employees to have. As a manager, if you demonstrate trust in your employees—let them know they’re safe and their ideas are valued—they’ll reciprocate.
Mission, Strategy, and Progress
Make sure your team understands how their work affects the big picture (that is, your company’s mission, strategy, and vision). Share your mission. Explain your strategy. If you don’t have a strategy, engage your team in helping to build it. Help your employees see the value in the work they do. How does it help sell our product? How does it help the bottom line? How does it help with customer retention? How does it help our brand/reputation?
Help your team understand that their day-to-day work is meaningful, that it contributes to the company’s progress. As you make progress toward the company goals, explain how each individual’s work relates. If everyone on your team is in sync, you will be more successful at achieving your goals.
Believe in your people and help them feel like their role, their work, matters and is key to the success of the company. People who feel valued and are acknowledged for their contributions are happier and more productive.
If you want an engaged team, you need to be perceived as being engaged. Our busy schedules often make prioritizing employee engagement difficult, but it’s critical that we make time to do so. As a regular practice, I block off thirty minutes on my calendar each week, and I use that time to plan activities, recognize staff, and/or just walk around and say hello to my teammates. You don’t need to do all ten of these things in order to have an engaged team. Start with one or two ideas and expand from there.
Jocelyn DeMaio, director of account management at The Hartford, is a ten-year veteran of the technical service and support industry, with extensive experience in the analysis, design, and implementation of organizational changes and process improvements. She has a passion for employee engagement, and she relishes opportunities to improve operational efficiency and excellence. She is skilled at coaching and developing talent and next-generation leaders. Jocelyn received her MS in organizational management from Eastern Connecticut State University, and she’s a certified HDI Support Center Manager. She’s been a member of HDI since 2005, and she’s served as the VP of finance for the Connecticut local chapter since 2010.