Employee Engagement Begins With Being Human
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Employee Engagement Begins With Being Human

Maigen Rowe, director of employee experience, Allegion
Maigen Rowe, director of employee experience, Allegion

Maigen Rowe, director of employee experience, Allegion

For the last 20 years, employee engagement has been a hot topic in the business world.While we know that engaged employees are more productive, more collaborativeand deliver better business results, companies have continued to struggle to piece the engagement puzzle together. After reporting record-high global engagement in 2019, Gallup’sState of the Global Workplace 2021 report detailed a two percent decline, with only 20 percent of the world’s employees feeling engaged at work in 2020.

The 2020 rollercoaster

It’s no mystery why the world’s employees felt less engaged in 2020 than they did the year before. We were navigating one of the greatest global crises in most of our working lives, and COVID-19 forced many offices to close their doors overnight. Employees were told to work from home—whether their home was conducive to working or not—schools closed, and we scrambled to set up make-shift offices for what we thought would last just a few weeks.

When those weeks turned to months, we watched as every news cycle had a different take on health conditions, treatment options, and companies’ plans to return to offices (or not). The whole world was on a roller coaster of emotions—both in and out of work—making a dip in global employee engagement in 2020 seem completely understandable.

Turning lessons into successes

Today’s workplace doesn’t look much different than it did a year ago. Thanks to the availability of vaccines, some offices have started to open back up, but many employees have been more productive when working remotely and will continue to work from home, at least some of the time. The need for teams and leaders to learn how to navigate the new hybrid environment while building employee engagement is greater than ever. The silver lining of the roller coaster that was 2020 is that it taught us everything we need to know to build employee engagement.

It turns out that the pieces of the puzzle that we never could get quite right before were vulnerability and authenticity. Fortunately, working through the pandemic has been like a master class in both. If you weren’t taking notes, I’ll gladly share mine with you here.

Finding new ways to connect

Employees want to be seen as human beings and know that they are seen and cared about for who they are as much as what they do. Workplaces need to create spaces, both virtually and in-person, where employees can show up as authentically as they want. People need to feel safe being vulnerable, including acknowledging that they are feeling overwhelmed rather than glossing over the stress and pretending everything is fine. And authenticity can be as easy as a quick check-in with a teammate to see how they are feeling.

“I’m a fan of the 50/50 approach to one-on-ones where half of the meeting is spent talking about the person and the other half is spent talking about the work.”

Leaders should regularly be setting up one-on-ones with employees and prioritizing some of that time to connecting as people. When you know about someone as a person, you are better able to leverage their strengths in their work, coach them effectively through their blind spots and position them for growth in the future. I’m a fan of the 50/50 approach to one-on-ones where half of the meeting is spent talking about the person and the other half is spent talking about the work. Gallup’s research finds that globally, only four in 10 employees strongly agree that their supervisor or someone at work cares about them as a person, so there is certainly work to be done.

Likewise, teams should be creating opportunities to connect on a human level as well. The infamous Gallup engagement item, “I have a best friend at work,” has evolved in the last 18 months, when we realized how much we valued our work relationships when we could no longer stop by and chat in between meetings.

Creating opportunities for the team to connect on a human level is as simple as creating a Teams or Slack channel for team members to interact on non-work items. Start a game of “GIF UNO,” or post a question of the day to learn if people put noodles in their chili (answer: some do, but you really shouldn’t, at least in my family) or what holiday traditions they celebrate with their families. And you can never go wrong with a virtual coffee break or happy hour at the end of a long week.

Gallup’s research indicates that when people feel a strong connection with their team members, they take positive actions that benefit the business. Sadly, globally, only three in 10 employees strongly agree that they have a best friend at work. When that ratio increases to six in 10, organizations could see as much as 5 percent higher customer engagement scores and 10 percent higher profits.

If your company hasn’t prioritized engagement, now is time to get started. Connecting with employees doesn’t require flashy perks or big budgets. The key is to create an environment that encourages authenticity and vulnerability from both leaders and the members of their teams.

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