How to keep your employees engaged at work

Why do so many organisations – including ours on occasion – get skillfully managed employee engagement so wrong?

In July we made the biggest change in our agency’s history, when we became part of MullenLowe.  Some people love change – but not all – and we are acutely aware of the need to bring all our employees with us as we transition onto the next, exciting stage our journey.

The experience, for me, has demonstrated the value of skilfully managed employee engagement.  So why do so many organisations – including ours on occasion – get this so wrong?  And this despite the mounting evidence of its importance: according to Gallup, 87% of employees are not engaged at work, yet studies show that the “100 best places to work” consistently outperform major stock indices by a factor of 2 and have half the staff turnover of their competitors.

I believe that the reasons are simple, but often overlooked: managers thinking it’s solely about internal communications rather than engagement, pushing out news rather than pulling people in; under-valuing the role, under-estimating the challenge and under-investing in programmes; forgetting practicalities (a digital programme for employees without access to computers, for example); using corporate speak, rather than talking human; and failing to put themselves in the employees’ shoes, to feel what it’s like to receive the message.

At MullenLowe salt, we don’t ‘do’ engagement, we create initiatives that lead to engagement – and use well planned, highly targeted, creative communication as a catalyst to bring these initiatives to life.

We see many organisations creating great external communications, investing properly in insight and creativity to get a great result, then leaving the job of employee communication as a lesser priority, with access to a photocopier and no budget.

We say treat employees like consumers; and, in particular, design communication to meet their changing needs.  According to a recent report by Kollective, 65% of the world’s population are ‘visual learners’, who best engage with content through sight and sound, yet 76% of companies still rely on mass e-mails to communicate news to their staff.  And although 3.7 million US workers work from home half of the time, 32% of their employers still use posters to communicate with them.  No external campaign would lack such vital audience insight, creativity or measurement metrics.

Providing employees with premium content, through channels they chose to use (predominantly digital – 66% of US employees in the Kollective survey said they found visual content easier to digest and understand than written documents and printed materials) means these messages land and actually do something – rather than frustrate and waste resource.

Businesses that have the courage to transfer ownership of the challenge to their staff do even better, building a level of engagement few top-down campaigns can hope to achieve.

And the real winners, in our experience, are the businesses that put company values at the heart of engagement.  Our favourite programmes inspire employees using Purpose; creating pride, energy and a tangible impact on productivity – the key ROI.

Engaged employees are as powerful as any other brand asset; disengaged as damaging as any crisis. Hidden in these tough times is a defining moment to create real, meaningful connections that inspire, maintain productivity and drive momentum. Investing in people like this has never been more important.