You Can Improve Employee Engagement—by Adding More “Human” into HR

In a workplace that encompasses Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (or millennials), it can be more and more challenging to keep a cross-generational team engaged. In fact, 73% of Gen Y employees left their jobs for not meeting their expectations. And while 75% of employees report being happy at work, nearly 80% are likely to look for a new job after just one bad day. Talk about pressure! How can HR hope to improve employee engagement with so much on the line?

In this age of increased employee expectations in the workplace, employers are on alert. But there’s good news along with the wakeup call: Many employees are hungry for growth and recognition. Some reports state that employees may even consider looking for a different position if they are not given opportunities to grow—and to be recognized for those efforts.

Enter the knights in shining armor: human resources.

Recognition: Key to Improve Employee Engagement

Everyone loves an attaboy or attagirl from time to time. A recent study showed that half of employees said they would leave their company if it didn’t praise them enough for the work they did. Additionally, this same group stated they value a culture of recognition higher than even a 10% pay hike. That’s important for human resources to know. While pay and benefits certainly are imperative for attracting and retaining top talent, there needs to be a human component to HR. Employees want to feel valued by those around them, in addition to being paid for the value they provide.

Unfortunately, there’s clearly a disconnect in many workplaces today.

According to one study, only 30% of managers admit that their company has a focus on praising or thanking employees for a job well done.

Build a Culture of Praise

If you want to improve employee engagement through recognition of individual contributions, one way is to integrate praise into your corporate culture. As the old saying goes, you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. And the same is true when it comes to your team. You will see better results with praise than with criticism.

But how do you go about creating such a culture?

Start with the Specifics, Then Add Heart

While a general “thank you for a job well done” is a great way to incorporate praise and begin to shift your culture, it can feel empty without purpose. To really improve employee engagement and build your culture of praise, connect accolades with real effort.

Choose a specific action to praise. It might be something you’re looking to correct, such as the employee who is often late to work who arrived early today. Or it could be a team member’s stunning contribution to a group project. The more specifically you can tie praise to an action, the more often people will want to repeat that action to get more positive feedback.

Take action quickly. While you might be inclined to have a monthly meeting in which you recognize key employee contributions, that might be too far removed from the action to be effective. Don’t wait. Praise the job well done now, as soon as it occurs, in whatever way feels most genuine to the employee.

Be honest. There’s nothing worse than hearing you did something well when you did next to nothing. Your team members are smart; they’ll know when you’re giving empty praise. If you have nothing genuine to say, it’s better to say nothing than to make up something. It’s guaranteed that your people will see right through the nothing compliment—and it will come back to bite you.

Focus on Insight and Intelligence

When offering praise, it’s important to focus on individuals’ knowledge. A culture of recognition is people centered, and it draws attention to the contributions those people make to the team. The good thing is that intelligence can be praised in more ways than just saying, “Good job.”

Ask for feedback. If you want to improve employee engagement, one quick way to get there is to ask for employees’ opinions and feedback. What do they think about a new initiative? Which software platform do they feel is a better solution for your company’s needs? You likely have a wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips, so tap into it.

Have employees share their experience. Do you have one salesperson who consistently is head and shoulders above her colleagues? Ask her to share with everyone how she does it. By leveraging your high achievers, you build more cohesiveness across the board and empower every employee to do and be more.

Praise Publicly, Correct Privately

As you are in the process of transitioning your corporate culture to one that focuses on praise and building people up to improve employee engagement, not everyone will be on board initially. You may even need to move some people to different roles or coach them out of the organization altogether. As always occurs in the workplace, there will be times when you’ll have to address negative behavior and reprimand an employee.

When it comes to providing criticism to, or correcting, employees, it’s imperative to do that in private. You do not want to call out people in a group setting for doing something wrong. That does nothing to improve employee engagement; it may even cause employees to become actively disengaged.

On the flip side, even a small nugget of positivity can (and should) be addressed publicly. Even when employees are more reserved and don’t want to be at the front of your 1,000-person team, acknowledging them publicly in a company newsletter allows you to meet your goals of setting examples while not embarrassing the individual who’d rather not have a spotlight on them.

Improve Employee Engagement by Knowing Your Team

A strong human resources group knows the employees in their organization—and knows how they want to be acknowledged. It’s important to ensure that you are providing praise and recognition in a way that resonates with each individual. That’s truly where the “human” aspect of HR comes in. Even in a company that is big on sharing kudos and individual wins, how you recognize each person is key.

Incentives and ways to acknowledge great engagement can vary from person to person. While some are fine with having their name called out at the weekly meeting, others may benefit from being awarded a learning opportunity. Still others thrive when there is a challenge or contest. Knowing what works for each person and not using a one-size-fits-all program will create a more engaged, human experience for the entire team.

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