The answer to building a workforce of engaged employees may not lie in perks or even financial incentives.
Employee engagement is a challenge for businesses operating in all industries. Exact definitions for the term “employee engagement” vary, but they share a common theme. Engaged employees are emotionally invested in their work and in their employers’ goals and missions.
While some experts disagree that employee engagement is a measurable objective, estimates place engagement around 33 percent nationwide. Since the beginning of 2017, engagement trends, as measured by the Gallup Daily U.S. Employee Engagement poll, have ranged between 31 and 35 percent. Among millennials, who now make up the largest workforce demographic, employee engagement is even lower. A Gallup poll conducted in August 2016 found that employee engagement among millennials averages 29 percent.
Engagement is directly linked to such measures as absenteeism, productivity, turnover, and customer satisfaction. That’s why poor employee engagement can impact the bottom line. On a national scale, lost productivity related to engagement costs as much as $450 to $550 billion annually.
In the healthcare industry, building engaged teams takes on arguably even more importance. Hospitals and healthcare facilities with higher levels of employee engagement often score higher in patient satisfaction and have better clinical outcomes.
Engaged Employees Trust
Too often, managers try to engage their team solely through perks, such as free meals, company game rooms, and team-building activities. But these incentives aren’t likely to lead to long-term, lasting increases in engagement.
So how can organizational leaders inspire their workforces? In a recent article published in Harvard Business Review (HBR), author Paul J. Zak, PhD, says building a culture of trust is what makes the difference.
Zak is widely known for coining the term neuroeconomics and for the research he has completed on the neuroscience of trust. In 2004, Zak and a team of researchers uncovered a link between trust and oxytocin. Often referred to as the “love” hormone, oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus, a region of the brain responsible for regulating mood and many bodily functions. Oxytocin is well-known for its role in stimulating contractions during labor, and it’s also suspected to play a key role in bonding.
In the HBR article, Zak explains that both trust and having a sense of higher purpose stimulate the hypothalamus to produce oxytocin. In this line of thinking, he says, it stands to reason that employees who do work they view as purpose-driven alongside trusted colleagues are more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
How to Establish a Trust-Driven Culture
Deadlines, carpool, and other work and family commitments can make it difficult to plan ahead, but most people find it beneficial to stick to some sort of schedule. While it’s important to note that peak productivity times may vary from individual to individual, keep a few of these planning tips in mind:
1. Be transparent.
Make sure employees understand your organization’s unique mission, vision, and goals, and how their jobs contribute to the company. Also, keep teams informed about expectations and plans for the future. Employees who feel uncertain about their employer’s future direction may experience more oxytocin-inhibiting stress, according to Zak.
In addition, highlighting how an organization impacts the community is important, especially for engaging socially conscious millennials inspired by the concept of the greater good. Here, healthcare organizations have an advantage. Every team member contributes, in some fashion, to saving lives every day.
Finally, make sure employees clearly understand their jobs and how they will be evaluated. Give plenty of feedback through regularly scheduled performance reviews, one-on-one discussions, and coaching opportunities, and when warranted, offer praise and recognition. Also, make sure that all team members are held to the same accountability standards.
Trust and respect are two-way streets. Team members need to feel like they are respected and that their managers take interest in and care about them—not just as employees, but as people with families, unique talents, and beliefs. Improving the way you communicate and learning how to break the cycle of micromanagement may help you better connect with your team.
2. Don't be afraid to encourage autonomy
Let team members have some control over how they perform their job and, when possible, offer opportunities for them to choose what special projects, activities, or committees they’d like to get involved with.
3. Survey wisely.
If you’re going to ask employees for their feedback, you need to be prepared to respond to their comments and suggestions. Gallup recommends only asking questions that are specific and actionable.
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