To Improve Employee Engagement, Try Actually Engaging Your Employees

Have you ever stayed in the office until the wee hours of the morning to hit a deadline without receiving so much as a pat on the back the next morning? Have you ever racked up double digits in overtime hours in a single week without so much as a handshake from your boss?

Recognition matters, and a "thank you" for going the extra mile – or even just for regular day-to-day work – goes a long way toward ensuring employee engagement and retention.

If you want your employees to stay with your company, you need to make them feel engaged. To do that, you must give them regular feedback. That may be difficult for some leaders and managers, but it's well worth it – especially if done the right way.

"Most people feel just as uncomfortable about giving a review as those receiving the review," says Renee Charland, director of human resources for MBH Architects, a San Francisco-based architecture firm that gives biannual employee evaluations that last about a month and a half. "By focusing on what we can improve upon – the future – and providing multiple points of reference, there is less anxiety, less avoidance of issues that need to be improved, and less cognitive bias."

By keeping in such close contact with its workers, MBH is able to address the needs of each employee on a more focused, individual level. Each employee has different needs and struggles in different areas at work. By sitting an employee down and talking to them in-depth, leaders and managers at MBH are able to determine what both the company and the employee can do to improve the worker's productivity and/or address their concerns.

The lengthy review process also helps employees stay focused on their career paths and the steps they need to take to advance with the company.

"Because career development isn't a linear process and is often different for each individual, having a flexible path of increasing responsibility rather than grades or levels has been successful for most [of our] employees," Charland says. "Recent graduates in particular can struggle when they no longer have the structure of advancement academia provides, so accomplishing goals and gaining new experiences gives them a sense of achievement and progression."

The review process is just one part of a positive company culture approach at MBH. Other factors that contribute to the work environment include a nine-square employee progress board, with employees becoming eligible for promotion upon reaching the ninth square; individual and group evaluations; a safe forum where all employees can comment and offer suggestions; and employee surveys focused on positivity and overall improvement.

Stay Positive

Nobody likes a nag, so keeping interactions with employees positive is crucial. If you point out flaws and mistakes in a negative, harassing, or critical way, workers are more likely to go on the defensive and get less out of the process.

In addition, timing can be everything.

"Constructive criticism needs to be provided in real time, not gathered up and sprung on the employee twice a year in their review," Charland says. "By addressing issues as they arise, and generally only needing a small course correction, we can build trust between the supervisor and employee, identify what the issue really is – who remembers six months later? – and quickly get back on track. We also have built up trust between supervisors and HR, as well as employees and HR, so they [supervisors] ask for advice on how to handle those difficult conversations."

The Results

A month-and-a-half review process may seem extreme to many executives, but the results are undeniable. In a company-wide survey, 88 percent of MBH's employees strongly agree or agree that they have the opportunity to learn and grow at work. Additionally, 82 percent feel that they have a strong mentorship relationship that encourages their development.

"The entire process takes a month and a half to complete but isn't the only thing employees are working on, and the various steps are broken up throughout the month and a half so projects still advance," says Charland. "That being said, it is a significant commitment of time, and employees are reminded it is some of the most important time they spend."

If this sort of employee engagement seems over the top, consider your company's turnover rates. Go the extra mile and survey employees to see how satisfied they are in their respective roles. In a corporate world where job hopping is the new norm, can you really afford to be disengaged from your workforce?