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Success stories: Companies excelling in employee engagement

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Employee engagement refers to the level of commitment and enthusiasm that workers bring to their jobs, as well as the degree to which they share the culture, values and goals of the employer organization.

In a November 2023 Gallup poll, only 32 percent of US employees described themselves as engaged based on this definition. Even worse, 17 percent of the survey respondents said that they were actively disengaged. While these levels represent some improvement from the Great Resignation that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, employee engagement still represents a major challenge for employers.

Strong vs. Weak Employee Engagement

Strong employee engagement may reduce absenteeism, improve retention and boost productivity. Engaged employees may be more willing to take risks and contribute to innovation. The enthusiasm of an engaged employee can shine through and aid the organization with recruitment, teamwork, leadership, customer satisfaction and brand reputation.

On the other hand, weak employee engagement can drain morale, reduce productivity, degrade quality and lower customer satisfaction. Disengaged employees may contribute to absenteeism, turnover and workplace conflict, undermining efforts to foster a positive culture and achieve business objectives.

So, how do some organizations achieve high employee engagement while others find their business objectives undermined by “quiet quitting” and overall disinterest? In this article, we will examine the consequences of ignoring this vital HR objective – and the rewards that could be captured by companies that work to increase employee engagement.

Employee Engagement and Business Success

The rewards of employee engagement are much more than performance indicators; they are bottom-line contributions to innovation, profitability, process improvement, safety, quality, resilience and competitiveness – the core growth factors that drive business success.

  • Productivity: Engaged employees often get more work done. When a worker is emotionally committed to their work and to the goals of the organization, they may be more likely to invest time, effort and energy into their tasks, contributing to increased productivity.
  • Quality: Engaged employees can take ownership of their job and their work products, rejecting substandard results and striving for a high level of both output and quality. Oppositely, disengaged employees may complete the required amount of work in terms of output or hours, but will likely feel a lack of partnership, potentially causing them to be uninvested in product quality.
  • Innovation: Strong employee engagement can help foster a sense of empowerment that turns workers into contributors. Engaged employees can have greater confidence that there is no penalty for trying and failing, and that there will likely be recognition or rewards for success. They may feel comfortable bringing forward creative suggestions and working with their teammates to develop new product ideas or suggestions for process improvement.
  • Organizational Culture: Employee engagement both supports and is supported by organizational culture. A positive company culture, characterized by two-way communication, trust and recognition, can foster higher levels of engagement. In the same manner, a toxic company culture may stifle engagement, training workers to hide problems, avoid communication and expect little from their relationship with the organization.
  • Retention: In an article discussing why employees may leave “great” cultures, the Harvard Business Review warns that a great culture is not just about calling yourself a company that values employee engagement. Great culture needs to align behaviors, systems and practices with the organization’s values. If the organization is consistent in practicing what it preaches about employee engagement, its best people will be more likely to stay.
  • Recruitment: Today’s job seekers have more resources than ever to learn how current employees feel about a potential employer. Both satisfied and disgruntled employees are rating and reviewing companies on platforms like Glassdoor, Comparably, TheJobCrowd, RateMyEmployer, Jobcase, CareerBliss, LinkedIn, Indeed and more.
  • Customer Satisfaction: The connection between employee engagement and customer satisfaction is profound. Employee engagement can shape the attitudes, behaviors and interactions of employees with customers. A healthy culture that prioritizes employee well-being and professional development helps foster engagement; in turn, fully engaged employees are better equipped to deliver strong customer satisfaction. A toxic culture that prioritizes finger-pointing, lack of transparency and poor communication may alienate both workers and customers.

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Success Stories: Excelling in Employee Engagement

Four companies that have been successful in engaging employees are Google, SalesForce, Mastercard and Wegman’s. While these companies operate in diverse industries, the strategies they use to engage employees are similar.

Success Story #1: Google

Google is well-known for its employee-centric culture, placing a strong emphasis on employee well-being, physical and mental health, autonomy and innovative benefits. These investments help contribute to the company’s high levels of worker motivation, retention, creativity and productivity. Let’s explore some specific ways that Google promotes employee engagement.

  • Flexible and Remote Work: Google offers flexible work hours and remote work options, allowing employees to have greater autonomy over their schedules and to better maintain a work-life balance. Through initiatives such as “20 percent time,” employees may allocate part of their work week to personal projects that are unrelated to their primary responsibilities, which can encourage workers to take ownership and make decisions independently.
  • On-Site Perks: Google’s campus includes on-site amenities like gourmet meals, fitness centers, massage therapy and laundry services.
  • Employee Benefits: Google offers generous employee benefits packages, including parental leaves that encompass maternity, paternity and adoption leave. Comprehensive health coverage includes medical, dental and vision insurance, as well as wellness programs and resources to support mental health.

So, how do these initiatives impact employees? Google teammates report high levels of job satisfaction, engagement and loyalty to the company. Google’s positive work culture and employee-centric initiatives may have contributed strongly to the company’s ability to attract and retain talent in a highly competitive industry, and the company’s emphasis on autonomy enhances well-being and drives innovation, leading to robust product development and business growth.

Success Story #2: SalesForce

Originally conceived as a customer service platform, SalesForce has used employee engagement strategies to help reduce turnover and boost productivity by making employees feel like family.

  • Culture of Trust and Transparency: Salesforce emphasizes efforts to build a culture of trust and transparency, where employees feel valued, respected and empowered. Open communication channels deliver updates from leadership and opportunities for workers to provide feedback and make personal contributions to decision-making.
  • Employee Development: SalesForce invests in training and professional growth initiatives. The company offers online courses, workshops, mentoring programs and other resources aimed at helping employees advance their careers and explore different roles.
  • Recognition and Rewards: SalesForce recognizes and rewards high performance at an individual and team level. This is done both formally and informally with programs such as the SalesForce “Trailblazer Awards” and “Ohana Awards” to honor employees who have demonstrated excellence and whose work embodies the company’s values. SalesForce also uses competitive compensation, bonuses and other incentives to motivate and reward employees for their contributions to the company’s success.

By focusing on trust, transparency and employee development, SalesForce is able to sustain high worker morale and productivity in an industry where fatigue and burnout can undermine success. The recognition and reward system reinforces the respect and appreciation of the organization, fostering a sense of belonging among employees. Emphasis on professional development can drive individual improvement, team motivation and long-term retention, contributing to the company’s success.

Success Story #3: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines’s employee engagement programs have contributed to strong employee loyalty and job satisfaction, as well as exceptional customer service and business success in the highly competitive air travel industry. Let’s explore a few specific programs that Southwest has implemented to help engage employees.

  • Employee Feedback: Southwest Airlines fosters a culture of collaboration, encouraging employees to contribute ideas and provide feedback to support decision-making. Southwest’s “Employee Councils” allow representatives from various departments to meet regularly with company leadership to share insights, discuss issues and collaborate on initiatives to improve the employee experience.
  • Compensation and Benefits: Southwest Airlines uses compensation and benefits as a pillar of their strategies for recruitment, engagement and retention. The company aims to offer industry-leading salaries, profit-sharing and performance-based incentives to keep employees invested in the success of the company. Southwest also provides health care coverage, retirement plans and travel benefits, as well as an extensive menu of programs to support employee well-being.
  • Positive Work Environment: Southwest Airlines promotes a fun and supportive work environment, characterized by the company’s famous “LUV” culture. Southwest organizes frequent employee engagement activities, including themed dress-up days, contests, employee appreciation events and team-building exercises, all aimed at promoting morale and team spirit.

Southwest Airlines explains that their focus on people is aimed at employees, customers and communities. Southwest includes employees first on this list, speaking to their commitment to help employees advance in their lives and connect with the things that matter to them. This “Golden Rule,” Southwest reasons, will translate into a positive work environment, exceptional customer service and an engaged workforce.

Success Story #4: Wegman’s

The 107-year-old Wegman’s grocery store chain is well-known for employee engagement initiatives that have resulted in low turnover with high levels of job satisfaction and retention. In fact, Wegman’s ranked number one on the Fortune Best Workplaces in Retail list in 2023. Let’s explore some of the ways that Wegman’s has risen to the top when it comes to employee engagement.

  • Training and Development: Wegman’s offers comprehensive onboarding and training opportunities to help new employees perform well and add depth to their role as they gain experience. The company provides both technical skills training, such as meat, produce and customer service, as well as leadership programs to support long-term career development.
  • Promotion from Within: Wegman’s fosters a culture of internal career advancement by providing employees with opportunities to grow within the company. The company often fills management positions from the ranks of its existing workforce, sending a strong message that a long-term career with Wegman’s is both achievable and worth pursuing.
  • Compensation and Benefits: Wegman’s offers a full menu of benefits, such as health coverage, retirement plans, tuition assistance and employee discounts, demonstrating the company’s commitment to supporting employee well-being and financial security.
  • Workplace Culture: Wegman’s cultivates a positive and inclusive culture, characterized by its values of caring, respect, high standards, empowerment and making a difference in the lives of others. The company emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and communication, striving for an atmosphere of camaraderie and belonging.

Employee engagement initiatives at Wegman’s have contributed to high levels of engagement and retention throughout the company. Employees report high levels of job satisfaction, motivation and intention to stay and grow with the organization. The company’s commitments to training, career opportunities, competitive benefits and company culture all contribute to its reputation as an employer of choice in the retail industry.

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Strategies for Successful Employee Engagement Companies

While the top employee engagement companies in our four success stories may have pursued employee engagement with tactics unique to their cultures and industries, all their strategies follow a set of similar principles to keep employees engaged with team objectives. Any organization, however large or small, can apply these same strategies to boost employee engagement.

Strategy #1: Communication and Transparency

  • Establish channels for open and honest communication.
  • Use surveys and councils to gather employee feedback.
  • Maintain transparency in decision-making.

Strategy #2: Career Development and Employee Recognition

  • Invest in training and career development.
  • Implement regular and constructive coaching.
  • Recognize commitment and reward achievement.

Strategy #3: Work-Life Balance and Well-Being

  • Offer flexible work arrangements and wellness initiatives.
  • Promote physical, mental and financial well-being.
  • Keep employees engaged by encouraging a healthy balance between work and personal life – and implementing initiatives to help employees do so.

Valued, Supported and Motivated

Highly engaged employees shine like torches throughout an organization, inspiring new hires, encouraging colleagues and delighting customers. Together, an engaged workforce can spark innovation, improve performance and boosts productivity, the primary drivers of growth and profitability.

By prioritizing employee engagement, HR professionals may can play a leading role in creating a culture where employees feel valued, supported and motivated to strive each day for the success of the team. If your HR team needs help in formulating and implementing employee engagement initiatives, Higginbotham can help. Learn more about our HR consulting services or get in touch with a member of our team.

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