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Posted: February 07, 2014

Getting engaged

How to boost employee satisfaction

Jeff Tucker

Employee engagement is a concept that many companies struggle with. A recent Gallup report, State of American Workplace 2013, found that only about 30 percent of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs. That means a whopping 70 percent of employees are actively disengaged, costing the U.S. an estimated $450 to $550 billion annually in lost productivity. Creating a culture that keeps employees actively involved is a process that continues to evolve.

The first step in employee engagement is just to do something.  A good place to start is to survey employees to find out what work factors employees feel are important, and how satisfied they are with each factor.  Using a gap analysis on the data for items like salary, autonomy, benefits, communication, supervision and career growth will help provide an understanding of where employees are well-satisfied and where there are significant gaps. 

An important step in employee engagement is honest follow-up.  Report detailed information back to employees, and take action to address significant issues.  Task managers to create strategies and goals with employee input to address significant challenges.  The key is to live up to these action plans; making changes that make employees feel valued.  

Once a basic employee satisfaction survey is implemented and addressed concerns, it is time to compare level of engagement to other companies to understand whether engagement is fair, good or excellent. The next step is using a survey validated in measurement, with criteria having a high correlation with real engagement and company success in organizations, similar in size across the nation. Again, it is important to share detailed survey results with employees and that managers create realistic work plans to address engagement factors.

At this juncture, most companies are now asking, “Does it make sense to work on improving the lowest scores?” or “Does it make more sense to ‘play on employees’ strengths’?” to try and further increase scores that are already good.

It’s time to take it to the next level by partnering with an engagement expert and implementing an employee survey process that addresses all the key factors of employee engagement (recognition, skill development, clear expectations, and information flow), uses statistics to identify the top “drivers” of engagement and supports actionable plans that deliver the best return on effort.

An engagement expert will help develop set of questions addressing both the core engagement criteria as well as an organization’s top objectives.  Once again, employees will be surveyed and results shared, but this follow up stage becomes markedly different than in past surveys.  Supervisors will be given both organizational results and team-level results with an in-depth analysis of the top two “drivers” of engagement at each level to share with their teams. Each team collaborates with their supervisor to create action plans to address the drivers.  In discussing these team-level action plans, employees discussed the organization’s strategic objectives.  This ensured not only were employees engaged in a meaningful way for themselves, but in a way that moved the whole organization forward.

The Mental Health Center of Denver is a local nonprofit that has journeyed down this employee engagement path and evolved and refined their process to support their Culture of Wellness. Around 10 years ago, the organization had turnover near 30 percent. They knew they had to do something and their first step was to begin surveying employees using a self-created “staff satisfaction survey”. Through this first step, they revamped the peer-to-peer recognition program to be more valuable to employees, and concrete supervisory skills were taught to help make employee feedback more meaningful and “sticky.”

Then the Mental Health Center of Denver adopted a validated survey tool similar to the Gallup Q12.  The good news was that after a few years, engagement and satisfaction seemed to show real improvement and was consistently scoring 4 out of 5 overall, or having 80+ percent employees with high engagement, and these scores compared well with others using the instrument.

The frustration for leaders was not knowing which engagement factors to focus on and how to get the most return on efforts.  They then partnered with an engagement expert, Newmeasures, which developed a survey tool that not only identified core engagement criteria but also the organization’s top objectives. This helped to identify the “key drivers’ to improve employee engagement and organizational performance.

The Mental Health Center of Denver’s already high engagement scores have continued to climb, turnover now hovers in the low teens, and more importantly, employees are improving their alignment with the organizational goals of expanding services, helping clients recover, and spreading mental wellness throughout our community.

Jeff Tucker is director of Human Resources for the Mental Health Center of Denver, a national leader in mental health care. MHCD was named a 2013 top 10 Denver Top Workplace by The Denver Post and 2013 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit of the Year.

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