secrets of employee engagement from global research

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Through our work, our research, and through interviews, we’ve had the opportunity to witness the great work, inspired thinking, and engaged cultures found inside the walls of companies from every corner of the world. Whether it’s walking through the assembly line to see how Apache Helicopters are built, visiting with the CEO of Domino’s Pizza in India, standing 58 stories above Singapore in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, or touring the home office of AirBnB — where meeting rooms are actually designed to be replicas of rental properties from around the world — the two of us feel honored to get these first-hand glimpses of all the brilliant ways companies engage their people and inspire great work.

And here’s the rub – as researchers, when you blindly ask for stories spotlighting great work, great cultures, and inspiring stories, you can expect something else to pour in as well — stories of frustration, of toxic cultures, and a seemingly unlimited supply of bad bosses. And with these not-so-pleasant comments, comes two questions. “What is the secret to engaging employees?” and “Where do I find the answer?”

Here’s the simple truth. Although there isn’t one answer, one to-do list, or one ancient secret-sauce recipe that works exactly the same for all companies, we have discovered one great place to start when it comes to engaging people at work — with appreciation. And, we can tell you exactly where to find it — all around the world.

Research conducted at the O.C. Tanner Institute, in conjunction with Towers Watson, asked employees in 13 countries to assess the role appreciation has on increasing employee engagement. The results proved that, wherever you are in the world, appreciation is an essential factor in employees’ sense of opportunity and wellbeing, trust, and pride in the organization — all critical factors that impact employee engagement. Another key finding from this study revealed appreciation’s power to accelerate engagement — both on an individual and cultural basis. From country to country, the study showed that engagement scores were as much as 3X times higher when a leader gave specific and timely recognition that was tied to the company’s core values.

Below are the comparison scores of the impact of appreciation on employee engagement in major regions of the world.

What’s the secret to engaging people at work? Obviously that answer is going to vary slightly from person to person and culture to culture. However, the data above is quite revealing about where to start — by recognizing people. Encourage their effort at work by cheering for them. Reward their results by thanking them appropriately. And, celebrate their career — the knowledge and experience they bring, the unique personality and perspective they offer, and the commitment they’ve made in your company or team to help you get to the next level.

Yes, the secret to engaging employees is found on the other side of the world. But, it’s also found in your own back yard, in your neighborhood, and at your workplace. It’s not some voodoo trick. It’s not found in some buried ancient scroll. And it’s not found in some new gimmick, trend, policy, or fringe benefit. If you want to engage people anywhere in the world, start by adopting a seemingly universal language — a language that clearly says, “I appreciate what you do, and I appreciate you.”

This post was originally published on Forbes.

By david sturt and todd nordstrom
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