back to basics: use connection to create employee engagement

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Common words we use to talk about employee engagement include research, ROI, and performance. Those analytical topics are important and relevant to the discussion. But at the core, employee engagement is pretty basic. It’s all about connection—with one’s manager, colleagues, other departments, and ultimately with the organization.

Employee and manager connections

If we were to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to an employee’s needs, their most basic needs would be their total pay package—a competitive salary, benefits, and safe work environment. But as you move beyond physiological and safety needs, the need for love, belonging and esteem aren’t far behind.  To feel engaged, an employee needs to have a solid working relationship and sense of connection with their manager. This connection provides a sense of belonging as well as positive esteem. If those needs aren’t met, employees are less likely to feel engaged.

If you have employee engagement issues in your organization, observe employee to manager relationships. If you uncover issues, address them. (Think about offering supervisory skills training courses, or providing team-building exercises about communication styles.)

Connections between employees

Years ago, my employer conducted an employee engagement survey. One of the questions they asked was: Do you have a best friend at work? A few of us may have scoffed at that question—why do you need a best friend at work? Now I understand how important it is for me, and I imagine many others, to have someone at work who is a true friend. One reason that sense of connection is really important is because we spend most of our waking hours at work. In addition, that friendship can serve as a sounding board to talk through work-related issues that, if left unresolved, can negatively impact engagement levels.

You don’t need to ask if people in your organization have a best friend at work, but look around: Are people sincerely enjoying the time they spend with colleagues? If not, what are some ways you can enhance the opportunities for people to find, meet and connect with new friends at work? (Think about creating employee networks based on common interests, or creating company-sponsored teams for local recreational league sports.)

Cross-functional connections

In small and large organizations alike, work gets done through people. Often to accomplish a task or meet a goal, departments must work together cross-functionally. Those connections don’t only benefit the employees, they benefit your business through efficiencies, leveraging skills, and building the best possible solutions.

If your organization has silos and collaboration isn’t encouraged, it’s impossible for employees to create the cross-functional connections that help deliver results. (Take an assessment of your leadership team: Are you working together cross-functionally to demonstrate what can be achieved through teamwork? If not, start there—model and require the power of cross-functional collaboration as part of daily operations.)

Employees sense of connection with the organization

If these other connections—between employees and their manager, colleagues, or other departments—are in place, the connection between employees and the organization often evolve organically. If other issues exist or an employee becomes disengaged, chances are one of those connections can help readjust and rebuild that employee’s sense of connection with the organization.

Bottom line: If you’re creating an environment in which managers are competent and supported, where employees are encouraged to build friendships, and in which cross-functional work is encouraged, you have a strong foundation for employees to engage with your organization.

Yes, you want to conduct research to determine why your employees do or don’t feel engaged with your organization. But if you’re looking for a basic way to impact ROI and performance through positive levels of employee engagement, be sure to remember that at the core it’s about connection. Without the basics of connection, you’ll never see employee engagement come to life in your organization.

By liz sheffield
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Comments (2)
Corinne M Ball

I believe in the importance of connections at work as well. Even if an organization provides every possible engagement activity, promotional opportunity and best technology, if the culture is bad and people don’t have genuine connections with the people they work with it’s a lost cause. I know not everyone needs friends at work, but it does pass the time much faster and the day will be more enjoyable. Also, leaders have such a critical role in the success of their employees, so if that relationship is missing then engagement is hard, if not impossible. Teams are only amazing when the people can work well with one another, disagree humbly and laugh with each other. I believe in the right fit within organizations because not everyone will connect with certain cultures, so recruitment is key in finding the right people. Engagement is not merely a numbers game; it’s a people game. Thanks for sharing!

April 22, 2017   |   Reply
Liz Sheffield

Thanks for reading and commenting, Corinne! You’re so right–engagement isn’t just about numbers, it’s about the people who connect to deliver those numbers.

May 15, 2017   |   Reply
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