Employee engagement reconstructed

by Ilma

Most managers say engagement is a critical factor to their business success. What is it? How do you know if your employees are engaged?

Businesses with higher employee engagement rates tend to be more profitable and productive. Most managers say engagement is a critical factor to their business success. What is it? How do you know if your employees are engaged? 

The most common way to find out if your employees are engaged is to distribute employee engagement surveys. At some point, we’ve all answered or (at least) seen these questions:

  • How likely are you to recommend our company to your friends?

  • Do you feel aligned with the company goals?

  • Do you feel comfortable contributing ideas and opinions in our workplace?

  • Do you plan to be at this company two years from now?

  • Do you think the company cares about your physical and mental well-being?

There are certain concerns with this method of measuring engagement. 

Most people don’t like these types of surveys. Firstly, the questions are baked with positive bias. Therefore, employees either ignore them or answer ‘yes’ to everything to get them out of the way quickly. Secondly, unless the situation is really bad, people are unlikely to answer 'no' or express dissatisfaction. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

And here’s another issue. What happens if the results are worse than expected? Who does what? Recently, I heard one company stopped sending surveys because of bad results. Let’s sweep these surveys under the rug. It doesn’t hurt if you don’t see them, right? 

Another way of measuring engagement is watching team behavior. For example, the HR department measures attendance rates at team events. The idea is that if you participate in a weekly trivia night, you are engaged. What if I prefer to do a great job and spend my evenings with my family? Does this mean I am not engaged enough? What about remote teams?

I believe that actions speak louder than words, but some team events are more about entertainment than engagement. We can’t make every team member engaged the way we see it. Therefore, it’s important to deconstruct engagement and focus on key drivers.

What is team engagement and what are the key drivers?  

‘Employee engagement is the degree to which employees invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies toward positive organizational outcomes.’

Engagement has three main components: 

  • An ongoing conversation with a manager who cares and mentors

  • Peer recognition

  • A sense of belonging

About 70% of a team's engagement is determined by the manager or team leader alone. HR departments should give managers tools to facilitate conversations with their team and empower members to connect and collaborate.

1. Communication with a manager

One study asked, what is the most important thing a manager or a company can do to help employees succeed? And 37% cited recognition as the most important method of support.

What can you do about it?

Encourage two-way communication between employees and managers instead of handing out disengaging one-way surveys compiled by HR departments. 

This is where asynchronous 1-on-1 comes in. HR departments can manage the frequency and questions each team answers. Managers simply reply with a coaching management style to communicate with their teams.

What is a coaching management style? There are different approaches to leadership. Nonetheless, when offering feedback in 1-on-1's, managers should be people-focused, goal-focused, and future-minded to offer the mentorship and professional development that employees are looking for.

Two-way communication makes people feel appreciated and heard. Both parties can interact in their own time, without a meeting. You can also be more thoughtful and structured with your answers in written communication. 

2. Peer gratitude

Portland State University researchers found a link between expressed gratitude (a simple ‘thank you’) in the workplace and employee physical and mental health. 

What can you do about it? 

Thanking your team publicly is the best way to express gratitude. Everybody is proud to be in a team that appreciates each other. 

MyZenTeam’s Wall of Gratitude & Slack Engagement Bots are two ways you can stay on top of expressing gratitude. With MyZenTeam, you can create a #Kudos Slack channel and link it to an engagement bot that will remind teams to give kudos weekly.

Managers are responsible for building the habit of noticing positive behavior and thanking people for it. With time, it becomes contagious and fosters a positive culture. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

3. Organization collaboration

Having a diverse team is a wise business strategy according to Harvard Business Review. However, there’s one research by UC Berkeley that showed that a diverse team outperforms others as long as they are aware of each other's differences, strengths, and weaknesses. Team members must also trust each other’s expertise. 

Resultantly, when hiring diversely you also have to make sure the team can communicate and know how to make the most out of each other's differences. 

Moving Forward: How Do You Engage New Employees?

Skip the surveys. 

Now that you understand the limitations of employee engagement surveys, here are a few ways we stay engaged as a team.

Ask employees for specific behavioral information while onboarding. Let your organization know your interests and fun facts about your new team members. Collect this information - or people data - to organize activities around interests that are popular in your organization. This is a better research alternative that offers better insight into the people you work with and what their interests are outside of work.

Another task we like to do is writing short ‘How to Work With Me’ manuals. It’s an easy way for the team to discover how to work with the manager and with each other.

We also set up automatic Slack channels for asynchronous communication. We like to scale ‘water cooler conversations’ so the entire team can participate. This is a small investment that reaps much higher returns than employee engagement surveys. It encourages and measures engagement at the same time.

Some ideas for your Slack channels:

  • Moment of the week where the team shares photos with happy moments

  • Question a day where the team connects with random questions

  • Dad jokes where you can tell a random joke

  • Daily-stand-up to know what’s everyone up to and if they need any help

  • Channels based on your organization’s top 5 interests

Avoid organizational complacency and survey fatigue with a culture-defining employee engagement platform. Check out MyZenTeam:

  • To learn about and make the most out of your team’s interests, similarities and differences.

  • To set up asynchronous Slack channels to drive engagement.

  • To give your team tools to build positive habits.

#1. Inform people about the trip as early as possible

Anticipation is a source of free happiness. A valuable emotion.

Research shows that people can reap substantial enjoyment from anticipating an upcoming event even if the event itself is not entirely enjoyable. People who devote time to anticipating enjoyable experiences report being happier in general. 

From the moment you will reveal the destination and the date of your workation your team will start planning. Some of them might stay longer or travel around. Perhaps their family and friends may come along too. Others will have to make arrangements, such as childcare or pet hotels, for their time away from home.

Another great benefit of planning workations is that you can mention them in your job ads. This might increase the chances of people applying because they are eager to join a unique company culture and meet their new hybrid or remote team in Panama City or Bali. 

At The Remote Company and MailerLite, our top rule is to provide all the necessary information about the trip at least three months before and invite all team members who have worked for more than three months at the company.

#2. Involve as many people as possible to create a program

With over 8 years of experience, we are very particular when it comes to planning our workation.

90% of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand. (Priya Parker)

#1. Workation is a business trip from Monday through Friday

Workation is the best way for us to meet and work together. We take it very seriously and expect everyone to attend it (the last two years were exceptions. If people feel unsafe, they can stay at home)

People can buy flight tickets for any dates that include the workation. Team members usually plan their vacation with family and friends before or after the workation.

#2. Mix work-fun-work

On Monday evening, we welcome everyone with drinks. 

Tuesday is focused on work - presentations, discussions and workshops.

Wednesday is a Creative Day full of fun activities. 

Thursday is usually for planning sessions and time to reflect before the goodbye party. 

After breakfast on Friday, we all say goodbye until the next time.

#3. Food brings people together

Our team takes food seriously. First, we have breakfast and lunch in the hotel to save time.

However, when it comes to dinner… that’s a different story. We plan dinners with 6-8 random people every night, allowing everyone to connect with people they might not work directly with. The conversations and topics vary a lot, and it's a great way to get to know everyone.

#4. IKEA effect

Finally, we ask everyone to contribute to the workation. This could mean organizing workshops, selecting restaurants for dinner, or planning a goodbye party; the more people are involved, the more engaged they are. We call this the IKEA effect.

#3. The destination should be a place that makes people excited

And also accessible.

In 2022, we planned a MailerLite & Vercom workation for 140+ people from 30+ countries. I started the process by googling ‘European airports with the most connections’. And this is how we chose Istanbul. 

Another important aspect is the accommodation. It can make or break the trip. 

Fast internet, on-site conference facilities, easy access to the airport (max one-hour drive) and walkability to restaurants are non-negotiable for us.

Previously, I asked remote teams to share their favorite places and collected a list of 20 destinations & approved hotels with activities nearby.

Planning your next workation? Join our email list and gain access to our exclusive list of 20 destinations & approved hotels to make your planning easier.