To find out, we spoke to Advisory Board experts Sarah Rothenberger and Kate Vonderhaar, who explained the importance of building an workplace where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated. Read on to learn the strategies they suggest for organizations to drive employee engagement and created a coveted workplace environment.
The eight characteristics of an engaged workforce
1. Baseline satisfiers
To earn the right to truly engage your employees, you need to be meeting at least baseline performance in several fundamental aspects, including job security, compensation, and benefits. While such things do not necessarily have to be your organization's top strengths, they should at least be meeting a certain threshold.
2. Communication and input
Two-way communication is key. Employees need to not only feel they are receiving feedback from the top and that administration is not "hiding the ball," but they also need to feel they have an outlet for sharing their observations and ideas.
Further, employees should feel that someone cares, meaning that mangers do not simply collect ideas and send them into a black hole. Rather, you must have a process for acknowledging them, and closing the feedback loop with staff so they know they were heard.
For communication that comes from the top down, employees are looking to understand how and why decisions are made from the top. This doesn't mean that they are always searching for confirmation that leaders chose the "right" answer, but that they have a sense of how decisions are made in order to build their trust in leadership.
For frontline staff in particular, our research has consistently highlighted the importance of encouraging staff to submit suggestions on how to overcome organizational challenges. We propose creating an idea progress board that allows staff and managers to vet and track potential process improvements daily (to learn more, read our study, the National Prescription for Nurse Engagement.)
3. Feedback and recognition
Employees have the right to know someone cares about them, both personally and professionally. From the start, expectations should be clear, so individuals understand what they are working toward and what they need to do to get there. Without this, employees and managers alike can become frustrated.
There also needs to be meaningful recognition from multiple levels—direct manager, executive team, and peers. Managers should build this meaningful recognition into their workflow. Some examples of recognition include implementing special staff rewards to be distributed after meeting specific performance criteria and constructing a weekly organization-wide email to recognize individual or team achievements.
4. Employee support
Employees and staff members should feel they are given the necessary tools to do their job well. Specifically, they should feel that:
- Their workload is manageable;
- They have support in dealing with stress;
- The supplies and equipment available meet their needs; and
- They have enough staff.
When things have to change, rationalize the flow of these changes by limiting organization-wide emails and minimize change fatigue. In addition, leaders might color code emails to indicate priority level and monitor the department events calendar to maximize awareness of what's on employees' plates and to lessen overlap.
5. Manager effectiveness
While the organization plays a large role in engaging employees, an individual's manager also has a significant impact.
In fact, individuals who rate their manager as excellent based on our manager effectiveness index are about 10 times more likely to be engaged than those who rate their manager as poor. Again, this includes both caring for employees as both individuals as well as professionals and recognizing employees promptly for excellent work. It also includes a willing to send tough messages when needed and leading with support and understanding rather than blame and fear.
6. Mission and values
Individuals must believe in the mission and values of their organization, particularly in a mission-driven industry such as health care. They need to understand how their daily work contributes to that mission, and they need to see how leadership exemplifies that mission each and every day.
Executives can translate market forces and changes to frontline terms by hosting host unit-based, town hall forums where staff can air ideas and criticisms. In addition, organizations can employ a staff liaison to relay information from senior leaders back to their peers.
7. Professional growth
In order to stay motivated and inspired in the workplace, employees should feel there are opportunities to continue to grow in their careers, not just from a promotion standpoint, but in terms of professional development.
To evaluate, ask yourself what answers staff would give to these questions: Do professional development opportunities exist? If so, are they meaningful? Am I supported by my manager and the organization in pursuing those opportunities?
Finally, staff should be able to feel that they work in a culture that supports one another and doesn’t point fingers or place blame. They need to feel it is a safe environment, where they can ask for help and learn from mistakes and to feel supported from the top so, when conflicts do arise, they are addressed in a fair manner (i.e. no favoritism).
*Editor's note: We've updated this popular story, originally published in 2014, to reflect recent developments and provide current resources.
Get 1-page cheat sheets on how "Best Places to Work" organizations are chosen
Is your organization recognized as a "Best Place to Work?" If not, you could be missing an important tool to recruit new employees—and a big opportunity to spotlight your employee engagement work with current staff. Download our cheat sheets to learn exactly how influential publications decide who makes the cut (and who doesn't):
- Glassdoor's "Best Places to Work: Employees' Choice"
- Forbes' List of "America's Best Employers"
- Fortune's "Best Workplaces in Health Care and Biopharma"
- Modern Healthcare's "Best Places to Work in Healthcare"