box of half eaten donuts
PHOTO: Bethany Newman

It’s an open secret in the talent development world: Improving employee engagement is not only tough, it seems impossible at times. Every manager and every organization has thrown the kitchen sink at the problem.

Free lunches? Check. Flexible hours and locations? Check. Bring-your-own-device programs? Check. Incentives, benefits and gym memberships? You got it. Chances are, your organization has done it all. Perhaps you’ve invested in guest speakers, lunch-and-learn workshops and offsite meetings, too.

But maybe we’re looking at the employee engagement conundrum the wrong way. What if instead of just offering perks, we made an effort to improve the employee experience in other ways?

The Employee Engagement Connection

When we speak of engagement, we’re diving into a concept that has received plenty of attention, but one that we often struggle to describe. Organizations sometimes see “employee engagement” in the framework of a contract between the employee and the organization. But employees? We see connections, relationships and the total experience of working with an organization.

Engagement represents a real connection between an employee and an organization. Connection can mean a lot of different things, but there are buckets we can turn to for guidance. Employees wish to have their contributions noticed and valued. They want to do good work with good people. They wish to see their ideas and contributions being accepted by their teams and the larger organization. And they want to go to work feeling valued, which ultimately leads to a deep fulfillment.

Related Article: Why You Need to Map the Employee Journey

Why Engaged Employees Matter

If you’re a human resources professional, you’re probably working on an engagement project right now. You’re well aware that a company with a reputation for employee engagement attracts the right applicants and retains the right employees. You don’t need to be convinced about the impact that engaged employees have on your organization’s business results.

Fully engaged employees consistently utilize their talents. They are committed to the company, perform at high levels and usually have great attitudes. Research firm Gallup reports that organizations with highly engaged employees have 41 percent lower absenteeism, 59 percent lower turnover, 28 percent less shrinkage and 70 percent fewer safety incidents.

Related Article: How to Beat the Employee Engagement Slump

Keys to Creating a Great Employee Experience

To create a great employee experience, you will need to do some pretty intense research and planning. This isn’t something you draft in an afternoon and roll out the following week. Use these three steps to guide your path in crafting an authentic employee experience:

  • Step 1: Research. What do your employees need and want? Find out by using surveys, focus groups and manager input to gather information.
  • Step 2: Define. Define the type of employee experience you want to have at your organization. How do you want employees to feel about their experience at work? What kind of experience and culture do you need? To answer those questions, get leaders involved and ask for feedback from your colleagues.
  • Step 3: Tackle the Gaps. With your newly-minted definition of employee experience in hand, look at how it stacks up against reality. Are there policies and procedures that stop your vision of a fantastic employee experience before it gets off the ground? Work with leadership to address gaps.

Here are some day-to-day tactics you can use to create a better employee experience.

Feedback: There are a lot of tools in the toolbox here. We know employees crave feedback, want to be nurtured in their growth and development, and yearn to be more productive. To create a dynamic employee experience, use continuous coaching and feedback and constructive peer-to-peer feedback to support employees. Add in one-on-one meetings, too, for the valuable up-to-the-minute feedback and guidance employees want.

Recognition: We all love to be recognized for our accomplishments and leadership roles. Are you offering recognition to your employees? Consider “small” moments such as thoughtful conversations about an employee’s career plans. Or reimburse them for the cost of professional training workshops or industry memberships. Send teams to big-name conferences.

It’s true: workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes people feel valued for their work. Your employees don’t necessarily need to receive huge bonuses or be called out by the CEO in the big all-hands meeting to feel appreciated and recognized. A thank you in the hallway from a manager might be sufficient. Or it could be one team member praising the employee on a customer call. And don’t forget: Recognition comes from all directions, not just manager to employee.

Compensation: While recognition may not always have to come in the form of a monetary bonus, it’s counterproductive to try to save money on salaries but then lose employees because they feel underappreciated and become disengaged. To help advocate for adequate compensation funding, calculate the cost of retention at a higher salary level and compare that figure against the cost of replacement. Studies show that replacing a salaried employee can cost between six and 18 months of the associated salary. When you take into account the fact that high-potential employees can be 200 percent more productive than average employees, investing in compensation makes a lot of financial sense.

Related Article: Why Self-Actualized Companies Achieve Higher Employee Satisfaction

Keep Measuring

By now, you’re completely focused on creating a great employee experience, so I don’t think I need to say this (but I will!): Remember that employee engagement will sprout and take root when it’s nurtured all year long.

Use HR technology to measure the “pulse” of your organization. These metrics offer insight into the needs and expectations of employees and give you the insight you need to adapt to the changing needs of your people. Over time, regular feedback will create a crystal-clear snapshot of employee engagement and allow you to easily create and implement action plans to address the areas that might need help.

With these steps in place, you’re well on your way to creating an amazing employee experience that leads to better engagement, soaring retention and increased development and productivity.