Create a Good Environment (Employee Engagement Strategy, Part 2)

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It’s not enough to rely on employees to self-motivate.

Continue reading to learn how to create a welcoming, secure, and inspiring environment where your employees can do their best work.

  1. Help Employees Build Relationships
  2. Provide for Employees’ Needs
  3. Let Employees Design Their Workspaces

1. Help Employees Build Relationships

When a staff member has as strong relationship with at least one coworker, they’re more likely to stay in the position than if they feel disconnected. Personal friendships help employees feel less stressed and happier while they’re at work, which improves engagement and productivity.

Jacob Morgan, owner of The Future Organization and author of The Employee Experience Advantage recommends that employers start by making their employees’ first day at work an amazing day. “For most people they show up on the first day and they can’t find parking and as a result show up a few minutes late, they get walked over to their desk to find a laptop that they can’t yet access so they spend hours just trying to get set up, they eat lunch by themselves, maybe attend a meeting or two, and then their day is almost over. They leave the company wondering if they made the wrong choice by joining.”

Your employees will remember their first day years after it happens. The impression it leave is going to be hard to change. So go above and beyond to make it special!

“As a leader,” Jacob says, “give your employee a special parking spot. Personally greet them and show them around. Have the team (you included) take the employee out to lunch and get to know them as an individual. Offer to help in any way you can. Truly serve your employees instead of assuming they should serve you.”

There are a number of easy and fun ways to make your work more social.

  • Create a social environment where it’s ok for employees to chat at work, so long as they’re also getting their work done.
  • Invite everyone to take 20-30 minutes off to celebrate a birthday or holiday, share drinks, or enjoy a potluck. If you have a large staff, you can celebrate team members’ birthdays each Friday.
  • Ask your staff to volunteer to be a “buddy” for your new hire, someone they can ask questions and get feedback from.
  • Give senior staff expense accounts so they can treat junior staff members to lunch or drinks.

A recent study of 1,000 US workers showed that workplace chatter is dominated by discussions about politics, relationships, and personal health. These topics can lead to uncomfortable conversations about political controversies, sex, or gossip.

You can lead by example by asking employees questions that are interesting, open-ended, and positive.

These are some of our favorite conversation starters.

  • Are you working on anything outside of work?
  • What’s the last book you read?
  • Are you watching anything on Netflix or Hulu?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • What was your first concert?
  • What did you study in school?
  • What did you do over the weekend?

Most businesses will at some point encounter employees who don’t get along, often because of differences of opinion or personalities. This can negatively impact productivity and make the workplace uncomfortable.

If a personal conflict arises in your company, first evaluate whether it is an issue of harassment or discrimination. If it is, interview the people involved, look for corroboration, and take appropriate action against wrongdoers. If an employee files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you’ll lose time and money responding to investigations, dealing with the negative publicity, and potentially paying legal fees and damages. You can minimize the chances of a complaint by following simple steps to quickly address the issue upfront.

For conflicts that are not potential EEOC complaints, start by ask questions to understand the issue. Consider asking the employees to work out the disagreement themselves. If needed, listen to both sides, determine the issue, and find a solution that aligns with your company policy. 

If you employee disagreements are a recurring problem, consider training your employees on how they can communicate more respectfully. If one employee is a recurring problem, you may need to work with them individually or consider replacing them.

By building team unity, you’ll not only set the stage for employee engagement, you’ll also lay the foundations for your team to outperform others who don’t have as strong of a bond.

2. Provide for Employees’ Needs

Before your employees can focus fully on their work, they need financial security.

Paying a living wage and offering a quality healthcare plan enables your employees to focus better on their position and take breaks when they’re off work instead of working a second or third job.

While paying above industry average may seem like generosity, it can also be a cost-effective business decision.

A Stanford profession recently made headlines claiming that the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the US due to the massive stress and long hours many Americans face.

Burnout and poor health are strongly associated with employees working multiple jobs. When an employee has to work 70 or more hours per week to meet their living expenses, they can’t be entirely engaged.

The New York Times, Forbes, and others have reported that the debilitating stress of working long hours costs employers $300 billion each year.

Every time an employee slows their work output, misses work, or quits due to burnout or poor health, your company take a loss along with the employee.

While some businesses feel they can always find another employee to fill a vacant position, managers often forget about the costs associated with a new hire.

According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of replacing an employee averages to 10-30% of an employee’s annual salary. If you have a position that pays $30,000 per year, and you constantly need to re-hire each year, then your company is throwing about $3,000-9,000 annually.

You can save the time and expense of re-hiring and re-training, and gain the benefits of a happier, more engaged employee by increasing the employee’s pay from $30,000 to $40,000.

A similar logic applies with more highly skilled positions. In fact, highly skilled positions can cost companies more than 200% of the employee’s annual salary to replace them.

If you have a highly qualified team member, pay enough to keep them.

3. Let Employees Design Their Workspaces

The average American will spend 90,000 hours at work. With so much time spent working, it’s no wonder people yearn for beautiful and fun work environments that feel like a second home.

Most companies still dictate design choices. Increasingly, however, innovative companies are moving to give employees a greater say.

Every company’s employees will have different needs and preferences, which makes it hard to guess what will work at your company. Cubicles, open office plans, and work-from-home arrangements have all reduced productivity for different companies.

So how do you know what workspace will motivate your employees?

Ask them!

You don’t have to have a large budget to give employees workspace freedom. A simple way to plan is to give your employees a small budget to design their own spaces.

You can also enhance employees’ workspace autonomy by letting them choose hours or allowing them to spend some time working from home.

CBRE recently launched an office with 15 different types of workspaces, including comfy couches, cafes, meeting rooms, long tables, glass cubicles, and private offices. All employees are free to move about and work where they choose. (Photo by CBRE)

Your workspace will likely evolve as the rest of your company does. 5 years ago, Scentsy’s informational technology department used a single open room with multiple octagon pods with each pod seating 8 people. The goal of this design was to foster interdepartmental collaboration, maximize informal interaction, and create a cohesive, fun environment.

As the department evolved, they evolved into a “team of teams.” Chris Johnson, Vice President of IT at Scentsy, explains, “It’s no longer viable to have everyone collaborating with everyone.  Each team has a unique identity in terms of processes, culture, projects, or communication preferences and while a collaboration space is important within the pod, its benefit has waned between teams where it can create a distracting work environment.”

Chris continues, “Teams are inherently on their own schedule. When one team is focusing heads down, another is getting air and shooting darts at each other. In an ideal world, we still have the concept of open sub-team workspaces, but provide more separation between the teams of teams.”

There are other aspects besides office layout that employees can help you improve. Recently the American Society of Interior Design released a study showing that nearly 2/3s of Americans don’t like the lighting in their offices. If you would like to improve the lighting of your office, aim to use natural light, which increases employees’ positivity and productivity. If this isn’t possible, you can replace florescent lights with diffused ceiling lights that imitate natural light.

Finally, a new trend in office design is to create spaces for relaxing in the office. This is useful for allowing employees to decompress, think creatively, and collaborate.

  • If your company is relatively small, your “recharge room” might consist of a couch and a couple armchairs.
  • If you ask your employees how to spend a few hundred per month to improve the office, and you don’t yet have a Keurig or snack bar, adding these amenities will likely be a popular request.
  • If your employees like games, a ping-pong or foosball table will likely get good use.
  • If your budget allows, you can consider creating dedicated rooms for meditation, fitness, gaming, and socializing.

Any of these upgrades can improve positivity and productivity in your office. When your employees see you taking an interest in improving their workspace, especially when you ask for their input, your employees are likely to reciprocate with goodwill and dedication to your company.

If you ask your employees to take the time to give you advice on improving their workspace, take the position that their requests are valid and do your best to respond to their requests within reason. If something isn’t yet economical, you can always propose an alternative solution that would better fit within your company’s budget.

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Create a Good Environment (Employee Engagement Strategy, Part 2)

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