Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different organizations, from large multi-billion dollar corporations, innovate tech startups, to government agencies and nonprofits. At any given time, each has faced some challenge that would impact employee engagement, whether a corporate restructuring, negative media attention, or a shift in strategic direction.
The good news is that all of these organizations recognized that ensuring employees were informed and engaged was critical to maintaining productivity and morale during these times. What wasn’t always so clear was how to do it. Often, the first response would be to hire an expensive consultant who would deliver an elaborate “strategic plan,” and then walk away leaving leadership to make it happen. But the truth is, effective employee engagement programs don’t have to be complex or costly. More often than not, it’s the simple, low-tech, low-budget initiatives that have the biggest impact. Here are some that you can implement regardless of your organization’s industry, size, or budget.
Take the show on the road. How many times have we seen the all-employee email from the CEO announcing a major new initiative? Perhaps there’s a flashy new website or video to go along with it. But what about the thousands of employees who aren’t sitting at a desk at HQ? You know, the ones out there doing the work. Yes, even in the digital age there are many major companies whose employees work out in the field, on factory floors, at construction sites, in hospitals, and many other remote locations where they’re not sitting behind a computer screen. Instead of relying solely on digital (which is very important), you should also get your leadership team out of the office and into the field to meet employees in-person. If you have a large leadership team, have them divide and conquer by going out to sites that are part of their area of oversight. They should be transparent about what’s going on, how employees will be impacted by the initiative, how decisions are being made, and take time for honest and open Q&A. These field visits are also a great opportunity to seek out employee influencers who will be natural local ambassadors for your message.
Invite the family. When an organization goes through a change, it’s not only the employees who are involved. Often, their families are also impacted, especially if the change is a large-scale restructuring. Families factor heavily into an employee’s decisions, so it’s important to keep them informed and engaged throughout the process as well. I once worked with a company that had made the strategic decision to restructure and relocate a large part of its operations to another state. An important part of the engagement efforts was the creation of a dedicated employee intranet to share regular news and resources about the relocation process and how employees would be impacted. At the same time, we held numerous local information sessions for family members, with guest speakers from the new community available to offer information, community and school resources, real estate advice, job resources, and to answer questions about everything a family would need to consider in order to make an informed decision. This level of support also generated goodwill and confidence that the company was doing everything it could for its employees throughout this major professional and personal change.
Just say thanks. It’s pretty simple - saying thank you and letting employees know that you genuinely value their work improves morale and builds trust, especially during a challenging time. At many small companies and government agencies, employees might not receive the monetary incentives that large corporations can afford, yet they’re expected to work under pressure and produce results just the same. While it’s not the same as a bonus, some personal recognition goes a long way. In fact, research by Gallup shows that when asked what type of recognition was the most memorable for employees, money was not at the top.
One public agency I worked with made a tradition of serving hot cocoa to employees the week before the winter holidays, which was always a stressful time due to emergency incidents and weather-related service disruptions. Senior executives took time out of their schedules to greet employees as they came into the building, personally handing out cups of cocoa, shaking hands, and thanking them for their hard work during this period and throughout the year. It was a small gesture, but it meant a lot for many employees to be able to chat with a leader they might not interact with regularly.
Another simple way to recognize employees is to profile their work for the entire organization to see. Short, candid “day in the life” videos following an overnight crew or field employee who might go unnoticed allows others to learn about different parts of the operations and how their colleagues contribute to the mission. These videos are easy and cost nothing, and can even be shot on any mobile device for posting on your intranet or digital signage.
Ultimately, when it comes to employee engagement, it’s not about big budgets, fancy master plans (although you should be strategic in your approach), or complex technology. It's about the human factor - how leadership participates, how we relate to one another, the work environment we foster, and the stories we tell. The results will be priceless.
Mira Sleilati is an internal communications and engagement professional who has worked with organizations large and small, across industries and sectors. Learn more at www.mirasleilati.com.