- You want engaged workers—people who are emotionally invested in your company’s goals.
- Flexibility in location and scheduling has become a big driver of employee engagement.
- A focus on wellness and well-being can motivate your people—if you do it right.
Getting your employees, independent contractors and other key members of your team to all push hard toward your goals for your business is a concern that consumes the time and energy of most entrepreneurs these days.
One big reason, of course, is that the pandemic deeply impacted the workplace environment for companies large and small. Many of the traditional dynamics between owners and staff shifted and changed due to factors such as remote working and the so-called Great Resignation, which saw tens of millions of workers quit their existing jobs in search of something better (or exit the workforce entirely).
The upshot: Your people—both the existing ones and the ones you’ll seek to hire going forward—likely want some new and different things from their careers than they did prior to the pandemic.
As an owner, you need to rethink your assumptions about what employees are looking for and what it means to manage well so you can create new systems to effectively motivate and engage your people—and get the most from them.
Here are three strategies that we see being adopted by entrepreneurs who understand what the post-pandemic workplace should look like.
Refocus on engagement
Employee motivation and engagement are hardly novel concepts. Several years ago, a Gallup poll revealed that businesses with highly engaged employees experience a 17 percent increase in productivity and a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism.
But do you know what actually engages your people? At its core, employee engagement reflects the emotional ties employees have to the company and its goals. That’s a fundamentally deeper and stickier factor than things like worker satisfaction or salary rates: You can have “satisfied” workers who are happy with their pay but who remain unengaged overall. Companies that cultivate policies and practices that build emotional connections between the people and the business tend to see the best results in terms of productivity, commitment and longevity of employment.
So how do you best create engagement today and going forward? One obvious move is to establish clear goals. When asked what would most improve their performance, approximately one-third of disengaged workers said “greater clarity about what the organization needs me to do and why.” Measurable goals give your people quantifiable outcomes to work toward. And team-oriented goals can facilitate collaboration and cooperation that boost both individual and group engagement.
We realize you likely already recognize the importance of goal setting. But do you involve your employees and other key stakeholders in developing, setting and measuring those goals? That’s a key step that can boost buy-in and overall engagement, but one that’s too often overlooked or underutilized. While you don’t have to incorporate every idea your people bring to the table, making them part of the goals identification process generates better engagement than does dictating goals “from on high.”
Another engagement strategy that may be particularly effective post-pandemic is increasing the amount of time you give for questions and feedback. Greater communication between you and your people enables key concerns and issues to be voiced, helping to better anticipate problems (and resolve them). Frequent check-ins, for example, can boost the amount of real-time feedback employees get—and help them set smaller “micro goals” of importance to them and your firm.
Additionally, consider your level of transparency with your people and how to improve it. When employees have at least some visibility into the decisions you’re making about the business, they tend to feel more engaged and unified around your vision. That doesn’t mean opening up the ledgers for all to see. Rather, look to share strategic plans, results of recent initiatives (good and bad), how roles might change down the road and so on. Stronger engagement occurs when people feel heard, included and “in the know.”
Create, and allow for, flexibility in the workplace
The work-from-home business model that became the new normal for so long out of necessity will continue to influence how staff wants to work (and does work) for the foreseeable future. Certainly the pandemic didn’t change all the rules of the workplace, but it might have forever altered how people are motivated to get the job done for their employers. For example:
- In one survey, 58 percent of workers want jobs offering a hybrid model—part time in the office and part time working from home.
- Most of those workers also want flexibility in terms of where and when they work: 78 percent want location flexibility and 95 percent want schedule flexibility.
That means looking for ways to create, to the extent possible, a flexible environment that fosters motivation while also allowing people to strike a balance between work and personal/family responsibilities. In some cases, this decision is clear-cut: Some jobs can be done just as productively at home as in the office, and top workers in those jobs may actually thrive outside the office. Other roles demand consideration about how they’re designed and where to perform them.
That said, don’t necessarily label jobs as “always in” or “always out.” Flexibility may be the most important edict you can make going forward—consider, for example, General Motors’ “work appropriately” approach. Determine how various roles can be performed at home and at the office, and give employees a choice or a blend of work environments. Perhaps you can make a few changes to various tasks that make a particular job more remote-friendly. When a job is structured to integrate into any environment, your people could potentially end up being far more productive regardless of where they’re working on a given day. (Just be sure that you also arrive at productivity goals and identify ways for your people to track and meet them!)
If you’re someone who still worries about not having enough of a formal structure in place, consider that one study of 20,000 workers found employees with higher levels of autonomy in their work reported positive effects on their overall well-being and higher levels of job satisfaction. (And that was before the pandemic.)
That said, flexibility can go beyond the area of hybrid work arrangements into other areas that help create a positive, motivational environment. Options that more business owners are exploring and implementing include childcare facilities, pet-friendly areas, parental leave and mental health days—all of which can potentially strengthen people’s emotional connection to their employer that, in turn, can help fuel engagement.
Think creatively about wellness in the workplace
Not surprisingly, health and safety have become increasingly important issues to many workers in recent years. However, the data on those wellness programs that so many businesses implement doesn’t reveal a hugely compelling case for their benefits. Example: One large study found the programs delivered little in terms of their cost savings or employee absenteeism.
That doesn’t mean employee wellness shouldn’t be on your radar—but it does mean you should think creatively about it.
For example, employees’ well-being doesn’t have to center on blood pressure readings or Fitbits. You might instead promote a company culture that regularly emphasizes the positive impact your business and your people are having in the lives of your clients (or even your community, if relevant). This isn’t just warm and fuzzy window dressing. When people feel they’re part of something bigger than them—that they’re contributing meaningfully to the world around them—they tend to be happier and more fulfilled as workers and as people.
Think about what you do and the far-reaching impact it has or could have, and instill that attitude and messaging throughout your business.
Likewise, look to create a stronger sense of community among your staff. It’s easy for workers to feel isolated or siloed. Indeed, that is one potential negative of otherwise appealing hybrid work arrangements and flexible schedules. There are myriad ways to build bridges and create bonds among your teams—from regular company-funded after-work events to face-to-face get-togethers to highlight and cheer the recent wins you’ve achieved.
Finally, one of the most important moves you can make as an owner is to model good wellness behavior yourself. When you’re open about your own health and take action showing you value it, you send the message to your people that well-being is part of the company culture. The upshot: Take vacations or “mental health days,” be open about your weekly therapy appointment that you refuse to skip, and share good books or articles about health and wellness. “Leading from the top” is a smart strategy in any day and age.
Getting all you can from your team in the years ahead is going to take smart planning and savvy decision-making, as employees’ preferences evolve and the factors that best motivate them shift. Be sure you’re doing all you can to maximize the ROI on your most important assets—the people who help drive your success.
VFO Inner Circle Special Report
By John J. Bowen Jr.
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