Seems that the Great Gloom is bearing down on us.
It might be a new phrase, but it’s an old trend. Employees are in a bad funk. Again.
Employee happiness has been on a steady decline for three years — dropping 10 times faster than it had in the previous decade, according to BambooHR’s employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS).
So what can HR do to keep the skies sunny at work before the clouds roll in?
Cost of Great Gloom too much
“Companies cannot afford to hire and retain disengaged workers,” says Elizabeth Lintelman, Director of Career Services at Rasmussen University. “Organizations must engage their workforce and invest in internal upskilling.”
So we’re on the brink of disengagement. The good news is that you can get ahead of it, unlike the Great Resignation, which took many companies by surprise.
Here are six tactics to engage employees now and beat the Great Gloom.
1. Ear to ground
The first step to get ahead of disengagement: Recognize who’s becoming disengaged and reel them in.
“Identify disengagement by paying attention to the employees’ body of work — their projects, their contributions, behavior in meetings, and in collaborations,” says Melissa Wagner, Career Services Manager at Rasmussen University.
She suggests managers ask themselves:
- Do they turn in their work on time?
- Is the work done well, or just enough to get by?
- Do they engage during conversations?
- What is their demeanor when engaging? and
- What does their energy look like?
If the answer is no to any of these, you might be seeing the early signs of disengagement.
2. Feet to floor
Managers and HR pros have to do more than be masters of observation to beat disengagement. They want to address it head-on, too.
“It’s important that there is a manager with feet on the ground engaging with their teams regularly and during one-on-one status meetings,” says Wagner. “Provide an opportunity for anonymity and privacy — and create an environment that an employee may feel more comfortable to open up and share.”
Some employees will be willing to talk about how they truly feel about work — whether they’re happy or not. (It’s not likely anyone will say, “I’m disengaged” or “I’m engaged.” That’s an HR and leadership term.) But many employees would rather mope around dissatisfied and unhappy than make a scene or rock the boat.
That’s why you want an anonymous way to gather feedback. Try online surveys that don’t track email addresses. Then, managers can address issues the anonymous people bring up for the general population — and hopefully it’ll positively impact those who are reluctant to speak up.
3. Act — or else!
It’s a great idea to get employee feedback in-person, with surveys or anonymously. And it’s absolutely useless if you do nothing with what you hear.
In fact, if you fail to act on employee feedback, you and your managers will feed the disengaged monster that brings in the Great Gloom.
“Saying ‘we care’ is lip service if there is no action behind it; they’re just words,” Wagner says.
Instead, create internal protocols that establish rules and timelines on how you gather feedback, who sees and responds to it and the timeframe employees can expect to see action.
Now, let’s say employees give negative feedback on something you can’t change. You don’t have to move mountains to keep them engaged. But you do have to address the issue with an explanation on why the issue exists and the reasons that there isn’t room for change.
That may not be the “action” disengaged employees wanted, but you prove that you care enough to address issues for them. And that usually earns engagement points in the workplace.
As Lintelman said, investing in employees and their future with you is one of the best ways to to engage the workforce. It works on two fronts: First, you show employees you care about them and their careers. Secondly, you gain a more skilled or knowledgeable workforce who can help your organization continue to succeed.
“Not only does investing in the employee make good business sense for the organization in the sense that it helps talent acquisition efforts, but upskilling fosters a culture of upward mobility, a motivating factor of employees that generates excitement and company loyalty,” says Lintelman.
5. Speed up work
Employees hate bottlenecks. When work slows down, boredom and frustration set in. While there will always be some degree of protocol and oversight, HR and front-line managers want to ensure work flows.
So, regardless of where employees work — remote, hybrid or on-site — ask teams and/or full departments to do quarterly reviews of workflow and progress. Encourage employees to note bottlenecks and road bumps that prevented them from completing tasks as quickly as they anticipated. These reviews help eliminate issues that prevent agility across teams and in individual performance. And they allow employees to stay engaged in their work.
6. Amp up recognition
“In my opinion, recognition is vastly underrated by organizations. Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you’re not seen and/or underappreciated,” says Lintelman. “Organizations should incentivize workers by providing both tangible rewards and social recognition on a frequent basis.”
Seriously, it’s difficult to NOT feel engaged when your work has meaning and you’re recognized for the efforts you put in.
Here’s the ticket, though: The best recognition goes beyond boss-to-employee. Employees who are the most engaged usually say they work within a supportive environment, where employees and managers recognize and reward each other.
“Genuine appreciation and recognition build connections between coworkers and enhances the employee experience and creates a culture that people want to be a part of,” says Lintelman.
Whether it’s a company Slack channel, sticky notes on a communal wall or social media, give employees the tools to cheer on each other.
Last note: 38 ideas
One of our most popular employee engagement posts ever is here. It’s packed with almost 40 tips and strategies from experts and practitioners to engage employees. Some ideas are timeless and some are for the times.