Ten Building Blocks of Employee Engagement

The building blocks of employee engagement starts with building positive employee relations. This is a process that requires a good leadership foundation upon which practical daily leadership skills and behaviors add the blocks needed for employee success. It's about developing a positive workplace culture that is reinforced by giving employees what they need to be engaged, productive, happy, and collaborative team members. The first step is recognizing gaps in leadership skills and providing exemplary leadership training opportunities. All too often, employees advance into leadership positions in their organizations but aren't given the knowledge, training tools, and resources needed to succeed, and employee engagement suffers.

What are Positive Employee Relations? 

Developing and fostering positive employee relations takes work, and successfully doing the work takes leadership skills. It's about much more than keeping workers happy. A happy employee may get the work done on time and is satisfied with the position but does not necessarily contribute full value by actively advancing organizational goals. The individual is not fully engaged, and usually, that means the supervisor or manager doesn't fully understand the process for building positive employee relations.

Positive employee relations encompass employee engagement, organizational culture, the workplace (department) culture, and employee loyalty. There's not a single thing you can point to but rather an organizational effort to create and maintain an engaged workforce collectively and positive employee relations individually.

Positive #employeerelations encompass #employeeengagement, organizational culture,  workplace #culture, and employee loyalty.

Click to Tweet

Achieving High Employee Engagement

Some employers struggle with developing positive employee relations because they believe offering great benefits and flexible schedules is all it takes to achieve high employee engagement. This perspective excludes the importance of a whole set of leadership skills. What is really needed are leaders who understand the social and psychological contract that consists of the beliefs between the employee and employer and the behaviors that support the fulfillment of the contract.

For example, the manager tells an employee she will be promoted if she completes a project. The work is successfully completed, but no promotion comes. The contract is breached psychologically because now the employee doesn't believe what the manager says from that point forward. She continues to get the work done but refuses to do anything more than what is required from the job description. Does she still care about the organization's vision and mission? Probably not. Does the employee believe the leader is sincere and trustworthy? No!

Managers and supervisors who don't understand the employee relations best practices consist of nurturing the cognitive (mind and its processes) and psychological (mind and behaviors) aspects are unable to develop positive employee relations in the fullest sense. They direct work but fail to help the employees understand their contributions to organizational success, or they may assign work but fail to give recognition to encourage positive behaviors. Employee relations include perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors like assigning specific work tasks.

employee engagement strategy

Leadership Skills for Building Enduring Positive Employee Relations

Below are ten building blocks of employee engagement, the leadership skills for developing and maintaining positive employee relations. These ten building blocks support the type of leadership needed in the Proactive Era. They are divided into those directly involving job responsibility and those that are psychological in nature.

The Building Blocks of Employee Engagement

Meaningful Work

Surveys have shown that more than 9 out of 10 employees would give up a percentage of lifetime earnings in exchange for more meaningful work. One study on the Conference of Women found that 80 percent of the people responding would choose a manager or supervisor who honestly cared about them finding meaning and success over a 20 percent pay raise. That's how important it is to provide challenging and meaningful work to fully engage employees.

Feedback

Feedback is a powerful resource for engaging workers. It can be feedback from leaders, coworkers, and even customers or clients. But what is feedback? 

First, it's two-way. It's not a manager telling employees what to do or believe. The highest quality feedback consists of thoughtful conversations that are productive, build trust and promote lasting change: the employee and the leader gain from the communication. Your leaders can master completing performance reviews, but they know how to ask what Joe Hirsch calls "hero questions," which focuses on employee success stories. For example, "What difference did working on this project make in your work and the work of team members? Quality feedback encourages and guides on building strengths, and is one of the most fundamental of the building blocks of employee engagement.

High-quality #feedback consists of thoughtful conversations that are productive, build #trust and promote lasting change: the employee and the leader both gain. #employeeengagement

Click to Tweet

Even if your leaders ask and receive feedback mostly via digital communication, virtual meetings, an internet-based website, or an intranet, it's important to include personal conversations when possible or the elements of thoughtful conversations if not.

Collaboration

There's that word again – collaboration. The real importance of collaboration goes deeper than completing work as a team. Collaboration builds trust, promotes creativity and innovation, leads to a sharing of new perspectives, and places people on a path to meeting a common goal. A Gallup study found that only a third of U.S. employees agree their company openly shares information, ideas, and knowledge. That's not how you develop a collaborative workplace. Just think about the lost ideas, knowledge not expanding because people aren't adequately sharing information, productivity slowed, and lost employee engagement opportunities.

Involvement

People, especially millennials and Gen Z, have an aversion to autocratic leadership. These employees value work autonomy and autonomy can mean different things in different organizations. The one thing it does mean in every organization is empowerment which includes things like delegating authority and decision-making, asking for input, and sharing information.

Involving employees in workflows, the pace of work, scheduling, and goal setting can have profound impacts. Involvement is on a continuum, from empowerment in which the employee can make decisions within mutually agreed upon boundaries to shared leadership where the employee and leader are jointly responsible. Shared leadership is a leadership style for the times in that employees share a sense of responsibility and purpose in a non-hierarchal organizational structure.

Capability

There is a difference between ability and capability. Employee ability refers to the person's already developed skills, power, and means. Capability is the extent to which a person has the ability or aptitude to do something. Developing employee capability includes more than work skills, though. As consultants writing for Deloitte said, cultivating employee capabilities should also focus on developing creativity, curiosity, empathy, courage, and imagination to increase organizational value by enabling employees to: 

  • Identify unseen problems and opportunities and develop approaches to address them more effectively 
  • Continuously adapt and acquire needed skills 
  • Make day-to-day work experience more meaningful and satisfying 
positive employee relations

Psychological Building Blocks 

"Engaged employees are psychological "owners," drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward," said the Gallup Report 2017. Ignore the psychological aspects of employee engagement, and engagement will remain low. In fact, Aon Hewitt defines employee engagement as "the level of an employee's psychological investment in their organization." It makes sense for your leaders to utilize behaviors that focus on the psychological aspects of employee engagement.

Contribution

Employees need to understand how their efforts and meeting work goals contribute to meeting organizational goals, fulfill the mission and vision and bring purpose to their lives. One survey found that 70 percent of employees find their sense of purpose is largely due to work. There is a large purpose gap too between executives and upper management and frontline managers and employees. Eighty-five percent (85%) of upper management agree they live their purpose in daily work. Eighty-five percent (85%) of frontline supervisors and employees are unsure or disagree they can live their purpose in daily work.

It was ineffective leadership that led to frontline individuals feeling this way. For example, managers were not sharing the "big picture" with frontline supervisors and employees, so the frontline people had trouble recognizing the connection between daily work and the organization's purpose. It's important to help all employees find purpose in daily work through dialogue, providing forums to encourage employees to talk about ideas for fulfilling purpose, using compassionate leadership, and helping employees understand the organization's purpose.

Sincerity

A study on the impact of perceived emotional sincerity of leaders on the employee trust level found that American workers' trust was related to how they perceive emotional sincerity. Employees make judgments about the sincerity of their managers and supervisors.

Your leaders display three types of emotions.

  • Genuine – emotion is experienced internally and expressed externally, i.e., excitement about a new project 
  • Deep acting – the leader isn't all that excited about the project but strives to find reasons to feel more excited 
  • Surface acting – fake displays of emotion 

Your employees can distinguish between these displays of emotion because external behaviors and nonverbal clues will give away the leaders regulating their emotions.

Your leaders should lead with sincerity to develop positive employee relationships. What does that mean? It means being consistent, honest, straightforward, and truly concerned about employees. It also means expressing honest emotions. If truly excited about a project, the manager should express it. If not excited, then be honest with employees about concerns and challenges and work together to meet shared goals. Employees can share new perspectives that may change how the manager or supervisor feels about the work.

The sincere leader helps each team member understand they are a valued member of the organization and builds a team perspective. Sincerity is expressed in various ways – honest conversations, maintaining a personal connection, giving employees recognition, offering feedback and assistance, and following through on commitments. It also includes maintaining a respectful workplace.

Transparency

Transparency, in this case, means leaders communicate clarity to employees on the common goals. Employees have a clear understanding of the what, why, and how of their efforts. Through transparent leadership, employees won't get distracted by low priorities, confusion, and fruitless conflicts or wonder about leadership ethics. They are motivated as individuals and team members, understand their responsibility, and are adaptable to change because of clarity about mission and goals.

The first step is defining the mission and building on that to develop strategy and actionable steps for success. Goals play a big role in transparency because they make the destination known.

Recognition

Employee recognition is one of the most important building blocks of employee engagement. It can be anything from the proverbial pat on the back for a job well done or formal recognition, like a bonus or promotion. Recognition is a form of appreciation, and showing recognition increases engagement. Recognition delivers many benefits to employees and to the organization.  

The Achievers' 2020 Engagement & Retention Report shared the results of a survey of employees across the country. The survey was trying to pinpoint why 64 percent of employees were expected to leave their jobs in 2020. This remains a relevant topic in 2021 as the Resignation Nation takes shape.

The survey found organizations that have cultures of recognition are: 

  • More than twice as likely to experience improved employee engagement 
  • Have employees who have a greater sense of belonging  
  • Have more motivated employees 
  • Have employees who want to remain with the company 
  • Likely to experience stronger team relationships 

Trustworthiness

A trustworthy leader believes employees want to do their best. Your managers and supervisors always act in a way that helps employees succeed. Trustworthiness builds credibility in your company because employees are more likely to act in a way that benefits their work, the team, and the organization.

Positive Employee Relations Is About Your People

Developing positive employee relations is not the result of one thing. It requires your leaders to consistently think and act in a way that drives employee success. It does take a lot of effort, but everyone benefits. Companies are not technology or markets, or profits. They are people. Without the people, nothing else would exist.

The A Better Leader team at Projections, Inc. has many leadership training tools and eLearning courses that can help your managers and supervisors understand the breadth and width of behaviors and perspectives needed to truly develop positive employee relations. Our professionals are also experts at developing customized employee and leadership training resources that meet unique organizational needs.

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.