Before Your Next Engagement Initiative, Talk to Marketing

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Sep 19, 2019

Employee engagement has become a catchphrase. That’s great in one respect, because it means we all recognize it as valuable, but it’s also terrible, because we lump it into that “familiar” category that often doesn’t get much fresh thinking or ingenuity. Often approaches to employee engagement run the risk of “let’s start a program and hope for the best!” Or it’s thought of as a binary: You either have a culture of engagement, or you don’t. Yet having engaged employees is critical to the success of any organization: companies with highly engaged employees are 21% more profitable than those with the lowest levels of engagement.

Engaged employees are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay with the company. In a world of increased competition for talent and low unemployment where finding and keeping great talent is at a premium, that’s a big deal.

So how do companies get smart about employee engagement, particularly as a new generation of employees begins to redefine the workplace?

Go peek in on your marketing team; the key to employee engagement is to approach it like a CMO. Both your consumers and your employees have a variety of motivations and key attributes that drive their own engagement. Until your employee base, regardless the size, is seen through this lens, you’re likely stuck keeping your fingers crossed.

But first, what does it really mean to be engaged at work? Gallup defines engaged employees as those who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They are eager to do more than the bare minimum required to get the job done and clock out. Of course, there are a few other factors that often get discussed within employee engagement, such as strong management and professional development, for which ongoing training and ensuring a culture of feedback is key. But for us, the magic of true employee engagement comes back to passion and profound connection. The only way to get that is purpose.

Purpose matters today more than ever—it’s not only driving consumer decisions, it is increasingly driving employment decisions, especially for young people. A 2016  Monster survey found 74% of Gen Z ranking purpose ahead of a paycheck (vs. 70% of millennials, 66% of Gen X and 67% of boomers). As with most things, young people are vanguards of change shaking up the expectations on meaningful work and raising the bar on what it means for employee engagement.

Here are 3 musts to define your employer brand by purpose and move engagement beyond the catchphrase:

1. Know your user

This is always where we start. Who are you trying to reach? How do you drive the most value for them? 77% of employees say company-sponsored volunteer activities are essential to employee well-being, yet the average corporate volunteer participation rate is 33%. That doesn’t make any sense, but it does when you factor in the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and motivations of your employee base — one size can’t fit all. Similar to how marketing invests in research to understand various segments of a consumer audience, HR teams should take this view on employees if getting it right is a priority. Not everyone wants to give financially and not everyone wants to volunteer, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to give back or get involved. By first understanding the core subsets of your team, you can discover what matters to them and create engagement opportunities that best meet them where they are.

2. Empower meaningful participation

Warby Parker co-founder David Gilboa has said, “The number one reason that we hear people want to work for us is our social mission. So we’ve seen how absolutely critical it is to connect the work that goes on every single day — whether it’s an engineer shipping code or an accountant signing a check — to our overall mission: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.” The company rewards employees who have been there three years with the opportunity to travel to see their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program in action.

This is an awesome way for employees to see the company’s impact firsthand, but it doesn’t require you to have something this obvious to connect the work for your own employees. Levi’s trains employees to be water ambassadors through their Project Wet program, empowering them to teach elementary school children about the importance of water. Of course Levi’s isn’t directly in the water business, but it is a key element of their supply chain that makes this initiative a natural fit. Even tossing natural fit aside, Ben & Jerry’s has taken action on everything from racial justice to refugees — not because it has anything to do with ice cream, but because these are issues that are important to their own employees. Purpose is much more than articulating a mission statement, it’s the why that drives your business forward and invites others to take part.

3. Build community

The core driver of engagement is who else is doing it? We know from a survey that a majority of teenagers volunteer solely because of a friend. The power of peers is real, and not only are people  eager for friends at work, but there’s also a known link between having friends at work and employee engagement. In any and all of your engagement initiatives, how are you tapping into community?

Former CEO of Pixar Ed Catmull said, “What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity. If we get that right, the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places.” He knew that community matters, and fostering it inspires a broader sense of purpose and belonging that drives success.

Bottom line, it’s going to take an intentional approach to bringing purpose to life in a way that drives the passion and profound connection that makes a difference. An exceptional employer brand places purpose at its core—it is the differentiator of standout companies today when gotten right.

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