When I wrote the hybrid work starter kit, it became clear that some aspects of work would suffer: Engagement, connection, and culture. These topics have always drawn different perspectives, but the pandemic further amplified why they’re important and why they need to be taken seriously by companies, big or small.
Traditionally, the responsibility of cultivating Employee Experience and Engagement is the job of the HR department. After all, they’re the ones responsible for human resources. But is it really just HR’s job?
Despite our best intentions, HR pushing engagement programs, events, and activities leads to a (perceived) lack of authenticity and organic energy. That results in lukewarm interest and enthusiasm from our employees. I've heard countless times from People Teams that their “emails about events never get opened.”
Here’s what I realized: Employee Engagement is a job for everyone. A shared mission across the organization. A challenge we all need to embrace.
Can work be more than just work?
To many, work is not something to be emotionally engaged in. We all know the cliche of the worker who detests Mondays and drags themselves into their (home) office every morning.
As Paul Graham said in his famous essay “How to do what you love,” for most people, “work and fun are opposites by definition.” People don’t go to work for fun; they spend their 9-to-5s in the office to earn money they could use to “live.”
Between us, I’ve been there too.
Still, we know that work is, or at least can be, incredibly important to our happiness. From time to time, we may all dream of dropping our 9-to-5. How nice would it be to be on the beach, basking under the sun, listening to the ocean, and not worrying about deadlines?
But here’s the reality — no one would actually spend weeks, months, or years sitting on that beach drinking a pina colada.
As one of the most extensive studies into work and happiness says: “Unemployment is destructive to people’s well-being.”
Per Harvard Business Review: “A large stream of research has shown that the non-monetary aspects of employment are also key drivers of people’s well-being. Social status, social relations, daily structure, and goals all exert a strong influence on people’s happiness.
In other words, we need work to learn, grow, and connect.”
No matter how dreadful those Monday mornings sometimes may be.
Employee engagement is a team effort
Employee engagement can be tricky and often difficult to implement. But it’s really all just about letting employees find one good reason to be happy when they enter the workspace – whether in a physical office or on Slack.
If people can be happy at work, they will take an active part in it. There is an intrinsic motivation here for everyone in the company, but we may have to spend time explaining and underscoring it.
Doing this has an outsized positive effect on employee retention, as benefits like achievement and social connections compound over time. They are not something job-hoppers will get to enjoy. Tapping into loss aversion from time to time may do wonders.
This motivation means employee experience and engagement can and must become a team effort in which all managers and employees participate.
A new role for managers and employees
Managers’ roles have become more critical than ever for the Employee Experience. So much so that they can “make or break” it. Getting managers involved in crafting Employee Experience and Engagement will increase authenticity and uptake.
The good news is that managers already have their intrinsic reason to drive engagement themselves rather than leaving it all up to HR. They know their teams better and have clearer ideas about what needs to be done to drive motivation. As a result, the work gets done far more efficiently and effectively, and team members feel like they’re in it together.
Meanwhile, employees can help improve engagement by being a community of support for their fellow employees. An internal survey from Microsoft showed that most employees only enjoy being in the office because of its social functions. They value relationships with their co-workers and team members more than “company expectations,” especially as they, for example, combat the mental toll that hybrid work brings.
Employees who spark or drive participation around similar interests are more authentic and rewarding than company-wide initiatives that are more general and broad.
This can go a long way in getting others to engage and in cultivating a sense of belongingness within these internal communities.
As trends in social media show, we engage and connect much more easily in small groups than in large ones. Think about how much more likely you are to read and react in an intimate Whatsapp group than on your Facebook newsfeed.
Five small steps to get you started
Shifting employee engagement responsibility from the traditional HR-only practice to every member of the company can’t be done overnight. It needs careful planning and effort to get everyone on board.
1. Find your ambassadors
Like how small ripples can make great waves, begin the change with the few people who believe in the company culture and are enthusiastic about employee engagement. These can be managers, individual employees, employee resource group leaders, or “social butterflies” — those you know would show up to company-organized events.
2. Make them understand
Showcase how strong cultures driven by employee engagement benefit everyone. Get your ambassadors on board in a change of perspective and action. Link as much as possible to your company’s core values, culture, and key objectives, and let them understand that they play a big part in it.
3. Fuel them with Ideas
Even though these ambassadors bought into the idea of joining the company’s employee engagement efforts, they may need to learn how to get started. Give them timely nudges that help them get people together and engaged.
Once you have the support of the vocal and enthusiastic few, you can start implementing team-wide, department-wide, and then company-wide change management programs. Set clear objectives and outline specific courses of action.
5. Data, data, data!
You all must know by now how much I value people data. The key to successful data analysis and application is to keep measuring, learning, and optimizing!
Let’s shift Employee Experience and Engagement from an HR job to one for everyone in the company. Both employers and employees would see how much difference it could make in building genuine connections and making work a happy part of life, not something to escape from. Take it from us; everyone at FlexOS plays their role in building a vibrant culture.
Have a company-wide-engagement-centric week!
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.