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May 21, 2021

The fastest way to fix employee engagement

Henrik-Jan van der Pol
Henrik-Jan van der Pol
CEO, Perdoo
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min read
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The fastest way to fix employee engagement

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Companies most successful at growth and innovation are the ones that have mastered the art of employee engagement. Having said that, 67% of employees are either not engaged or are actively disengaged at work (according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace 2017 report). Let’s fix that!

The first section of this article gives you an overview of what employee engagement is and its importance within an organization. The second section provides an understanding of the conditions needed to boost employee engagement and how using the OKR framework can fix it.

Employee engagement

What it is and what it isn't

First of all, engagement shouldn’t be confused with happiness or satisfaction.

You can be happy because you work in a cool office space with coworkers you like spending time with. This is a great thing to have, but office parties, coffee bars, and game rooms alone will not make you an exceptional worker.

Engagement, on the other hand, sets the bar higher. Engaged employees are not only happy and satisfied at work, but they also find fulfillment in what they do and add tremendous value to the company they work for.

How companies benefit from actively engaged employees

Engaged employees are committed to their work, their company, and its mission and vision. They, therefore, are driven by intrinsic motivation to give their best each day to help achieve their company’s goals. Independent of their hierarchy level within the organization, they know that their work contributes to a vision they strongly identify with.

A popular example of a truly engaged employee is the one of a janitor:

When touring the NASA headquarters for the first time back in 1962, president John F. Kennedy asked a janitor what he was doing. The janitor–with a mop in his hands–replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” Seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. There were many obstacles that made Apollo 11 a dangerous mission. However, we can be pretty confident that dirty headquarters weren’t one of them.

You may call this janitor a dreamer, but he’s not. He simply realized that he contributes to a mission he’s excited about. Great achievements require many, perfectly aligned steps. They don’t only depend on a few people at the top but instead on the aligned efforts of multiple, committed groups.

Just imagine a company where every single employee is as engaged and motivated as that janitor. In such a work environment, incredible things can happen.

How to boost employee engagement

It’s hard—if not impossible—for employees to gain interest in an entity if they don’t know what it does, and perhaps even more importantly: why it does these things.

Your organizational strategy and goals reflect what you’re doing, where you want to go and why. As a leader, it’s your job to constantly communicate and iterate your organizational strategy and goals, ensuring everyone understands them and has them top of mind. Donald Sull’s research found that 60% of managers couldn’t name their organization’s top goals at a given point in time. Also, half of employees complain they do not know what is expected of them at work. Fix this, and you’ll already be miles ahead.

Conditions required for employee engagement

Fostering employee engagement requires a transparent, healthy organizational environment.

These are some of the conditions that leaders and management should keep in mind to help boost employee engagement:

  • Purpose: Employees need to know how their efforts contribute to worthwhile goals. Without seeing the purpose of their work, motivation levels are likely to drop.
  • Transparency: In order to commit to their work and their company, employees need to know their organization’s mission and vision, as well as its priorities and goals.
  • Participation: Identifying with the company’s goals and values usually results in a desire to be  involved in decision-making processes. Giving employees a voice, asking them for feedback, or even encouraging them to set their own goals instead of simply obeying orders serves as the basis for engagement at work.
  • Trust: Engaged employees will do whatever it takes to support their company, even if nobody is watching. When managers observe and control every step they take, they will not feel acknowledged and soon get frustrated.

Fix employee engagement with OKR

This is where OKR comes to the rescue, enabling a focused and purpose-oriented work environment in which every employee is actively involved in the company’s journey towards achieving its vision.

Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:

  • Are your organizational goals and strategy known to your employees?
  • Are they easily accessible?
  • Are you sure they understand them?

At Perdoo, we encourage customers to start with their strategy – the Ultimate Goal and Strategic Pillars. Setting and communicating your strategy let’s everyone know what the organization’s playing field is and what it takes to win.

The second step is to set your organization’s annual and/or quarterly goals, and in most cases should align to your strategy. All these goals should be easily accessible, and ideally you have some sort of Roadmap view so everyone can easily see how everything fits together. Ideally, they can even see how the goals of their team are aligned with this.

When you define your organization’s annual goals, I recommend you to collect input from your employees. A lot of knowledge resides with your employees, so don't miss out on that! Nowadays, with (free) tools like Google Forms, Typeform or SurveyMonkey, you can easily send out a survey to each and every team member, asking them to suggest one company-level goal for the upcoming period. You then discuss the most popular suggestion in your Management or Leadership Team.

You can imagine that if one of the suggested goals makes it to a company-level objective, you’ll have enormous buy-in from the organization. You’ll also find that the next time you send out such a survey, you’ll have a lot more (and a lot better) replies, since most people are skeptical at first.

Not only will this boost employee engagement, you’ll also receive a tremendous amount of insight from the people closest to the ball. They now have a direct communication line to you and the opportunity to let you know what they believe is most important for the organization right now.

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