If you knew that something was negatively affecting roughly one-fifth of your workforce, you’d probably want to do something about it. 

Well get ready to do something: Roughly 17 percent of U.S. workers are currently disengaged in their work, according to Gallup.

But what does employee engagement—aka the relationship between an organization and its employee—really mean for employers? 

Healthier employees and increased workplace safety are just two of the 14 positive business outcomes of an engaged workforce, according to this report from Quantum Workplace.

Lisa Sordilla, Vice President of Human Resources at Chester Springs, Pa.-based Energage, formerly Workplace Dynamics, knows just how important it is to have an engaged workforce.

Her company helps employers gain information on how employees feel about working there, she said, as well as help companies understand the survey data and take actions that would help improve their experience and performance.

So it would make sense that employee engagement is a priority at Energage.

“It’s absolutely something we believe we need to ‘eat our own ice cream,’ so to speak,” she said in a recent podcast with EmployeeCycle CEO and founder Bruce Marable. “We do need to create a workplace where employees are engaged and have meaning full work and have great relationships with their managers.”

And to better understand the relationship between employers and employees, Energage has surveyed 14 million people from 50,000 different companies to acquire more than 400 million data points over the past 11 years.

Where to begin?

And what do all those data points lead Sordilla to believe about employee engagement?

“It is really a journey, not a destination,” she said. “You’ll never reach a point where you can think ‘OK, now a ping-pong table is going to be enough to keep our people engaged.’ ”

And while the journey may never end, employee engagement starts with recruiting.

“You go looking for employees and people show up,” she said with a laugh. “People have things outside work in their lives, and there’s so much more to the person than just work so we try to tap into that by trying to get to know people on a more personal level.”

The company also employs an anonymous, two-way communication tool in its surveys called Connect, that allows employers to pulse out questions specific to certain focus areas and then conduct follow-up conversations.

“I can have an anonymous chat with someone and say ‘I’m sorry you feel this way, can you tell me more about it?’ “ she said. “Through that interaction, you’re actively listening, and a lot of time people just want to be heard, so you are creating trust. My goal is to keep the dialogue going and ask questions.”

The Connect tool offers anonymous suggestions, which Sordilla said can be helpful in increasing employee engagement.

“[At Energage] we’ve have a lot of great suggestions implemented,” she said, “and that’s how you build transparency, letting them know their ideas are important and you are listening.”

When to begin?

So when should small companies begin measuring employee engagement levels through surveys?

The guideline is about 50 people companywide, Sordilla said. 

“If you have less than that, you may not be getting really honest feedback because they are afraid they will be identified,” she said. “That’s not to say a company can’t benefit from it, but they need to realize people may be holding back.”

(Find out the 4 key relationships that affect employee engagement at the 31 minute mark of the podcast.)

“Once you can figure out what’s important to your workforce, you can figure out ways to do things that can help bring people together,” she said, citing an example of using teamwork-building events to foster better communications between internal teams. 

“I haven’t seen one thing that is the magic answer for employee engagement,” Sordilla said, “but if you put the employee at the center and recognize they are a person and approach it from that direction, that will give you the most success.”

Tired of manually building messy HR reports and spreadsheets? Click to get your demo to learn how to pull and view all your people data in one HR analytics dashboard. 

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