Employee engagement can make a significant difference to both organisational and individual performance in your business, and brings a number of other benefits. But if you’ve got a low budget and limited time, it may seem like pie in the sky and not a business priority trying to actually increase employee engagement.
With that in mind, here are our top ten tips for small business owners who want to improve employee engagement. Some of them are quick wins and others are more long-term initiatives, but they can all be done on a very low budget or for no cost at all.
Measure your levels of employee engagement so you know what your starting point is, and identify specific areas of concern so that any actions you take as a result are as impactful as possible in the areas where improvement is most needed.
2. Mission, strategy and values
Look at any mission statement and organisational values you may have. Are they a genuine reflection of the organisation? Are people connected with them? If not, look at whether they need to change, or whether you need to take steps to ensure they are further understood and embedded.
3. Management behaviour
If you have organisational values and you are happy with them, either formally expressed and notified or just in your own head as principle and ethics by which your small business should operate, then it’s vital management behaviour is consistent with these values.
Look at what your managers are doing, how they are looking after their teams, the decisions they are making, and ask yourself whether those ‘fit’ with the values and principles your business has.
You may have a performance review time once or twice a year (or you may not even have that), but try to avoid limiting conversations around how things are going to only these scenarios. Regular (maybe monthly) check-ins with staff can add enormous value in terms of keeping things on track, identifying problems early, and improving engagement levels, and they don’t have to take long or be heavily structured or formal.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on high salaries or big bonuses. But take the time and effort to recognise the accomplishments and achievements of your staff, big and small. And don’t wait until once a year – do it often. It can be as simple as ‘catching’ them doing something good and telling them that, or making a point of acknowledging it when someone’s made extra effort.
Consistency of treatment is a big factor in employee engagement. As a small business grows, often at the 15-20 employee stage, consistency tends to slip, as line management responsibilities extend to a greater number of staff, who frequently don’t have people management training, and the number of policies in place is still small.
At this stage the business’s ‘position’ on things like time off for medical appointments, pay rises or flexibility of working hours and many other things is not yet clearly established, leading to decision-making on a case-by-case basis depending on who’s asking and who’s answering the question, and unfairness and resentment creeping in.
So have a look at improving consistency, with more communication amongst managers, ensuring managers have the skills to lead their teams effectively and fairly, and think about some formal policies in the areas they might become needed.
Have a look at some initiatives you could put in place to improve employee wellbeing (see here for some examples), as this is another important factor in employee engagement levels. If staff feel well and happy at work, they are more likely to be engaged with the goals of the business and be more productive as a result.
Not all workplaces and types of work are conducive to flexibility in terms of hours or working from home or similar, but a surprising number can achieve some degree of flexibility with a bit of creative thinking, even if it’s just a slight adjustment in start/leaving times to accommodate avoiding rush hour traffic.
If you don’t think flexible working arrangement would suit the business or the jobs your employees are doing, think about maybe asking them for solutions. Say you’d like to offer more flexibility and would like input into how they think this could work. That way you’re ticking the box of involving them and giving them a voice, and trying to offer flexibility as well!
9. Work design
Have a look at the various jobs employees are doing in your business. It’s not something you can necessarily change overnight, but try and make sure jobs are designed in such a way as to ensure the work you need doing is done as efficiently and effectively as possible, whilst giving employees as much variety and control over their work as can be managed.
10. Employee voice
Workplaces with high levels of employee engagement are ones where employees feel they have a ‘voice’ in what happens, are listened to and can comfortably raise concerns and share ideas. In very small businesses this often happens naturally, as everyone works as one team, often in the same room, socialising together and team meetings including everyone.
Once a business grows, again often at the 15-20 employee stage, this organic ‘voice’ can slip, so you need to ensure a structure of some sort is put in place to facilitate it and ensure that openness is not lost.
As well as a structure ensuring staff have a voice, put in place more informal measures such as an open-door policy if managers (including the owner) have separate offices.
If you’d like some help coming up with quick-wins and long-term strategies for improving employee engagement in your SME, do get in touch.