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5 Ways Getting Personal Improves Employee Engagement

Posted by Patrick Ball on 25 Nov 2014

For all the attention paid to ping-pong tables, free gourmet lunches and afternoon massages, even the sexiest work perks (six month sabbatical, anyone?) aren't guaranteed to improve employee engagement. 

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Even if your organization can’t offer eye-catching extras, there are other ways to motivate employees that do just as well to improve job satisfaction and boost morale. “Every employer can do things to make staff feel special,” says Harvey Deutschendorf, emotional intelligence expert and author of The Other Kind of Smart.

This is not a knock on hip work perks, which help to build a company's employer branding and cultural cred -- those things matter to employees, who want to feel pride in their place of employment. But they're not the end-all, be-all when it comes to motivating and engaging your workforce. 

Here are five super simple -- and inexpensive -- examples of how connecting with employees on a personal level can improve employee engagement and build company culture.  

    1. Know Names
      It's the little things, sometimes, that have the most meaning for people. Make it a point to learn your employees' names and the proper pronunciation. Take it a step further by remembering their names, along with the names of their spouses and family members, and using them in conversations. With employees of all the different cultures working in one place, this task can be more difficult than it sounds, but it will be appreciated. Names are hard to spell and pronounce, so when you get it right, employees notice. When you never do, they notice that, too.

    2. Mix It Up
      Sometimes motivation comes from surprising employees a little, says Brian Sommer, CEO of TechVentive, Inc., a market strategy and content firm. When Sommer’s group was traveling constantly, he used a fun method to keep the team energized and, more importantly, connected.

      “I’d pay $100 to the employee who brought in the best photo of when they were traveling,” he says. “They were hilarious.” Despite the grueling schedules, the employees enjoyed the photo contest (decided by a show of hands), and it reminded them of their united team goals.

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    3.  Find Out Who They Are
      Employees love recognition, but only when it’s genuine, says Deutschendorf. When your team has done a great job, recognizing them with very personal gifts -- for a favorite movie theater, spa or restaurant -- lets them know you're thinking of them as individuals and recognizing their unique efforts.

      Pay attention when employees talk and make note of their favorite things. Pay attention to their true personalities as well, and offer praise in a way that makes them comfortable. Don’t call an introvert to the front of the room -- offer your encouraging comments in private. 

    4. Acknowledge Tensions
      No company operates without some interoffice tension, so facing it head on can really help keep employees from harboring morale-damaging uncertainty. Sommer used another group technique to help ward off problems. In a meeting, managers asked employees to write down the greatest company rumor they recently heard. The submissions could be anonymous or signed (the winner got a cash prize), so employees were free to ask things they normally would not. Rumors ranged from serious to gossipy, but every rumor was addressed right then by Sommer or his managers. “It diffused any bubbling tension,” Sommer says, “and got it all out there.”

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    5. Note the Personal
      Employees are at work to work, not socialize. But, at the same time, having a friend or two at work makes people more productive, says Steve Boese, co-chair of the Human Resources Executive’s HR Technology Conference and author of the HR Technology Blog

      Positive relationships with managers and with coworkers are a big deal, he says, because it helps everyone connect with their overall goal of working for the common benefit of the company. Companies can foster those relationships in all kinds of ways, including sponsoring charitable activities, but they can’t let it slide. “Giving employees the chance to socialize is really important,” Boese says. “It sounds obvious, but it’s important.”

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