How to Emotionally Engage Your Employees (and Set Your Organization Up for Success)

Today’s human resource managers and business leaders have a lot on their plate: new technologies, constantly shifting preferences of their consumer base and (more and more) a workforce that’s looking for more from their job than just a paycheck. Modern employees are seeking personal and emotional engagement from their work, and smart managers are looking for ways to provide such a connection.

Diverse group of smiling professionals engaging in a lively discussion around a conference table.

For those who are successful, the rewards include a more loyal workforce who are happy to apply their skills to push the company forward in creative, meaningful ways that make customers – and the bottom line – very happy. 

What Is Emotional Engagement?

When we associate positive feelings with a place, action or person, we are emotionally engaged. While it’s true that negative feelings can be just as powerful as positive feelings, when we discuss emotional engagement in the workplace we are almost exclusively referring to positive responses. 

Emotional engagement can drive us to make a variety of decisions:

  • When we see a compelling commercial from the Humane Society, if we feel connected to the animals and the organization we may make a contribution. 
  • When our hometown team helps a neighborhood rebuild after a disaster, we may feel motivated to buy a star player’s jersey.
  • When happy people on the beach are playing volleyball and drinking a particular brand of cola, we might be moved to buy that brand, too. 

Researchers looking into emotional engagement in the workplace are trying to understand what makes us feel loyal to our jobs and employers, what motivates productivity, and how emotional engagement can make for a more successful business.

The Study of Emotional Engagement  

The authors of a study published in The Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies investigated the relationship between managers’ behavior and employees’ emotional engagement and how it relates to employee turnover. They found that emotional engagement is a powerful motivating factor in retaining employees, implying that giving workers the chance to feel personally connected to the job and the workplace can have a positive influence on retention and productivity. That means businesses can spend less time – and less money – training new employees, and more time focusing on improving the customer experience.  

Studies are showing that employees want more out of their jobs than just a paycheck. They want to feel good about the work they do. They want to feel valued beyond the dollar signs. Popular thinking holds that the more recent generations of workers are more likely to frequently change jobs and careers. In reality, that trend began before Millennials and Gen-Xers entered the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, workers born between 1957 and 1964 – the latter years of the Baby Boomers generation – on average held more than twelve jobs by the time they were in their mid-50s.  

Today’s workers are more likely to be mobile than previous generations, and to have  skills that can transfer across business sectors. Retaining today’s good workers may require the business to think about its human resources in historically different ways. While this may seem like a lot of effort, the payoff potential is enormous. 

4 Ways to Increase Emotional Engagement in the Workplace 

According to Forbes, businesses are turning more toward making their workplaces locations of emotional well-being. They are finding it increases productivity and worker retention. Forbes makes the following argument:  

“The issue of engaging employees is at its core how to holistically appreciate everything that they can bring to the table. As well as performing routine tasks, being allowed creative control creates a more nurturing environment that pays attention to the smaller details of a more cohesive and significant picture.”

In order to increase emotional engagement in the workplace, then, you must look for ways to let workers feel valued beyond the labor of their job descriptions. It’s the role of the manager to facilitate these opportunities because the manager sets the tone for the environment and the culture of the workplace. Ultimately, that makes the job of the manager easier, as continued studies reveal the value of having an emotionally engaged workforce.  

According to researchers from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and Kingston University, when employees have merely transactional engagement with their jobs, they focus only on the task at hand. They do well at it, but are far less likely to go beyond the basic requirements of their positions, and far more likely to leave if a better offer comes along. 

There are a few easy ways managers can increase emotional engagement in the workplace, though you may consider doing some work to improve your own emotional intelligence before you move forward too quickly.  

1. Encourage Open Dialogue 

Managers and leaders should encourage open dialogue in the workplace. When employees feel heard, they feel valued and are more likely to experience the kind of emotional engagement that leads to improved retention and increased productivity.  

For example, many successful restaurants entertain suggestions from employees for new dishes offered on the menu. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble often feature recommendations from employees. These create a dialogue that runs through the company to the customer, helping everyone who’s involved feel engaged by the business. 

Look for ways to solicit opinions and recommendations from your workforce, and implement new practices based on what you learn where possible. Share opportunities to express goals for individual and team performance. This is a strategy often employed in classrooms – students collaborate on goals for the entire class, and for their own learning. You can bring this into the office with similar success.  

Being willing to listen (and advertising that willingness) costs nothing, and the benefits to your business are potentially groundbreaking.  

2. Be Transparent

The days of businesses being impenetrable behemoths housed in castles of concrete and glass and positioned above their workers and their customers are over. People now expect businesses to be open about their practices. For instance, supply chain transparency is an important point of emphasis to most apparel companies as their employees and prospective customers become interested in assurances that clothing is being produced in safe and environmentally responsible conditions.  

Being transparent with company decisions builds trust among your workforce and your consumer base. It’s good for business, too, as Louis Carter explains in the Forbes article mentioned earlier: “When it comes to responsible business practices, investment in moral accountability repays itself every day. Appreciating and assessing human needs first and then taking care of the bottom line creates a company that customers and investors will be happy to support.”

Transparency allows employees and customers alike to connect with your company on an emotional level as you project a specific identity, and that can lead to increased loyalty. That’s assuming, of course, that your business practices are where they should be. 

3. Acknowledge and Recognize

Everyone likes to feel valued. Make a regular practice of celebrating employees’ successes (perhaps as measured by those shared goals mentioned earlier). 

Managers don’t need to make a big production out of such recognition, but it should be real and tangible. A company-sponsored potluck lunch is very inexpensive to the business and makes a great event for regular acknowledgement of employee achievements.  

4. Address and Measure Emotional Connections 

Measuring happiness can be difficult because it’s so individual, and it’s based on so many subtle, shifting factors. Your employees will notice, though, when you take the time to consider their overall happiness, even if people rarely achieve 100% satisfaction.  

In a study done by Harvard Business Review, researchers considered emotional motivators in depth. While it focuses on customer connections, many of the same concepts apply to your workforce. One of the takeaways from their article is that businesses should research what emotional connections their customers have with their services and products. It’s a potentially expensive undertaking. 

More simply, business managers could spearhead similar efforts directed at their workforce. A simple survey might reveal the kinds of emotional connections your employees do – or don’t – have with their work.  

An Engaged Employee = A Successful Business 

Efforts to create emotional engagement in the workplace will not go unrewarded. You’ll find you spend less time seeking new employees, and more time acknowledging your current employees’ successes.  

The culture created as a result of emotional engagement has benefits beyond your bottom line, making both a healthier business, and a healthier collection of human resources who will become your company’s greatest, more powerful ambassadors. 

Looking to Develop Your Employees’ Emotional Intelligence?

To help your employees learn more about emotional intelligence and how they can apply it at work, have them take this free online training course on Emotional Intelligence. In it, they’ll learn the difference between what’s known as the “Intelligence Quotient (IQ)” and emotional intelligence, and why emotional intelligence can be a better predictor of success than IQ. 

The course also brings emotional intelligence into the realms of management and leadership. Managers and leaders will learn how to improve their emotional intelligence, and how they can bring what they’ve learned into the workplace as both a member and leader of a team.  

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Madhu Krishnan

Hi, Interesting

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