94This post was featured in Forbes.com.

Studies show that engaged employees generate an average of between a quarter to a third moreprofits for their companies.  Fantastic, right?  But here’s the question: do you think that most of your employees are engaged?

If you answered yes, chances are you’re dead wrong. According to one eye-opening study, fewer than a third of all employees can be classified as actively engaged at work.  Put another way, some industry statistics show that 66% of employees are disengaged and 60% are actively looking for work.

This rampant disengagement or semi-engagement hits where it hurts – your bottom line.   As HR.com writerDavid Bator put it, since you pay a disengaged employee 100% of their salary for 50% effort, if we assume that the average salary of an employee in a 500 person organization is $50,000, then the annual cost of disengagement for that company is over $8M, or $34,200 per day.

Yikes.

So what can companies do to reverse this trend?  How do you keep your employees engaged in their work day after day, month after month, year after year?

Sure, positive employee recognition is a great way to make people feel empowered, and by extension more engaged.  But a party or a gift basket will only deliver a temporary jolt of enthusiasm and won’t do much at all for the greater dynamic of your organization.

Let’s talk about some longer term strategies and tactics that will.

The driving goal here is that each and every member of your company has a great answer to the question, “Why do you work here?”  And the answer shouldn’t be “the pay” or “the half-day summer Fridays.”  Salary and benefits alone do not lead to employee engagement.

What does?  Well, it has to be something that feels like it originates from within each individual employee… something that empowers them.  Something that makes them say “Listen to what my coworkers and I did the other day…”

Now, I hear what you’re saying: “But Ryan, we did the ropes course with the whole design team last year! Eight out of ten “trust falls” went great, too!” (OK, I know no one said anything like that. Surely it was a 90% success rate with the trust falls.) And the answer is no; the usual seasonal-engagement crutch of holiday parties in the winter and cookouts in the summer simply doesn’t work as the sole “cohesion creator.”

Instead, to keep your employees enthused and engaged, you need to have programs that your employees feel that they are a part of every day. And these initiatives must make employees feel like they are contributing to the company, yes, but also, in the most successful instances, like they are a part of something even bigger.

So think big.

And what’s bigger than, say, the earth itself?  What?  Well, yeah. Jupiter.  And yes the Kuiper Belt is really huge, OK!  You know what I mean.  What I’m talking about is establishing a green recycling program that will make your employees aware that when they participate, not only are they doing good for the company, but for the planet as a whole.  A recycling program is something that each and every member of an organization can participate in each and every day and it’s a fine starting point for much bigger things.

Taking things a step further, how about establishing a comprehensive corporate volunteer program, the strongest cure for employee disengagement?  Few things engender a deeper sense of camaraderie than doing charitable work side by side with others.  And the spirit established on an oil-slicked beach or in raising a house for a family fallen on hard times will not fade in the company lobby on Monday morning.  Rather, it will pervade every aspect of every board room and cubicle.

The reason for this is simple: when people share in common cause, they grow closer together. The myriad moving parts of a larger company can often seem to function in seclusion, but by creating an exterior common cause, you can bring the varied parts – the employees from different divisions, teams, etc. – together to work in concert.  The same is true for companies of all sizes, of course, but the larger the organization, the harder it can be to keep numerous employees engaged.

So you need some employee engagement strategies, then, don’t you?  Well, then, let’s talk about a few:

1. Be a company people like to work for 

Sounds simple enough, right?  But I don’t mean that you have to be Google or some place that can afford Olde Time Pop Corn machines and Nerf arsenals in every kitchen (or even the kind of place that would want that stuff).  Instead, just be the kind of place that is satisfying to work for but also provides so much more than opportunities for “work work.” That means opportunities for charitable giving, volunteering, community serviceactivities and the like.

2. Provide opportunities for employee involvement

Involvement and engagement aren’t quite synonyms, but they’re really close friends.  And by involvement opportunities, we aren’t talking about overtime.  We’re talking about facilitating giving and volunteering efforts that help employees feel connected to their communities and, by extension, your company.  People like doing good things.  In fact, they love it, it’s just often hard to know where and when one can do the most good.  If the place they already work becomes the conduit for doing good work, you’re going to have happier, more engaged, and more productive workers on your team.

3. Listen up

Maybe you think things are going smoothly and your staff seems happy enough.  But if you don’t allow your employees any autonomy in where their giving and volunteering efforts are aimed, they may end up feeling “voluntold.”  Give your employees the gift of supporting their support for the charities and causes they care about most.

4. Bring employees together

Conversely, while you should allow for some cause autonomy, you also want to create opportunities for common cause.  Organizing days of service, leading team volunteering events and turning fundraising ideasinto reality are the key to uniting employees on a much deeper level than could ever be achieved in the workplace alone.

5. Be persistent

Your work is not done after one successful weekend spent coordinating a company-wide riverbank cleaning session.  Nor is it done after a months-long partnership with Habitat for Humanity.  The fact is that your work toward furthering employee engagement is never done. And that should be exciting, not daunting.  Indeed, charitable work never goes out of style, and it’s the best way to inspire engagement.  So try it out.  Frequently.

The occasional cookout or margarita never hurts, but if you want to demonstrate staff appreciation, provide opportunities for staff satisfaction by giving your employees cause to help causes.

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