It was my first job out of college, and the editorial staff had just launched our newly designed magazine. As editor, I wrote and scrutinized thousands of words. I’m pretty sure the designer and I spent weeks staring at a computer screen and proofs.
I’m fairly certain the lunch wasn’t that amazing. But the conversation was. As a new college graduate, the praise tasted far better than the food. It wasn’t much, but at the end of the day, we felt appreciated and engaged in the success of the association.
The morale of the story: Engaged employees work harder and smarter. Happy, loyal employees are the backbone of a successful organization, or so it seems, according to a recent study by Gallup.
It found that companies with an average of 9.2 engaged employees compared to every one disengaged employee experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share than their competition. In addition, companies in the top 25 percent of Gallup’s database have significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings and less turnover and absenteeism.
And it flows from the top down. The Gallup report found that managers are almost solely responsible for building employee engagement.
The problem: Only 22 percent of employees in the study indicated they felt engaged, with service employees feeling the least engaged.
So what’s the trick? According to Gallup: Measure the correct forms of engagement (emotional); hire the right managers, who should be expected to cultivate engagement among their employees; design day-to-day engagement opportunities, rather than build lofty goals; and find ways to connect with each employee.
It sounds easy, right? But it’s not. Managers need to be coached and encouraged to participate in professional development. Mentoring programs work well, according to those surveyed.
But what about associations?
Generally equipped with smaller staffs, it seems employee engagement should be easier to foster. That’s not always the case, as employees often juggle multiple responsibilities and wear several hats. Associations operate with less to do more, and sometimes, finding the time to foster engagement is tough.
“When it comes to recognition, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” wrote Tara Ericson, group vice president for Naylor, LLC, in the July 22 edition of Association Adviser. “I find the most success when I tailor the way I acknowledge employee achievement to how they want to be appreciated. Knowing your employees on an individual basis is the only way to know how to manage and recognize their accomplishments effectively.”
For example, Ericson creates a list of her employees’ favorite things – hobbies, restaurants and leisure activities – and refers to it when it’s time for recognition.
Also, she celebrates milestones – birthdays, marriages and births – and budgets for appropriate items.
“Sometimes, a reward isn’t justified, but your staff still deserves feedback,” Ericson said. “My rule of thumb is to say what’s on your mind. If a team member is performing well or not meeting expectations, I tell them immediately. Being direct and honest lets your team always know where they stand with you. It encourages better productivity and a more secure job culture by combating rumors and unjustified fears, and creates a constructive environment where coaching and open feedback are the norm.”
Ericson offers some other free or low-cost reward ideas:
- Flex hours and telecommuting
- Casual dress day
- Public recognition
- Reserved parking spots
- Time off (leaving early, extended lunches, days off)
- Happy Hours
- Gift cards
At the end of the day, whether you have a large staff or a small staff, it’s important to remember that “an army of one” is a fallacy. Your association needs members, and your employees work to recruit and keep them.
As a manager or executive, remember that small gestures go a long way. So next time you’re craving a long lunch, or a lunch meeting at the golf course, ask your employees to join. You’ll do more than just foot the bill.