Employee Engagement: The Value of Connection

Ange Connor

The number one question I am constantly asked in this talent short market is “what can I do and what are other businesses doing to engage employees to help with retaining them?” The talent short market is making us all take a good hard look at what we offer from an employee experience perspective, what initiatives we have to support employee engagement with the hope of retaining our talent, as well as attracting talent to our businesses when we need to recruit. We are all trying to come up with the best new idea or initiative to differentiate ourselves in the market and from our competitors to give us that edge.

On the flip side, these initiatives need to be balanced with what is realistic from a cost perspective – what the business can afford. Yet, others then argue can they not afford the investment when the outcome may be losing great talent from the business and the cost to then hire and develop a new employee. Unfortunately, there is no one answer that can solve your employee experience and engagement question.

When talking with business owners, leaders and managers about what they are doing in the employee experience and engagement space, it appears the natural default response is to go to what I’ll call the technical elements; the tangible, that can be packaged into a process, a system or a structure. By this, I mean things like clear systems and processes for professional development, documents and plans detailing career progression and promoting career paths, training and upskilling plans and matrixes, in the hope of evidencing to the employee the opportunity for career growth, development, new challenge and progression.

It also looks like EAP Programs, fruit bowls, discounted gym memberships, flexible/hybrid work models, volunteering days, the list of benefits and perks could go on and on. These are all great initiatives and are important as part of the employee experience and keeping people engaged, yet when I interview people, very rarely, if ever, are these the initiatives that are important to them when they are considering changing jobs.

The top two reasons I hear from people looking to change jobs are:

  • Career growth, development and a new challenge/learning new skills (and that doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the career ladder into a management role)
  • Connection; the relationships, the human element, feeling valued, being part of a team, having a genuine interest, and care shown to them for who they are as a person not just an employee during business hours – culture fit

When it comes to developing the connection element of your employee experience and engagement strategy, this is much harder as it can’t be developed into a system or a process or delegated to one person to be responsible for; it’s a much greyer area and the complexity is compounded because not all our employees want the same thing when it comes to connection. We all have different needs, priorities and motivators when it comes to what connection means to us.

What I have learnt through personal experience in recent times is that it can be the littlest of ideas and initiatives that make the biggest difference in terms of connection. And while we naturally gravitate to thinking of structured and systemised employee engagement initiatives that cost money, we often overlook the simple yet more meaningful initiatives.

Last year, one of our team members came up with the idea to take it in turns of preparing lunch on a Monday for the rest of the team. The idea was chatted about amongst the team and the idea was implemented. It wasn’t compulsory to get involved however everyone was keen to get involved and have their day as the Inspire HQ MasterChef. A roster was set and everyone was pretty excited to not have to worry about organising their lunch each Monday other than when they were rostered on. At the time this seemed like a pretty simple idea, something nice and something different to do. I didn’t even really think of it at the time as an engagement initiative. Yet, what I observed over that time was that this initiative helped create and affirm the connection within our team, it had instigated plenty of laughs, it helped us get to know team members even better and it saw quite a bit of recipe sharing. The anticipation of what each team member would cook or organise to have catered, the banter amongst the team and even the excitement of a new employee sharing how excited she is to experience our Monday lunches was a good indication of just how much this little idea had positively impacted our team connection and culture. We can’t wait for what our 2024 ‘Monday Lunches’ bring!

Often, it’s the littlest things that can make the biggest differences in our workplaces and the connection piece can never be underestimated. You don’t necessarily need a big budget or to have the latest and greatest new initiative to help engage and retain your employees.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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