Employee engagement is serious business. In 2015, a Gallup study poll found that incredibly, only 30% of employees say that they’re engaged in their job. More than 50% of employees said they weren’t engaged, and almost 20% of employees stated that they were “actively disengaged.”  That’s a severe problem in the workplace. This isn’t just a single piece of research, either; other surveys have found that just 25 to 35% of the workforce across the U.S. are engaged in their work. This really is a silent epidemic.
However, all is not lost. There may be a way out. Companies are finding smarter ways to boost employee engagement through the use of technology.
Hang on a second – what does ‘employee engagement’ even mean?
Employee engagement is nothing more than the measure of how emotionally invested your staff is in the organization. An engaged employee WANTS the company to succeed; they don’t just want the next paycheck. They believe in the company’s mission.
According to Forbes, employee engagement "Is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals." What we have to realize is that an engaged employee is not just bothered about a huge salary and swanky benefits. It’s about more than an airline gold club card and a company car.
An engaged employee wants to have a say in the business, they need to feel like they’re part of a team that’s working towards a common goal, and crucially, they need to feel that they are a valued member of the company – not just a tool for generating profit.
So where does technology come in here? Well, some companies feel hesitant to issue their staff with new dangly gadgets, like mobile phones, smart devices, tablets, and so on. Employers think these things are productivity sinks that take up people’s time with games about candy and farms and pirates. But that’s not the case. If a worker wants to be unproductive, trust us, they’ll find a way. It doesn’t matter whether you give them a 1990 Apple II or a state-of-the-art iPhone 6S. It’s the person, not the tool.
We’ve been working on this post in the lab for quite some time, and now the day has come to set it free. So here you go – five different methods for leveraging technology to boost employee engagement.
1) Encourage Collaborative Working
Just like the human body, work is better when it’s flexible. Flexible and virtual work is the next big thing, and Forrester Research reports that by 2016, over 63 million Americans will work virtually. In 2010 what was this figure? A jaw-dropping 34 million. That’s a huge increase. So why this trend? Well, according to the PGi Telework Week survey, 82% of workers who ‘telecommute’ experience less stress, while 80% have higher morale, and 69% missed fewer days of work. 
What we’re saying here is that companies should use technology to encourage workers to work virtually. If they do that, then they reap the benefits of happier, more motivated, and more productive employees. A virtual workforce also cuts overhead costs and shows that you trust your employees to work remotely.
Oh, and did we mention communication? With today’s technologies, it’s easy to use professional social media and collaboration tools to keep up-to-date on projects instantaneously. All we’re saying is that using remote work and online communication helps us to boost employee engagement by allowing more and better communication between workers, no matter where they may be.
Some of the potential tools you should look into to facilitate co-working include:
- File sharing: but not in the illegal, torrented way. You could just use Dropbox, Google Drive, or anything else. The fees for mass storage are cheap, the interface is easy, and you have the peace of mind that everything is safe and well-communicated, not to mention backed-up on the cloud.
- Wikis: Create a resource where your employees can find all the information they need on their own – a self-access center for training and development. It’ll help everyone get on the same page and keep all your employees up to date on the right way of doing things.
- Org and Project Management tools: Just like Asana, Jira, and Basecamp. These sites let you create, organize, and delegate tasks, sharing certain elements into shared projects. You can also have conversations and chats between tasks. These really do make life easier and help increase engagement and productivity. Great! Now just one more suggestion…
- Shared whiteboards and forums: You can also consider using tools to assist your colleagues share ideas and work together. Again, the keyword is collaboration – we keep saying it for a reason. A great tool is called Slack. You can pass files, brainstorm, float questions and ideas, and compare notes. One company, Hubspot, described slack as “A team post-it-note board on steroids”, and that’s a pretty accurate description! Check out Slack here.
2) Use Gamification
A key issue within training, in general, is generating enough motivation so that students will want to invest the time and effort required to learn. As gamification makes practical day-to-day activities (like training) more compelling, using it appropriately can boost participation rates in eLearning courses and increase employee motivation.
People have a natural desire to compete, and if there’s a fun, measurable way of doing so, you’ll notice employees joking and comparing with one another. It’s not a case of ‘just getting it done’ it’s a case of wanting to keep up with their co-workers. And it’s fun!
However, for gamification to deliver expected results, it is critical that you first assess your existing HR strategy, your goals and the needs of the organization. Consider whether gamification can harmoniously fit in with the whole strategy before investing in it.
For instance, one gamified learning portal produced a staggering 417% increase in employee use. In particular, the younger members of staff responded more strongly to this new strategy. The big picture? Increased sales and increased customer satisfaction.
Check out other examples of Gamification techniques used in companies to boost employee engagement.
- The Remarkable Benefits of Using Gamification in eLearning
- Gamification: A Better Way of Reaching Online Learners
3) Allow Personal Tools at Work
Time to mention smartphones – you knew it was coming. First, here are some key stats from the 2014 Cisco Connected Tech Report :
- The majority of professional use two to three work and personal devices in their daily lives.
- About 60% of respondents would choose a device other than a laptop for both work and personal use.
- 70% of HR professionals think Gen Y employees perform faster if they are allowed to use their mobile devices instead of computers.
These statistics might say a lot about our priorities these days, but again, we’re rolling with the punches. Millennials are the largest group in the US workforce, and they’re glued to their device – so let them use it! BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) increases employee engagement by giving employee autonomy to work the way they want, when they want. In the long run, these minor gains lead to big improvements. So don’t go giving the “evil eye” to any employee with their iPhone out.
BYOD is here to stay, and organizations need to realize this. Don’t upset your employees, especially the millennials – let them use their own tech!
- Four Reasons Why You Simply Can’t Afford to Ignore the BYOD Movement
- BYOD Increases Employee Engagement and Satisfaction
- The Benefits of BYOD in the Workplace
4) P2P Recognition (Don't Worry, We'll Explain)
43% of workers cite a lack of recognition as one of their biggest sources of unhappiness at work . Smart companies have started to adopt P2P (peer-to-peer) recognition to boost employee engagement. As an example, just look at Salesforce Chatter. This kind of tools helps your workforce feel valued and respected. Teammates become cheerleaders for one another and create stronger support networks. When senior management is too busy, or too uninterested, having an active network of colleagues behind you can make all the difference to engagement and productivity.
This method also works for those who have trouble with authority or don’t get along with their superiors. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that a lot of workers out there are deprived of praise or positive feedback because they have friction with their boss. If those workers got support and recognition from their peers, then they’d be able to surmount this challenge a lot more easily. And even those who love their boss can still benefit from peer to peer recognition. The best boss in the world is still going to have a lot of employees to monitor and a lot of their own work to do, so it’s inevitable that some employees will get overlooked. Coming back to Gen Y, this is even more applicable, as this generation particularly requires feedback.
Creating a culture of recognition is truly a beautiful thing. It creates a whole new attitude and outlook on the company and on working life. All you have to do is you’re your team members recognize what their worth and feel good about themselves, and who can ask for more than that?
5) Mobile Learning
In 2014, Bersin released it's Global Human Capital Trends 2014 Survey. This was a huge undertaking, with over 2500 respondents from 90 countries all over the globe. One of their most pivotal findings is that mobile learning is changing employee training – really, it is.
Mobile learning and online learning are changing expectations from employees – we’ve been championing this idea for a while. With Generation Z on the horizon and ready to enter the workforce, this trend isn’t going to end in a hurry. The modern employee juggles a hugely complicated, multifaceted life, balancing work, hobbies, outside interests, education, and family. Consequently, it’s absolutely vital that learners access content and complete training at the time, pace, and place that suits them.
It links into this of course that mobile is everywhere. Employees can complete training whenever and wherever they want. It’s a ubiquitous technology that people can’t exist without, so it’s only natural that we use this training method to help increase flexible working practices and raise enthusiasm toward learning.
We know that people don’t ever want to bring work home with them, but the reality is that it’s inevitable. What’s more, as people find that their work is more flexible, they’re happier to complete learning on their mobile at home or wherever they might be. Smart managers and HR departments are realizing this represents a better way of doing things – not to mention that it saves on classroom costs, instructor hiring, and travel times!
Tech in the workplace, especially tech which is mobile ready, is one of the best ways you can create better employee engagement.
- Here is Why Mobile Learning Matters
- Why Mobile Learning Will Transform Your Workplace
- How to Engage your Staff at Each Stage of the Employee Lifecycle
So to close out, these are five methods that you can use to create higher emotional engagement in your organization (using technology). An overall approach is to increase flexibility, empower your workers and let them use technology to work more flexibly, more remotely, and more freely.
People want freedom. That’s what technology gives us. Being chained to the desk is over, and we need to celebrate and embrace that, because a new era has arrived.
 How to Better Engage Your Workforce in 2016. http://www.highground.com/how-to-better-engage-your-workforce-in-2016
 2014 Labor Market Trends Reflect Changing Views on Workplace Flexibility http://www.bizjournals.com/prnewswire/press_releases/2014/08/27/MN98214
 2014 Cisco Connected World Technology Report http://www.slideshare.net/CiscoBusinessInsights/future-of-work-ccwtr
 Study: Lack of Recognition a Top Source of Unhappiness on the Job for Canadian Employees http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/study-lack-recognition-top-source-unhappiness-on-job-canadian-employees-2065346.htm
 SAP. 2014. 6 Ways Social Collaboration Can Boost Employee Engagement. http://go.sap.com/docs/download/2015/10/18dc9fed-477c-0010-82c7-eda71af511fa.pdf
 Straz, Matt. 2015. 4 Ways to Use Technology In the Workplace to Motivate Employees https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242961
 This Year in Employee Engagement: 2016 Trends to Watch http://appirio.com/cloud-powered-blog/this-year-in-employee-engagement-2016-trends-to-watch