How to Create Engaged Employees (Even if You’re a Small Shop)

What costs business leaders more than $2,000 per employee per year in lost productivity? A disengaged staff that underproduces and seldom innovates.

Employee disengagement is serious business.

Beyond wasteful time management — and, in the U.S., that adds up to as much as $550 billion in unrealized output every year, according to a recent Gallup poll — failure to cultivate an engaged workforce can also lead to turnover. Gallup pegged the average price tag for replacing a single staff member at $20,000 in some markets.

And it’s not just giant corporations that face the problem.

Even small businesses have to keep their eye on the mark, when it comes to keeping employees involved and enthusiastic about their business’ mission. And, according to the Small Business Success Study, only 33% of business owners are focused on growth, meaning you really need to maximize your current staff.

“Regardless of the size of your organization or your team, working collectively in a cohesive and productive manner is essential to thriving in the new business paradigm,” said Jennifer Martin, business coach at Zest Business Consulting. “And in order to do this you need everyone to get engaged.”

With that in mind, let’s look at five key steps to creating engaged employees and reaping the benefits that come with them. For advice, we’ll turn to small-business employers, employees, and experts — each sees the results of engagement, directly, out there in the field.

1. Highlight the real-world results that your company creates.

Businesses offer solutions that help people. Key to engaging your staff is to afford them a sense of ownership and responsibility for the solutions they help make happen. “Focusing merely on the dollars and cents of your small business won’t affect your employees nearly as much as the fact that what they’re doing matters,” said Brandon Peach, content strategist at EZSolution. “Their work has positively influenced another person, and their role is critical in helping others achieve their goals.”

2. Respect and empower.

Small business owners can face cash-flow issues. In the midst of that, “there’s nothing worse than feeling [badly] when you aren’t earning what you feel like you are worth,” Martin said. And so, “if you can’t pay your staff with as much money as they truly deserve, pay them with attention, respect, and consideration,” she recommended.

3. Be willing to be personal.

Connect with your staff. Get to know their lives. “Allow for employees to socialize, within reason,” Peach said. “This allows for team-building and bonding on the clock. An open and comfortable workplace does not have to be an unproductive one.”

4. Invite new ideas.

When an employee sees an opportunity to improve your business, make certain they perceive ways to give you that input. “We have an e-mail address dedicated solely to company pitches,” said Andrea Webber, PR specialist at Ontraport. “Employees can send in ideas to better systems or start projects, and these are reviewed during manager meetings. A lot of our company projects come from these pitches.”

5. Reward progress along the way.

Especially when your team is small and the challenges are steep, a lot of time can pass between major milestones. Create opportunities to recognize and reward your best actors along the way — and then further empower them with greater authority. They’ll go on to accept new challenges with renewed attitudes and spirits.

“SMBs have a unique opportunity to engage employees because, unlike large corporations or enterprises, working in close quarters with the same people can result in a healthy, family-like company culture,” Peach said.

Plotting your course toward that kind of workplace culture can start with the strategies above.

As you become an expert in listening, breaking down barriers, and rewarding good work incrementally, your business will evolve into an example of how not to lose out on productivity and fresh innovation. After all, nobody wants their business to be part of that $550 billion club, no matter how large or small.

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