Employee Engagement: The Secret To Richard Branson’s Success

Keeping your employees engaged can translate into monumental revenue growth. Here's everything you need to know to get started and a look at how Richard Branson keeps his 35,000 employees engaged.

Employee Engagement

Richard Branson has made billions through his many business ventures. His personal net worth is currently a staggering $4.9 billion dollars (yep, billion with a “B”!) and the Virgin Group consists of over 400 companies in various industries including travel, banking, finance, hospitality, insurance, communication and fitness.

But he’s never forgotten that he owes a ton of his success to those who work under him.

Richard Branson Employee Engagement Quote

Now, Branson makes this sound pretty simple – and, in the grand scheme of things, it is. That is, the concept is simple – but putting it into practice isn’t something that happens at the flip of a switch.

Today, we’re going to dig into exactly what Branson is actually saying in the above quote, and discuss why having engaged employees on your team is all but essential to the success of your company as a whole.

We’ll also discuss how to measure employee engagement (both objectively and subjectively), and provide examples of how some of the world’s most successful companies manage to keep their entire employee base engaged at all times.

Let’s first look at how focusing on increasing employee engagement can benefit your company.

Why Focus On Employee Engagement?

Okay…that probably seems like a pretty silly question.

I mean, why wouldn’t you want to ensure your employees come to work every day ready to hit the ground running?

Sure, we all know that engagement is a good thing. But let’s go a bit deeper, and look at the effects employee engagement has on an overall business.

Benefits Of Employee Engagement

First of all, organizations that focus on employee engagement are simply more productive than their less-engaged counterparts.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, highly-engaged companies see:

  • An average increase in productivity of 17%, which in turn results in
  • 21% increase in overall profitability
  • A 10% increase in customer ratings, which results in
  • 20% increase in sales

This productivity goes hand-in-hand with the notion that employee engagement has a positive effect on job satisfaction, as well. Case in point: organizations that focus on engagement see a 41% drop in employee absenteeism (which, of course, leads to an increase in productivity). Furthermore, less than 40% of engaged employees report looking elsewhere for employment (compared to 73% of disengaged workers).

Going along with all of this is the fact that engagement has a sort of synergistic effect on an individual’s soft skills. In other words, the more engaged an employee is, the more creative, collaborative, and driven they become. And, as this employee becomes more creative, collaborative, and driven, they’ll become more competent in their work-related duties overall – which, in turn, will lead them to become even more engaged.

(As a quick aside, the Gallup poll referenced above also reports a rather disturbing statistic: Employee engagement at the national level has hovered around only one-third of employees engaged in the United States since 2000.)

Put simply, focusing on employee engagement places your employees on a virtuous cycle in which the growth they experience spurs even more growth ad infinitum. So, by working to ensure your employees are engaged at all times, you’re really opening the door for your company to become an absolute powerhouse in your industry.

Factors Affecting Employee Engagement

Of course, employers and managers can’t just wave a magic wand and expect their employees to just “become” engaged.

A number of factors contribute to this happening – both on the employee’s and the employer’s side of things. Let’s take a look at both.

Employee-Facing Engagement Factors

An individual employee’s propensity to become engaged with their work is affected by a number of inherent factors.

High Employee Engagement

For one thing, employees need to have the right attitude toward their job, and a positive outlook on life in general, in order to become engaged with their work-related duties. If they find their work uninteresting (or worse, boring), there’s little chance of them becoming engaged. Worse yet, those who aren’t intrinsically driven to make the most out of every opportunity they encounter will likely never become engaged with their work – no matter how interesting it may be.

An employee’s ability to “fit in” within an organization also plays a major role in whether or not they become engaged with their work, as well. As mentioned earlier, collaboration is a huge part of employee engagement and productivity. If an employee feels out of place while working within a team, it doesn’t matter how talented or driven they are: their lack of cohesion with the rest of the team will ultimately lead to disengagement.

Finally, employee engagement is enormously affected by their health and overall quality of life. An employee that has been experiencing pain – whether physical, mental, or emotional – simply will not be able to focus on their job (Note: We’ll discuss where employers factor into this in a moment). For an individual to be able to take care of business, they first need to take care of themselves. If they’re unwilling or unable to do the latter, the former is all but impossible.

Employer-Facing Engagement Factors

Richard Branson People Quote

Are you seeing a recurring trend in how Richard Branson thinks about his employees?…

Of course, even if an employee is completely gung-ho about their job, is content with their surroundings, and is in perfect health, there still lies the possibility that they’ll become disengaged with their work if their employer doesn’t facilitate engagement.

Obviously, a manager’s job is to manage their employees. But what does that mean?

For one, it means employers need to provide support to their workers, in good times and in bad. When things are going well, managers need to provide recognition to the people who made it all possible. When things aren’t going so well, managers need to help their employees overcome the obstacles they’re facing and get them back on track. Without this guidance, many employees who rely on such will ultimately end up becoming complacent.

Secondly, it’s not necessarily a given that employees will gel and begin working as a team on their own. It’s up to the manager of said team to foster the importance of teamwork, communication, and collaboration. Again, without guidance, many employees might not even realize how important such teamwork actually is, and will simply focus on doing their job – and only their job.

Lastly, employers need to treat their employees as humans first, workers second. This means treating all members of a team equally and fairly – ensuring their mental and emotional health stays high. Additionally, it means ensuring their employees aren’t overworked and are able to enjoy their lives both on and off the job. And, of course, it means ensuring they are compensated fairly for the work they do, so they can attend to their own needs (and the needs of their loved ones).

Measuring Employee Engagement

The article we linked to earlier focused mainly on asking employees how they would rate their level of engagement with their work.

While this is certainly a valid way to go about gauging employee engagement, a number of inherent problems may arise which could skew results (as well as a manager’s understanding of the data collected):

  • An employee might (or might not) feel engaged at the current moment, and extrapolate this feeling across their entire experience with the company
  • An employee’s survey results might show they’re generally engaged with their work, leading their managers to ignore certain negative responses within the survey
  • An employee might just simply say they’re engaged, satisfied, etc. without actually meaning it (which could happen for a variety of reasons)

That being said, managers can also measure employee engagement by observing their employees at work, as well as by assessing certain quantitative data related to their overall performance.

Measuring Engagement Factors

Glassdoor Employee Reviews

One of the easiest ways to see how your employees feel is to look at your company’s Glassdoor profile

Earlier on, we discussed some of the major factors that play into whether or not an employee becomes engaged in their work.

Now, most – if not all – of these factors are rather subjective and “intangible.” Consider the following adjectives:

  • Collaborative
  • Innovative
  • Responsible
  • Driven

While it’s easy to picture an employee that fits each of these descriptions, it’s much more difficult to definitively claim that an individual is “driven” or “responsible.” It’s not enough to point to one or two examples of an employee exhibiting such qualities in order to say “this is who they are”; for this to happen, said employee would need to exhibit these qualities continuously throughout their tenure in their position.

What you can do as a manager is compile a list of overt actions that a certain “type” of employee would take (for example, a responsible employee is one that takes care of tasks that aren’t necessarily in their job description, comes to work on time, and never misses a deadline). You can then create a “report card” of sorts to determine where your employees fall on a continuum (i.e., from “not responsible” to “very responsible”).

While not an exact science by any stretch, this method will allow to create an in-house rubric with which to gauge your employees’ levels of engagement, and to note how each of these factors contributes to your company’s overall performance.

Analyzing Quantifiable Data

Managers can also gauge employee engagement by taking a look at hard data related to their employees, as well.

For example, as we mentioned above, an organization that focuses heavily on cultivating engagement sees an average drop in absenteeism of over 40%. Looking at this from a different perspective, an employee who uses all of their sick and personal days in a given year is probably not as engaged in their work-related duties as one who tends to only take a few extra days off each year.

(Note: This isn’t to say an employee with perfect attendance is definitely an engaged employee. But it certainly would be a testament to their dedication to their job – a true sign of engagement.)

Some other data points you might consider assessing include:

  • Amount of professional development sessions attended by an individual
  • Amount of assignments handed in on time by a specific employee
  • Quantity and quality of complaints made by employees
  • Year-over-year employee retention and turnover rates

As alluded to in the above sidenote, such metrics don’t necessarily point to engagement when analyzed in a vacuum. Rather, you’ll want to assess how each of these metrics relate to one another, and how they come together to paint a full picture of your employees’ overall engagement levels.

A Note on Employee Net Promoter Score (Or eNPS For Short)

While we’re on the subject of metrics that point to employee engagement, it’s important to talk about Employee Net Promoter Score.

We’ve spoken before about using a Net Promoter Score survey to gauge your customer’s propensity to recommend your brand to a friend, family member, or peer – which, in turn, correlates with said customer’s level of loyalty to your brand.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)

The more 9s and 10s you have, the happier your employees are…

While based on the same premise, Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys deal with an employee’s propensity to recommend that a friend or peer apply to work within your organization. Similarly, an employee that reports a high likelihood of making such a recommendation is, in doing so, exhibiting loyalty to their company – which, in turn, is a sign of engagement on their part.

Also, just as with customer-facing NPS surveys, you would want to include a few follow-up questions to help get some context behind your employees’ responses.

Collecting eNPS data is usually done in one of two ways – each of which has their merits.

  • On the one hand, you may choose to send an eNPS survey to all of your employees at once (doing so either quarterly or annually). This would help you get an overall sense of your entire team’s level of engagement and satisfaction within the company – and allow you to compare year-over-year results as necessary.
  • On the other hand, you could also ask individual employees to fill out the eNPS survey based on their own timeline within the company (for example, after six months, one year, etc.). You could then compare changes in an individual’s responses over time, and also look at where your employee base stands after certain time-related milestones.

In either case, your goal is to get to the bottom of why your employees would or would not recommend working with your company – and how their answer relates back to their level of engagement with their work.

Facilitating Employee Engagement

As we’ve alluded to throughout this article, getting employees engaged in their duties isn’t something to just hope and pray for. It requires you – the team manager – to take action to make it happen.

In this section, we’ll discuss things you can do to facilitate employee engagement throughout your organization.

Games and Activities

Cultivating engagement doesn’t have to be tedious; in fact, it shouldn’t be – or you may end up doing more harm than good.

If your goal is to bring engagement into focus throughout your team (rather than facilitating it in a rather covert manner, as we’ll discuss shortly), your best bet is to implement activities that require your employees to interact with one another to accomplish a goal.

Check out our list of team-building games and activities from a previous article for more suggestions on this end.

Build Complementary Teams

If you’ve ever watched a sports team execute a practiced play to perfection, you know how important it is to build a team whose individual members complement one another. Remember when Kobe was at the helm of the Lakers, for example?…

In an office setting, this means building a team in which each individual is assigned tasks that play to their strengths. Because each team member will be relied upon to complete a certain task (which they specialize in), they’ll inherently be more apt to follow through with their duties for two main reasons:

  • They feel confident in their abilities to do what needs to be done
  • They know they are the best person for the given job within their team

Furthermore, when team members complement each other, they can learn from each other, as well. By building complementary teams, you ensure that each team member has something to teach the group – and a lot to learn from the others, too.

Facilitate Communication

Going along with the last sentiment – and as we discussed earlier – it’s your job as a manager to facilitate communication between your employees.

For a variety of reasons – shyness, aloofness…the list goes on – many of your employees simply might not understand the value of conversing with one another. As we just said, your team members have a lot to teach each other, and a lot to learn from each other, as well. But if they don’t realize this, they might never interact with each other at all.

You also want to make it clear that you’re available to speak with, as well. You want your employees to feel comfortable coming to you with any issues or problems they experience before the problem becomes insurmountable. Not only will this keep them engaged in processes within the company, but it’ll also help them avoid moments that could cause them to become disengaged, as well.

Consultant Jamie Lewis Smith echoes the importance of using surveys to track and improve engagement:

“Questions should be behavioral and actionable, so that managers and leaders can make changes based on the feedback received. In addition to measuring self-perceived assessment by asking employees about their level of engagement, organizations should (also) consider measuring the outcomes of engagement.”

Additionally, you want to ensure that everyone within the organization truly understands your company’s mission and goals. Says FutureFuel.io Founder and CEO Laurel Taylor:

“In order to inspire employee engagement, communication around mission, vision, and purpose is key. If employees are not clear as to the company’s “why”, they will not be engaged, and they will not be inspired to go above and beyond to ensure customer success…When understanding, contribution, and alignment converges, organic and authentic peak performance emerges.

Promote Professional Development

You may have seen the following exchange between a hypothetical CFO and CEO floating around the web:

Benefits Of Employee Engagement

The message here is clear: you need to invest in your employees’ education and development.

Not only is professional development important on a personal level, but it’s also essential for the growth of your team as a whole.

On a personal level, continuing education helps individuals gain new skills, learn new ways of doing things, and stay engaged with their professional duties.

As for the company as a whole, well…you absolutely need to have employees on board who are willing to learn these new skills, and are actually interested in growing as professionals. Like we said earlier, you can often tell how engaged an individual employee is by their propensity to undertake these new ventures on their own volition.

Celebrate Success

All employees want to know that the work they do matters.

Sure, getting paid a decent salary and all that stuff comes into play. But if your employees are motivated solely by money, they’re not truly engaged with the work they’re doing for the company; they could easily go elsewhere and make a similar amount of cash.

The onus is on you, then, to celebrate your employees however and whenever you can. Maybe they accomplished a major task, make specific improvements, or reached a milestone together as a team. Or, maybe you just felt like showing your appreciation for them on a random day of the week.

“Frequently share customer stories and customer shout-outs with your team. Tie these stories and shout-outs back to your company’s values and mission. If your solution truly helps people, customer stories will be great fuel for employee engagement—and they give people continued confidence in the value of the work they are doing.” – Max Yoder, Co-Founder and CEO of Lessonly

Whatever the case may be, always keep in mind that your employees are people who work hard to ensure your company runs like a finely-tuned machine – and they deserve to be celebrated for it. Without this recognition, they may quickly become complacent toward their duties, allowing their engagement levels to falter.

Facilitate Extracurricular Activities

Recall that health and wellness play huge roles in your employees’ ability to perform to their highest capacity. Assuming that you have a top-quality health plan in place, let’s focus here more on your employees’ social and emotional well-being.

There’s certainly something to be said for creating an office culture based around simply having fun.

This isn’t to say that every day needs to be a party (it shouldn’t), but, as the saying goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” (In this case, being “dull” leads to being “disengaged”). That being said, it can be hugely beneficial for you to facilitate activities outside of the scope of the office, allowing your employees to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company on a more personal level.

In turn, this could end up leading to increased communication, camaraderie, and overall engagement throughout your organization.

Examples of Companies Facilitating Engagement

If you’ve read through this section and thought, “Whew, there’s a lot I need to do here”:

Don’t worry. Cultivating employee engagement doesn’t require that you reinvent the wheel or anything. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world foster such engagement in rather simple ways that organizations with the smallest of budgets could implement right away.

Check it out:

  • Coca-Cola generates employee engagement by doing three things we’ve already mentioned: encouraging communication, providing professional development opportunities, and rewarding and celebrating individual success.  
  • Dreamworks understands the importance of having fun on the job, and having a life outside the workplace. While you might not be able to afford an entire gallery for your employees to show off their artwork (who can?), there are definitely other ways to get your employees to bring their “real life” selfs into the workplace.
  • UK-based retailer Screwfix has implemented a program it calls “Your Screwfix, Your Say.” In short, the company provides each of its employees a platform with which to voice their opinion on company matters. The program has been incredibly successful, and led Screwfix to earn the title of Employer of the Year by Deloitte in 2016.’’

Of course, there are an almost infinite amount of ways in which to facilitate employee engagement, either traditionally or in a more creative manner. For additional examples, check out Hubworks’ collection of employee engagement strategies for SMBs.

“We meet up every 6 – 9 months for a team retreat for a week. The first couple of days are spent just discussing bigger picture things, whereas the rest of our team is spent hanging out, building relationships and strengthening our understanding of our values and culture” – Adii Pienaar Founder & CEO of Conversio

Employee Engagement Trends In 2018

As is probably clear by now, the concept of employee engagement has evolved drastically in recent years – and it will continue to do so as time goes on.

Here, we’ll discuss some of the major evolutions we expect to see happen in the coming year, and leave you with some words of wisdom from CEOs and team leaders who already see these changes happening at the current moment.

Intrinsic Motivation

More and more, the modern employee proves that there’s more to a job than making money. Today’s workers want to know their efforts actually mean something.

Leadership consultant Dave Ulrich explains:

“I see employees being more engaged when they find meaning and purpose from work. Work is not just about doing the work, but by people finding meaning from the work they do.”

The days of going through the workweek in a zombie-like state are coming to an end. While employees of course still need to be paid well for the work they do, a decent salary is no longer the deciding factor in whether or not an individual is happy with their job.

Speaking of happiness…

Happiness vs. Satisfaction vs. Engagement

We spoke a bit about this in our past article on employee engagement:

A “happy” or “satisfied” employee is not the same as an engaged employee. While happiness and satisfaction certainly plays into engagement, they aren’t the only factors that do so.

Consultant Lisa Sansom echoes this sentiment:

“Employers are getting more savvy and aware about the differences between happiness, satisfaction and engagement. You’ll see more workplaces realizing that pool tables and gyms aren’t going to cut it if you have toxic leaders. It’s the intangibles that really count – do employees feel a sense of autonomy, mastery/competence and relatedness at work? None of these are going to be ensured with a traveling donut cart.”

Dan Pink Drive Book

Dan Pink’s incredible book Drive is a must-read

This goes back to what we just said regarding intrinsic motivation. A pool table or traveling donut cart might be a cool perk that your employees enjoy having at or near the office…but these things don’t relate at all to whether or not they’re engaged with their work.

Yes, happiness and job satisfaction are important; but facilitating such without focusing on engaging your employees in the process isn’t going to help your organization become more productive.

Fostering Peer Recognition

Analytics Manager Dr. Josh Kuehler lays it out rather simply:

“More peer-to-peer recognition (is to be expected in the coming year). Hearing praise from your own coworkers is very motivating, since the peer-level relationship can be competitive at times.”

The whole “dog-eat-dog” phenomenon is a staple of the corporate world; there’s always going to be people out there looking to get a leg up over the competition and leave their former peers behind.

Understanding this, it’s easy to see that any words of kindness or motivation from a colleague can go a long way toward improving an employee’s confidence in their abilities (and, in turn, their overall engagement).

Of course, employers can foster this by focusing more on the abilities of their teams than on that of individual employees. This, again, goes back to the sentiment we’ve touched on numerous times throughout this article: ensuring every member of your team understands the true goals of your organization.

Appreciation of Professional Development Initiative

The modern employee simply must be a lifelong learner, or they’ll surely falter in their duties as technology and other trends progress. This, in turn, will not only be damaging to their company, but to their professional career as a whole.

As an employer, it’s up to you to not just promote professional development, but promote the importance of professional development.

We opened this article with a quote from Richard Branson, so it makes sense to end it with one as well, allowing the entrepreneurial visionary to lead us into 2018:

Richard Branson Training Quote

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Matt is one of the brilliantly gifted content contributors at Fieldboom. He helps us whip up useful and interesting blog posts, guides and more.