'Employee Engagement' Is So 2016. Here's What Companies Should Really Focus on, in 2017. One company, for instance, rolled out a pilot appreciation program, tagging each instance of recognition to a company core value.

By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Leaders' understanding of employee engagement is expanding. It's no longer just about how employees connect to their role and the organization. Instead, employee engagement now includes all aspects of the employee experience. As a result, companies have to adjust their focus.

Related: 5 Companies Getting Employee Engagement Right

An August YouEarnedIt survey of 750 employees identified four key pillars to the employee experience: connection, meaning, impact and appreciation. Yet, the same survey found that only one of 10 employees felt their organization had created an awesome employee experience.

"Today's competitive talent market means businesses have to differentiate from competitors, and those companies that put people, culture, and engagement first, will have a greater ability to attract and retain the best talent," Autumn Manning, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based employee engagement platform YouEarnedIt, said via email.

Manning added that most company leaders mistakenly assume that engagement and employee experience are "HR" problems. But every interaction an employee has at work ties back to his or her experience.

Want to improve the employee experience in your organization? Create the best scenario by modelling other companies successfully tackling this issue:

Having strong connections to colleagues, managers, the company and the community

Five years ago, the CEO of Farm Bureau Financial Services in Des Moines, Iowa, challenged its leaders to help employees connect with the company vision and mission. Over the next year and a half, this insurance and investment agency rolled out several initiatives to spotlight the company's core beliefs.

"Our CEO believed employees would be more engaged and work harder if they understood the connection between their work and the purpose of our organization," Karen Rieck, the vice president of human resources, said by email.

Related: 4 Ways Managers Can Commit to Improving Employee Engagement

As a result, Farm Bureau Financial Services saw a great improvement in its employee experience. Its latest engagement survey found that employees rated their understanding of how their job contributes to company success an average 6.2 out of 7. When asked how well they understood the company's values, employees gave an average score of 6.3.

Even tiny changes in the office can make all the difference. For instance, the agency changed all the computer screen savers to a list of company values as a daily reminder of what the company stands for. Take a similar route at your company and post your mission statement throughout the office.

Knowing that your company, and the work it does, has purpose

Last year, Boston-based marketing firm Acceleration Partners revisited its vision. As a result, its "Vivid Vision" document was born. "It talks about our vision, values, goals and how employees all fit into this equation," Robert Glaze, founder and managing director, said via email.

He recalled how he passed the document around the organization to get feedback from employees and how this helped to get everyone on the same page and enthusiastic about the company's future.

Go one step further: Revisit the meaning of each of your employees' efforts during feedback sessions. Tell people how their performance has supported the company vision. Get specific so employees will see how their individual actions made a difference.

Helping employees impact their colleagues and community in meaningful ways

At Car2go's North American offices, impact is difficult since employees work in 11 different locations. The car-sharing company has worked to overcome this challenge by using a peer-recognition platform. Co-workers now show one other appreciation and stay plugged into what's happening in other offices.

"According to recent internal survey results, the North American employee population scored much higher in the 'recognition and appreciation' category," Lauren Hakim, the Austin-based director of human resources, said in an email. "This can be attributed to North America being the first and only location globally to have implemented a recognition platform to improve employee experience."

Find a way for employees to track their impact within the organization. This can be with a mobile recognition platform or something much simpler. For example, create a space in the office where employees can hang stories of how a particular co-worker has made their own jobs easier.

Offering specific, real-time appreciation for the work done by the people who matter most

"Two years ago, employees told us they wanted more day-to-day recognition," Karen Gaydon senior vice president of employee success, at San Mateo, Calif.-based order-to-cash platform Zuora, wrote via email.

Related: 7 Excellent Reasons to Focus on Employee Engagement

To answer this request, the company rolled out a pilot appreciation program. The key factor that made a difference was the ability to tag each instance of recognition to a core value of the company. This showed employees they were doing great work that helped define the organization as a whole.

When recognizing an employee, make it clear how their actions positively reflect your company and its mission. By showing this appreciation publicly, you'll give the individual and other employees a better idea of what's important to the organization.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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