How does your company picnic impact your bottom line? What about the handwritten note sent to an employee following a loved one’s death? Or the cupcakes brought in to celebrate a milestone? Done consistently, these little signs of celebration and appreciation build employee loyalty that actually pays dividends. As CEO of Beryl, which specializes in managing patient interactions for hospitals, I seek ways to remind employees of the critical role they play in our success.
If you want employees to take a vested interest in the bigger picture, treat them like stakeholders. When you create an environment in which “jobs” are regarded more like “investments,” employees will show up with passion, productivity, and focus, making your company more profitable.
I witnessed a great example of this last fall. One of our Beryl associates was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Employees rallied around him. Coworkers visited him, brought dinners, and provided support. Although very ill and in a wheelchair, he was able to attend our annual holiday party. There, he learned that—despite missing our targets for the year—we were paying bonuses because of everyone’s hard work. He was so overcome with gratitude to have such a wonderful place to work that he wrote me a letter suggesting we reinvest the bonus dollars in the company. This is just one example of many that have contributed to Beryl’s growth as a company and its position as the industry leader with regard to low turnover (consistently close to just 20%).
Treating employees like stakeholders doesn’t have to be expensive. At Beryl, we spend about $7,000 per new employee on recruitment, orientation, and initial training alone, and years of experience have shown that it returns much more. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the most effective approaches for employee engagement are low-cost or even free. Here are five such examples:
Be transparent. You’ll earn the trust of your employees if you report on your company’s financial performance regularly throughout the year. Town hall meetings are an effective medium for communicating this information, so that staffers can ask questions. If the company is not performing as well as expected, own up to it, and let employees know how they can help impact the situation.
Share the company’s successes. From new clients to awards, any company success provides an opportunity to further engage your employees. After winning a “Best Place to Work” award, we celebrated by renting a limousine and driving to the presentation luncheon with ten coworkers who had either been nominated by their peers to represent the company or won an internal recognition contest. As we were riding back to the hotel in the back of the limo, one employee looked at me and said, “This is the proudest day of my life.”
What does that mean for me as a CEO? I have secured an employee who is delivering top-notch services to clients and who will commit long-term to the company. Best of all, I’ve been part of someone’s life in a meaningful way.
Invest in your employees’ future. If you want employees to take a vested interest in the company’s future, you must take an interest in theirs—at work and at home. During tough economic times, businesses often make cuts in areas like training and 401(k) matches. This is short-sighted. This is the time you should actually invest more in these areas. For instance, training can help employees become more productive, and therefore, make the company more profitable. It also shows employees the company’s faith and investment in them. As a way to build leadership, Southwest Airlines cross-trains more than 80 percent of its employees each year in at least one new function.
When the recession hit and many businesses chose to eliminate their 401(k) match, we at Beryl actually doubled ours. It was how we demonstrated that we are in it with our employees for the long-term. In the end, the cost was much lower for us than the benefit of enhanced employee loyalty.
Prioritize fun. When fun is a regular part of work, employees get to know each other as real people. As one of its 12 questions, Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey asks if employees have a best friend at work, because friendship fosters satisfaction and productivity. This is why we started a "Department of Great People and Fun" at Beryl. We put “Pajama Day” and “Dress like the 70s” on our schedule. While these ideas are not practical for every work environment, the key is to do something fun, no matter how small, on a regular basis.
Focus on the single thing employees care about most. It’s not salary. There are few things that do more to endear an employee to an employer than taking care of what matters most to them—their family. Smart companies like Siemens realize this and, for instance, remove the stress of finding quality childcare by providing more than 500 childcare spaces in 26 facilities at 13 different locations. At Beryl, we aim to include families at events like family field day and “Breakfast with Santa”. Our company magazine, “Beryl Life,” is specifically designed to be read by family members, and even has content for kids.
We haven’t had to outspend our competitors on salary to be the industry leader. Treating our employees as stakeholders delivers more significant value, satisfaction and, most importantly, engagement, than salary and benefits could any day.