5 steps employers can take to keep workers satisfied and engaged, according to a lawyer
By Stefanie Camfield
Employee engagement contributes to business success because engaged employees serve their customers better and contribute to company growth and profitability.
However, employee engagement has dropped since the start of the pandemic. A 2022 Gallup poll of roughly 67,000 people found that only 32% of workers are engaged with their work—down from 36% in 2020.
As a lawyer and human resources consultant, I have found that employee dissatisfaction and turnover increase the likelihood of litigation. Simply put, an employee who believes they were, or are being, treated unfairly by an employer is more likely to seek the counsel of an employment attorney.
Fortunately, there are steps leaders can take to do right by their employees, keep workers engaged, and set their teams up for success.
Set clear performance benchmarks
Failing to set performance standards for individual employees is one of the most frequent mistakes I see employers make. The lack of a performance measure is particularly problematic when an employer wants to terminate employment due to poor performance. An employee who is let go due to vague performance issues is more likely to believe they were terminated for unfair or discriminatory purposes than an employee who knows exactly how their productivity is measured and whether they are meeting that standard.
It is easier for employees to improve their performance when they know how it is being measured and what they need to do to be successful. Additionally, employee goals should support the company’s goals and allow the employee to visualize how their work contributes to the overall success of the organization. This often increases employee job satisfaction and success.
Employers must not only set performance goals but also regularly check in with employees to review progress. Regular performance reviews ensure that an employee is aware of their progress in meeting the goals. Making an employee aware of any deficiencies before being subject to discipline can empower them to take action to improve their performance. Employers can also offer additional support and training to show that they want to help the employee be successful.
Create policies—and apply them consistently
Employers must implement policies and procedures that all employees can turn to. Employers who fail to do so often find themselves accused of disparate treatment, which can lead to litigation, especially if similarly situated employees are treated differently or perceive the process as unfair. Allowing individual supervisors to make up policies as they go is not only ill-advised but can also be costly. For example, a request for an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act that is improperly handled can lead to litigation and a judgment in excess of six figures.
To make sure all workers are treated fairly, employers need to set clear rules and then implement them justly. For this reason, written policies can be problematic if they are not implemented with consistency. Allowing exceptions for some workers can lead to discrimination claims.
Specific procedures in an employee handbook should be followed as written. Policies should be written in simple language that is easy to understand and implement consistently. All written policies must also comply with federal and state regulations. Employers should be cautious when using policies that are written by other entities and have them reviewed by human resources professionals or legal counsel. Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees know where the policies can be found and for training employees on the best practices to implement policies.
Lead by example
Company leaders should embody the same values that they expect from employees. This is especially important with high-ranking leaders who can be perceived as being given special treatment even when they demonstrate bad behavior.
While giving an employee a pass may not seem like a problem, it can be the source of litigation when another employee is denied the same benefit. For example, an employer who terminates an employee for tardiness may have trouble defending a claim of discrimination based on disparate treatment if they allowed another employee to participate in the same behavior without being disciplined.
Invest in your team’s growth and development
Employees are more likely to report higher satisfaction and to stay with an organization when they feel an employer is invested in their individual success and that they have a future career path. And yet employers often lack a transparent program or culture that supports continued employee growth.
Some organizations utilize a career ladder that clearly defines career paths at the organization and lists the required education and experience necessary for different positions. Programs should provide information for employees on specific skills and certifications they may need to qualify for leadership positions in the organization. This makes it easier for employees to identify their potential career paths and track their progress toward potential promotions. As with any policy, career paths and leadership programs should be implemented equally and be made accessible to employees in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Be empathetic and flexible when possible
Finally, employers should be empathetic and attempt to accommodate employees with policies that allow for flexibility. Policies that are too rigid to allow for necessary flexibility are more likely to be violated. Accidents and emergencies occur that may require an employee to request an exception to the rule. Use good judgment and common sense when evaluating these types of requests. It is also a good idea to have them reviewed by a human resources professional or legal counsel.
When employers take these steps, they’ll see more employees who are motivated, proud of their work, and less likely to make mistakes.
Stefanie Camfield is an assistant general counsel and HR consultant with Engage PEO.