Picture this. A workplace filled with staff members excited about their work, driven to do their best and striving for improvements every day.

Whistling while you work isn’t just for the Snow White crew of dwarves. Getting employees excited about company projects and striving to do their best isn’t simply a Disney fantasy. It doesn’t mean just general enthusiasm; the idea is to empower employees to make decisions and ensure that they are on the right track. In other words, whistling is optional but engagement with your work is not.

Engagement of people is one of the top eight quality management principles according to ISO. It makes sense that no matter what your company does, it’s important to get employees involved and engaged in an organization.

Whether it’s through useful employee suggestions, continuous improvement ideas, or just making the workplace a pleasant and productive environment, engaged employees offer many benefits. Discussing new ways of doing things not only leads to potential improvements for the company, but it makes for a more satisfying career.  

According to ISO, as seen on the ASQ site, engagement of people entails the following:

  • Ensure that people’s abilities are used and valued
  • Make people accountable
  • Enable participation in continual improvement
  • Evaluate individual performance
  • Enable learning and knowledge sharing
  • Enable open discussion of problems and constraints

Who wouldn’t want to work in this kind of environment? While all of these ideas may sound like common sense, it could be difficult to put them into practice, especially if the company culture has previously not worked this way. When leaders encourage open discussions, participation in improvement efforts, and accountability, it could seem difficult to implement all at once. And furthermore, getting all employees fired about their work may take a few different strategies.

Is it time for a party? Or at least a plaque honoring an employee’s achievements? Employee incentives—not limited just to compensation—can include features such as flexible work hours, personal development, informal recognition, awards, and celebrations. As Rob Bryant explains on ASQ TV, a plaque can be more meaningful in some cases than a small bonus that could be quickly forgotten. Being concerned about an employee’s wellbeing can mean better results in the long run. He goes on to say that taking care of employees may be more of a priority than taking care of customers. In other words, if the employees are invested in their work and their projects, they will work harder to satisfy the customers.

Becoming an engaged company yields a positive feedback loop. In another ASQ TV episode, Alyce Nelson, executive coach and quality principal of FAS. Inc., explained how engagement is infectious. On the other hand, a negative workplace could be described as a “puppy mill,” she says. Companies have a hard time retaining employees so they don’t invest in employees. Rather, they hire a large number of younger employees and simply churn through staff. Though it may seem like a difficult undertaking, building an engaged workforce will pay off.

“If you can bear the opportunity to create an engaged environment for your company,” Nelson says, “you will have employees that stay with you for a long, long time and they will do things for your company.”

If you’re interested in personal coaching, this can be a good place to begin the process. Another simple way is to start listening to your employees and understanding their motivations.

There are a myriad of ways to improve employee engagement. ASQ Fellow Manu Vora, chairman and president of Business Excellence Inc., wrote about this topic for a previous ASQ roundtable and offers this advice on effective employee engagement:  

  • “Recruit employees with talent and train them for skills
  • Involve employees by exposing them to effective teamwork, orientation, mentoring, and effective meeting management practices.
  • Motivate employees by establishing recognition and suggestion systems. Follow the Theory of Strengths
  • Develop employees with appropriate education and training, timely performance feedback, and coaching.
  • Retain key employees with regular dialogue between supervisor and employee at least quarterly”

Simple ideas such as mentoring, coaching, and regularly scheduled discussions with staff can lead to greater growth for the company and the individual employee. Try it and see what difference it makes. One key aspect relates to the decision-making process.

Employee empowerment centers on empowered decision-making, according to ASQ. Instead of waiting to be told what to do, an empowered workforce can go ahead and get things done. Rob Bryant offers these questions to start the process: “How can we grow? Do I belong? What do I give? What do I get?” He also recommends being honest in your dealings with staff, making sure they know what’s expected of them, and giving them the tools needed. In addition, ensuring employees are in the right roles can help them do their best and also build confidence. If you’d like more information, ASQ offers resources related to employee empowerment.

The opposite approach will just lead to stagnation. In one ASQ video, unengaged employees are compared to zombies, sucking the life from a company. If your company looks like a Halloween movie, it may be time to start making some changes. In time, this zombie workforce could turn into the stars of the organization, leading to bigger and better things all around.