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Leadership | Oct 16

How SMEs can improve their employee engagement

Leadership | Oct 16

Help to Grow: Management alumnus and founder of &Evolve (formerly known as The Engagement Coach), Amrit Sandhar, explains how SMEs can capitalise on their size and agility to ensure employee buy-in

Amrit Sandhar

Amrit Sandhar

Reading Time 4 minutes

Before we consider what small businesses can do to improve employee engagement, it’s worth explaining what we mean by this, and what we are trying to achieve. Whilst there is no standard definition, there is broad agreement that it’s looking to improve the enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment employees feel towards their work.

In his work the Taxonomy of Work-related Wellbeing, American psychologist James A. Russell defines the engaged state as one of high activation (being energised) and being in a pleasant state. So, the focus for small businesses is to consider how to energise employees at work, and how to create pleasant environments for them to work in.

Defining culture

When it comes to creating a pleasant environment, there are many steps small businesses can take. The first is having clear values or principles as an organisation. This might be seen as something only large organisations undertake, but every organisation needs to define their own culture – to define how things get done.

By defining your organisational values, you are also defining the behaviours expected across your organisation. After all, when we really value something, we align our behaviours to support it. For example, one of our organisational values at &Evolve is wisdom. We value learning from past experiences to make better decisions. This also means we’ve got to be able to learn from mistakes. As a result, we share our weekly learnings as a team because of that value of wisdom. 

Once the culture has been defined, then it’s critical to ensure everyone knows about the values (and the behaviours that support them), that are expected from all, holding everyone accountable to them in a consistent manner.

Clarity over how your team works together will attract those who share the same values to join your organisation and make them feel more comfortable working in an environment which they can relate to.

Energising the workplace

The other aspect of being in an engaged state is being energised at work which, in part, is the responsibility of the employee – looking after their own wellbeing to be work ready. After all, there is only so much an organisation can do if an employee chooses to watch tv until the early hours of the morning. However, there are ways small businesses can impact on how energised employees feel at work, such as greater clarity of roles and expectations.

Small businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to recruit huge teams. Often, individuals recruited for one role inevitably end up multitasking and getting involved in other areas too. Whilst for a small business this flexibility can be a great advantage, it does raise the possibility of causing confusion over expectations and ways of measuring success.

When recruiting, it’s important to take the time to create a clear and realistic job description of what you are expecting from the role. This clarity will ensure you attract people who like what they read and come into the role with clear expectations allowing them to be engaged and committed.

Enticing benefits

Although small businesses cannot compete with larger organisations in terms of salaries, they can create a more energised and pleasant environment through the benefits and flexibility they offer.

Whilst larger organisations are still struggling to work out whether remote or hybrid working is working for them and demanding employees return to their workplaces, much of the workforce are looking for opportunities that offer remote or hybrid working. Small businesses can use this to their advantage by offering remote and hybrid working, attracting talented people that they would have otherwise been unable to afford.   

Other benefits such as considering moving to a four- and a half-day working week, offering private healthcare, increased pension contributions, and investing in personal development will likely engage and motivate employees, while costing businesses far less than paying higher salaries, and again, attracting the best talent to propel their business growth.

Finally, whilst the focus is often on employee engagement – the levels of dedication, commitment and enthusiasm employees are showing to their work – it’s worth considering employer engagement too. This is how much dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm employers are showing to employees. When organisations demonstrate this with authenticity, care, and compassion they are naturally more likely to create more engaged workplaces, no matter what size they are.

Amrit Sandhar

Amrit Sandhar

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