7 data-backed ways to engage employees. No, the free lunch won't cut it.

7 Data-Backed Ways to Engage Employees (Free Pizza and Branded Swag Not Included)

Poor morale in your contact center is the silent killer of productivity and performance. When your agents feel down and disengaged, they’ll solve customer problems, but the work will be subpar. They’ll lack inspiration and motivation, and plummet customer satisfaction. What’s more, studies show poor morale is contagious. The toxicity of negativity festers and creeps through your department if left untouched.

So, how do you come up with ways to engage employees when low morale is spreading through your contact center? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not ordering pizza or branded swag.

An employee engagement conundrum exists. A large majority of companies know their employees aren’t engaged, and definitely aren’t empowered, but they try to fix engagement with monetary rewards. Like branded pens for one team and free pizza for another (plus free smells for the rest of the office). While free stuff can offer up a temporary spike in productivity and happiness, and is certainly a fun perk for already engaged employees, it doesn’t have lasting impacts on employee engagement and empowerment.

And sometimes, those extrinsic motivators can even demotivate your team of agents.

If I’m not hitting my goals because I don’t have the resources I need, the free pen is going to be another frustration. And if I’ve been waiting for a developmental conversation about my performance for 11 months, I’m not going to feel like paling around and eating lunch with my coworkers and leaders. I’m going to put my head down even farther into my work to try to (finally) garner the attention of my manager.

Instead of dishing out fleeting perks, focus on what really matters to your agents. Josh Bersin of Deloitte found there are five key ingredients to drive long-term employee engagement (and empowerment). Meaningful work, supportive management, positive work environments, growth opportunities, and trust in leadership are the core characteristics of companies with engaged and empowered employees.

ways to engage employees - no, free lunch doesn't cut it.

Next time the topic comes up, use these 7 data-backed ideas to bring the core characteristics of engagement to life in your contact center.

1. Hold team meetings to go over goals and align your agents to your company vision.

Define clear goals for your agents. And then use your team meetings to discuss how you’ll reach those goals together. If you have a contact center metric that slipped, use the team meeting as a forum to discuss what your agents need to meet the metric. And, talk through how the missed metric will move your team toward your company vision.

Give each agent a hand in the conversation and clarify how each of their roles positively impacts the company.

Engagement skyrockets when you connect your agents to a common purpose. In fact, research shows that engaged employees make up 73 percent of the workforce at purpose-driven companies. That’s a staggering difference from the mere 23 percent of engaged employees who work for companies that aren’t purpose driven.  

2. Tailor your agents’ roles to their strengths and what motivates them.

Turns out, 67 percent of employees whose managers focus on their strengths are actively engaged at work. Plus, the more hours per day a person can use their strengths, the less likely they are to experience worry, stress, anger, sadness, or even physical pain.

Identify what skills and aspects of the job your agents gravitate towards. Use tools like StrengthsFinder or The Predictive Index to uncover your agents’ strengths, personality types, and learning styles. Pair those in-depth assessments with more frequent 1:1 conversations to see what motivates your agents, too. Then, take all the info you find about your agents’, and shape their role to better suit their strengths.

For instance, some people are natural-born leaders. When you uncover that strength, handoff smaller tasks to put those leadership skills to use in their current role. Let this agent review peer calls and give feedback, or let her lead the next team meeting.

3. Make room for remote work.

Remote work builds trust and autonomy with your agents. And it means your agents don’t have to worry about missing a shift when they have to stay home with a sick kid.

Employees are more engaged and productive when working from home. Seventy-five percent attribute the productivity to fewer distractions. Another 71 percent are less stressed from commuting. And 61 percent experience less office politics.

Start programs and set guidelines to test out remote work with a team of your agents. Then, roll it out to the rest of your contact center once you’ve worked through the kinks. Virtual contact centers paired with a people-first mindset have proven to reduce absenteeism, shrink operational budgets, decrease turnover, and boost CSAT.

4. Empower your agents and build up their autonomy.

About 70 percent of employees say the empowerment to take action when a problem comes up is important to their engagement at work. But, some 39 percent of employees don’t feel like they have enough autonomy in their roles. Build agent confidence with better coaching and training, plus the right tools to do their jobs.

Hyper-employment is a term coined to describe the always-on nature of modern work. Your agents surf from browser window to window, device to device. Overly-connected employees fill the seats at our companies, but some 72 percent of employees still can’t find the information they need in their company’s systems. And, according to one study, 57 percent of interruptions at work can be partially attributed to switching among disparate and stand-alone applications.

Give your agents tools that share information, help you coach, and set your agents up for success. Don’t bog them down with disconnected systems and overwhelm them with hard-to-find resources. The right set of tools makes your agent experience better, and amps up your coaching and training for more engaged and empowered agents.

5. Talk about your agents’ futures with the company.

Sit down and discuss career goals with your agents. Let them know what their options are for growth with your company. Then, invest in learning and development to help them get there.

Some 42 percent of employees say learning and development play the most important role in their decision about where to work. Develop your agents in areas where they need help, and let them grow where their strengths live to keep each person happy. Understand how your agents feel about their roles, and what you can do as a manager to make them happier at work.

 “Over half of exiting employees (51%) say that in the three months before they left, neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.

Think about that for a minute.

In three months, nobody asked them how they felt about their job. Nobody talked about their future. So it makes sense that they decided they didn’t have one there.”

– Shane McFeely, Director of Talent-Based Hiring Research and Ben Wigert, Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Management, Gallup

6. Recognize your agents’ efforts. And make that recognition personal.

Okay, besides keeping your employees engaged, this one is a serious morale booster for the entire contact center. Recognize your agents’ efforts on a daily basis. Offer up in-the-moment praise after an agent gets off a tough interaction. Or, stop by your agent’s desk if you notice their daily KPIs are off the charts. Encourage your agents to recognize their desk neighbor’s efforts, too. The payoff, for you, is a higher-performing team. Studies show that high-performing teams share six times more positive feedback than average teams.

Once you start handing out the kudos more often, get more intentional about how you recognize each agent. Tara accepts praise differently than Tim or Colleen. One agent might like a shout out in a large meeting, while another wants 1:1 recognition. Learn how Tara likes you to recognize her, and tailor your praise to personalize her agent experience.

7. Create opportunities for workplace mentorship.

Mentorship programs are another fantastic option to engage and empower your agents. In fact, 83 percent of workers who participated in a mentorship program said it positively influenced them to stay with their company.

And, the kicker is, these programs don’t add a ton of work to your plate. You can quickly create the guidelines for a lasting mentorship program. Then, pass off opportunities for development to the mentors. Your agents who want to learn get to build better peer-to-peer relationships. And your natural-born leaders get to show off their skills as mentors.

Check out these empowering employee engagement trends to reimagine ways to engage employees in your contact center.