Organizations looking to seriously address the problem of employee engagement must dig deeper and make substantive cultural changes.

Strategies for improving employee engagement

Employee engagement is a serious problem for employers across the globe. According to Gallup, only 13 percent of employees worldwide say they are engaged at work. In the U.S., a mere 32 percent identify as engaged. This mystifies modern business owners, many of whom have adopted new-age workplace features in an attempt to facilitate intraoffice connection and improve company productivity.

Unfortunately, premium perks, ping-pong tables and startup-style offices don't drive engagement. Organizations looking to seriously address this problem must dig deeper and make substantive cultural changes.

Improve communication and feedback structures
Transparent communication is the bedrock of healthy company culture. So, start by streamlining your communication policies to promote employee engagement. First, establish new communication conduits between C-level executives and regular office workers. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, employees in organizations that offer little to no top-down communication take such practices as a sign of internal dishonesty and actively distrust leadership. For workers suspicious of executive staff and unsure of their futures, there is no incentive to engage.

"There are two ways to look at lack of honesty," David Hassell, CEO at the employee engagement software maker 15Five, told SHRM. "There's blatantly saying one thing when there's really another thing going on. Then there's a lack of open sharing. Leaders may just share positive things but not necessarily anything about challenges – often because leaders fear they may lose the faith of employees. Employees may fear that if they share what's really going on with them, they may lose their jobs. Usually the exact opposite happens: By sharing openly with staff, you engender more trust."

To improve your internal communications strategy, introduce more employee touchpoints. Host weekly, state-of-the-company addresses or just encourage managers to spend more time speaking with their direct reports. Daily, five-minute meetings will do. No matter what you do, recognize that communication is a key concern for employees, especially in today's mercurial financial climate. And, unfortunately, many are unsatisfied with the strategies offered up by their current employers. In a study conducted by researchers at 15Five, only 15 percent of respondents said their employers had "very good" communication policies.

Of course, internal review structures are another variable in the workplace communication equation. Most organizations work with an annual review system. According to experts, this feedback method often just doesn't work. In many cases, actionable constructive criticism gets lost in a swamp of bureaucratic red tape. Completion becomes the focus, rather than improvement. Plus, some employees believe the whole process is inauthentic and an just another administrative matter they must survive.

So, try scrapping your annual review system and instituting a piecemeal performance feedback plan. Hand out regular rewards to top performers and address possible problems as soon as they are discovered. According to The New York Times, monthly one-on-one sessions are good replacements for annual reviews. Plus, you can generate after-session reports to reference when bonus season swings through.

Engaged employees contribute more and improve the bottom line.Engaged employees contribute more and improve the bottom line.

Hire mentors, not managers
Authoritarian supervisors are relics of the past, Entrepreneur reported. Today, employees need managers who foster personal and professional growth. In other words, they need leaders to treat them like adults. As you can well imagine, autocratic mangers aren't good for employee engagement. Sure, some workers thrive off conflict and criticism, but even the most hardened suffer under dictatorial supervisors. Leaders are directly responsible for company-wide employee engagement levels. According to Gallup, they drive 70 percent of the engagement equation. Most organizations would counter by saying they hire excellent candidates and are part of the solution, not the problem. Well, according to more research from Gallup, American businesses pick the right person for the job less than 20 percent of the time.

So, chances are, you've got a few managerial liabilities to overcome. To see which leaders need to go, distribute an organizational survey. However, don't hand out the run-of-the-mill, multiple-choice questionnaire. Instead, formulate some open-ended questions that enable employees to give substantive feedback. Through these reviews, you can pick out departmental trouble spots and possibly coach or unseat harsher supervisors. And, if you decide to bring in new talent, look for floor leaders who understand the needs of modern workers.

According to The Harvard Business Review, engaged employees need decision-making power, learning opportunities and the ability to drive real change. Prospective supervisors in touch with these needs will make the most impact.

Focus on flexibility
According to SHRM survey, more than 90 percent of human resources professionals believe that flexible work schedules boost employee engagement. Of course, this is a hot topic within the business world. Two factions normally assemble on either side of the idea: corporate leaders who believe the classic nine-to-five format is the way to go, and modern workers – many of who are millennials – lobbying for better work-life balance.

Many experts side with the latter group, arguing that flexible schedules help all parties involved. According to the American Psychology Association, such scheduling formats improve employee health and promote engagement. Last year, the organization surveyed 902 working adults at companies with flexible scheduling. Approximately 43 percent of respondents said the arrangement made them feel more engaged at work and 76 percent said they had better work-life balance.

Employers see benefits, as well. SHRM says flexible scheduling often improves employee retention rates and makes hiring easier, as many candidates consider flexibility a must-have. Plus, the practice saves money. Less turnover leads to fewer recruitment costs. And, healthy employees have fewer incidents and put less stress on company health care plans.