Are your employees proud to work for your company? You should be making sure they are. A study at Facebook found that pride in the workplace was the single most important driver of engagement. And at a time when Gallup’s gauge of employee engagement finds less than 35 percent of Americans are engaged at work — contributing to lower retention and productivity — everyone is trying to figure out how to increase it.
There might not be only one answer to what drives engagement, but pride is a strong place to start. Employers try to boost employees’ dedication to their company through perks, benefits, and pay raises, but pride is built on much more than dollars and cents.
What pride is — and why it impacts longevity
“Pride,” in this instance, isn’t referring to ego. Isa Watson, the founder of Envested, a workplace engagement platform, says, “Pride means that employees wake up and are happy to be associated with their employer. They think: a) I like the people I work with, b) I respect the brand, and c) I feel good about the impact we’re having on the world. Without any one of those components, they’re not going to have as much pride.”
And that lack of pride trickles down to how employees treat customers. Customer experience futurist Blake Morgan explained, “Customer experience varies for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons is the human factor. The experience your customers have in a store, on the phone or online has much to do with who is handling that customer.” She recommends asking questions to get to the bottom of an employee’s behavior, including “Do they feel proud to represent your brand?”
It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Employees aren’t proud of their employers, so they put less effort into their work. Customers, picking up on their lack of enthusiasm, fail to get invested as well. As employees deal with a combination of nonexistent pride and waning success, they further disengage, and the cycle continues.
Watson says her qualitative interviews with employers show that any time one of three components is lost, turnover is imminent. “Senior executives I’ve talked to are very cognizant of turnover in their organizations. They realize that when someone leaves the company, a lack of pride can be a determining factor. This is especially true of people who haven’t had any other life changes that require a new job — a spouse moving, health problems, a doubled salary offer,” she says.
How to plant the seeds of pride
PwC’s “Workforce of the future” report found that Millennials, now the largest faction of the workforce, are particularly concerned, looking for places where they can “be proud of their employer.” Businesses that don’t want to grapple with turnover — and fight competitors for candidates — would do well to instill pride sooner than later.
Here’s how they can do that.
Listen to employees. When employers do make time to listen to employees, they often hear only the parts that confirm what they already believed. Moving away from confirmation bias and toward intentional listening can make a huge difference in both the information a company has to work with and how supported its employees feel.
This can happen via companywide surveys or one-on-one meetings, but the key is to dig when something interesting — bad or good — comes up: Do the people we hire connect to this mission more than this one? Why do people feel this group gets advantages others don’t? Going below the surface can unearth deep-rooted issues that will undo any attempts at instilling pride.
Promote authenticity. “A funny thing happens in environments where people feel stifled: When they’re denied the opportunity to be proud of who they are, they can’t feel proud of the workplace as a whole,” Watson says. “Although many companies are working to become more inclusive and diverse, those with disproportionately high numbers of certain demographic groups may unintentionally be marginalizing others.”
Some are launching diversity initiatives, hosting pride events, and trying other methods, but they’re not fully resonating if the remainder of employees’ time at the office feels isolating. Looking for ways to encourage people to be themselves — and respect others’ freedom to be themselves — can go a long way toward establishing both pride and comfort.
Encourage connections. If everyone’s empowered to be themselves at work, they can make genuine connections with others, and pride-boosting companies want to encourage this. Work friendships are critical to fueling employees’ success and happiness at work — the more connected a person feels to the people around her, the more connected she feels to her company as well. By creating opportunities for people to get to know each other — and determine whether their values are aligned — companies can encourage relationships and deepen the roots employees have with the company, its other employees, and its beliefs.
Not everyone is proud of the company at which they work, but only those who are proud to call their workplaces home are likely to stay long enough to make a real impact. Rather than assume that the company culture will automatically imbue pride in employees, companies would do well to focus on intentionally stoking it. If they don’t, they risk losing the employees they need most.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.