By Todd Rokita, Apex Benefits general counsel and vice president of external affairs

Consider this statement: A hefty paycheck makes for a happy employee. Agree or disagree?

Of course, employees want to be paid for the value of their work. And, of course there can be a wide difference of opinion between the employee and the employer as to what the dollar value of that work is. But we will save that discussion for another day.

For today, the question is: Is money the most important thing to be happy at work? Or, stated another way: Will the promise of that paycheck get employees up each morning eager to put in a full day at 100%?

As managers and employers, we can gain immediate value by actively demonstrating how our employees are indeed a valued organizational asset.

So, what happens when employees don’t feel valued?  They lose their emotional attachment to your company. And then, you lose engagement, which can have dire costs.

Engagement matters financially. According to Gallup, companies with high employee engagement experience better customer service, more productivity and improved employee retention along with a 21% higher profitability.

On the flip side, an unengaged workforce can lead to a higher absentee rate as well as lower productivity and profitability levels. According to Forbes, an unengaged employee can cost a company about 34% of their salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000. That’s paying for one full-time employee, and only getting two-thirds of one.  Across your workforce, the potential costs add up.

Lessons learned in driving engagement
Before joining Apex Benefits, I advocated for Indiana employers and employees as an attorney, in the Unites States Congress and as Indiana’s Secretary of State. As a champion for Indiana’s employers and its workforce, I continue that very fight at Apex Benefits, where we are positively disrupting the status quo of our health system and advising employers on HR best practices. Recruitment and retention practices are at the top of the list of priorities for our clients.

I experienced the same challenges of hiring and keeping top talent in the public sector, both at the state and federal levels. I have directly led hundreds of employees with millions of dollars of budget. When wages could not be upped due to our budget constraints, there were innovative and non-monetary ways to impact employee engagement

From the public to the private sector, I’ve worked with the hardworking people across the demographic spectrum. I have found that there are three key considerations to drive engagement:

  1. Invest in the tools that employees use day to day

First, I found success making capital investments that allowed employees do their jobs better. In my operations, no one suffered for lack of a good tool, whether that was a copier or cutting-edge cyber technology to catch white collar criminals. This caused employees to be as productive as possible – or at least took excuses off the table. Do your best to make sure your technology is up to date and readily available. Not only is this vital for speed and efficiency, it sends the message that you are setting them up for success.

Another pattern I’ve seen across the public and private sectors alike is the return on investing in continued education. A contributory factor to an engaged workforce is allowing employees access to professional development through certifications and tuition reimbursement benefits. More often than not, I found the investment in employees’ continued education not only betters the quality and efficiency of your company’s output, but it engenders a higher level of loyalty.

  1. Empower your employees

A recent Salesforce report showed that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. And employees who say their company provides equal opportunities are 3.8 times more likely to say they’re proud to work for their company.

To help employees feel like they are making valuable contributions, they must feel empowered to rethink processes and offer new ideas. My previous employees were encouraged to be creative and pitch ideas for ways to help better the team. If it didn’t work out or the idea wasn’t implemented, that was okay because they did what they thought was best and contributed – and I appreciated their ingenuity. We strongly differentiated between errors of omission and errors of commission, the latter being much more acceptable and even encouraged.

  1. Engage in two-way communication

Whether its Apex’s current clients or the hundreds of factory floors I have visited, I’ve been amazed at the differences in employees and cultures from workplace to workplace and workforce to workforce. Every organization has a unique culture comprised of workers from across generations and varying demographics.

One size does not fit all, so the only way to understand what drives employees is to ask them. And then to build trust and engagement, acknowledge what they say, taking action when appropriate. Two-way communication – the follow-up – is often a missed opportunity.

A 2018 SHRM report said 89% of HR leaders agree that soliciting and acting on ongoing peer feedback has a positive impact on their organizations. We believe in that at Apex, and I believe that’s what has made our company a Best Place to Work in Indiana for the last 10 years. At Apex, we actively help our clients create these questions and custom deliver them to their workforces to optimize employee feedback.

Employee engagement can help and hurt your bottom line. The point is, none of us can afford to ignore it any longer.

So, what are you going to do about it?

About the author
In addition to leading four employee-rich organizations as Secretary of State, Todd Rokita was vice chair of the Committee on the Budget and a Subcommittee Chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the U.S. Congress, the latter committee having exclusive jurisdiction over health care employee benefits as well as the U.S. Department of Labor. As an ERISA attorney with a litigation background, Rokita helps lead Apex Benefits’ compliance and public policy efforts for its clients.