SMPL Q&A is a new blog feature, in which we interview our experts on all things relevant to branding, design, and simplicity. Recently, we caught up with Katie Conway, senior strategist at Siegel+Gale, to talk about current trends in employee engagement, how emerging companies with alternative employee models can create a standout employer brand, and what companies can do to make their employees feel safe in times of change.

The world of employee engagement is huge, and it can mean different things to different organizations – how do you define it?

At Siegel+Gale, we define an engaged employee as one who:

  1. Understands the company’s purpose and vision
  2. is committed to delivering on that promise every day

We like this definition because it serves both the employee and the business. Sure —it’s great if employees are excited to come into the office every day. But if they aren’t making decisions and contributions that help the company achieve its business goals, they could actually be detracting from its success. For example: think about the engineer who is completely dedicated to his or her project, spending 80 hours a week to build the most technically advanced product out there—so technically advanced, in fact, that it is too complicated for customers to use. Is that product helping, or hurting the business? A dedicated and engaged employee not only understands the company’s purpose but works to contribute holistically to the business goals.

What does the future of employee engagement look like

?

Employer branding has been getting a lot of attention, but what companies need to realize is that their employer brand should drive much more than just recruitment campaigns and onboarding. It is as important to deliver on your promise to employees on day 365, as it is to deliver on day one.

Delivering on this promise can be done by looking at how to infuse your employer brand throughout the employee experience: policies and procedures, environments, learning and development, rewards and recognition and beyond. Plus, by operationalizing the employer brand in this way, companies expand their reach beyond new hires to the entire employee base.

How is the “gig” economy (e.g. Uber, Handy, etc.) changing the practice of employee engagement?

In some ways, employee engagement in the “gig” space is more important than in traditional organizations because the link between employee and employer is more tenuous. There isn’t any shared office space to create a sense of culture. No regular face-time with colleagues, which means less meaningful connections and bonds. And by definition, the “gig” employee may not be thinking about employment as long-lasting.

But for customers, how prompt, attentive and nice their Uber driver impacts their perceptions of Uber just as much as a full-time employee would. It is critical for these “gig” employers to experiment with non-traditional ways of educating and engaging their contract workforce, thinking differently about channels, methods, and messages to reach this audience wherever they are.

How can employers help employees feel secure, and ensure they remain engaged in times of change?

A feeling of security comes from understanding—why the company is changing, where the company is going, and how individuals will be impacted. In this sense, the best way to help employees feel secure is to communicate, frequently and regularly. I once read a statistic that patients forget 80% of what their doctor tells them. If people are forgetting that much information regarding their own personal health and wellbeing, they certainly are apt to forget what their employer is communicating to them. But that doesn’t mean just sending more emails, which could alienate employees—communication in times of change should be personal and authentic. Face-to-face meetings with managers, Q&A sessions with leadership, and honest answers to real questions. Communicating in this way will not only help employees feel secure but also included and valued by the organization.

Katie Conway is senior strategist with Siegel+Gale.