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Chief Emoji Officer: Leadership and Employee Engagement

April 27, 2022

When it comes to employee engagement, a simple emoji (or comment) from senior leadership can make a big difference.

Blog Post

Though a record of more than 47 million American workers voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021, the “Great Resignation” was actually consistent with a growing trend predating the pandemic. Employee engagement was already growing in priority among organizations, but studies showing that currently just 36% of employees are engaged at work in the U.S. show there’s still a lot of work to be done. Especially because 2/3 of actively disengaged workers are or are planning to looking for new jobs. That’s in line with research saying that a toxic corporate culture is 10.4 times more powerful than compensation in predicting attrition rate.

In the midst of what’s now being called the “Great Return,” it’s critical for organizations to consider innovative ways to attract and hold on to employees amidst this “quitter’s market.” Flexible schedules, remote work, and wellness programs aren’t quite enough to provide the sense of belonging that people want at work. With all the disruptions in work and home life these past few years, “40% of people say they feel isolated at work and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement.”

At Paylocity, we wanted to test a hypothesis that a key difference-maker could be hidden in a somewhat unexpected place. Our clients told us that employees were more engaged when executives actively participated in Community, our social collaboration hub, and we found this to be true internally as well. During the first few months of the pandemic, our CEO Steve Beauchamp began posting video messages that sparked massive amounts of views, reactions, and comments.

So we dove into the data to put this theory to the test.

The Data Tells the Story: Leadership’s Role in Employee Engagement

Because Community is built right into our platform, where employees can do everything from reviewing paychecks and clocking in and out for shifts to taking training courses and pulse surveys, the data we needed was readily available.

Our Data Science team reviewed client utilization data on Community over a 5-month period in late 2021, specifically use of announcements, posts, Impressions (peer recognition), comments, reactions, and groups. During that period, we recorded more than 800,000 interactions, ranging from quick reactions (nearly 350,000 smiley faces, hearts, thumbs ups, and more) to company-wide announcements (more than 30,000 opportunities to centralize critical and timely information).

The team then compared executive utilization data against engagement scores, measured by our patent-pending Modern Workforce Index (MWI), which provides an overall score of an organization’s health, performance benchmarks to peers, and prescriptive recommendations to improve efficiency and employee engagement.

The story was consistent: when executive leaders are active, their respective company engagement scores are higher. In fact, companies whose executives who completed at least one activity (post, reaction, comment, etc.) saw MWI scores 12% higher than those companies whose executives didn’t participate at all. And the difference between the companies executive were least and most active on Community was even higher at 18%.

The significance of a higher MWI score is far more than a badge of honor. Companies with top-tier MWI scores see results like 15%–25% lower voluntary turnover, 24% higher headcount, and 70% more ROI from their HCM tools.

Our conclusion: With just a few minutes (dare we say, a few emojis) a day, executive leaders could make a meaningful and significant impact on employee engagement which, in turn, reduces turnover.

Employee Engagement Must Stay Top of Mind

The rules of employee engagement are fluid and unique to each company, but one thing is clear: leaders at every organization must keep engagement high on their priority list.

In the last year, overall employee engagement efforts within Community using employer announcements, employee visits and posts, reactions, and comments have increased by more than 56% overall, with employee comments up by more than 150%. Companies that used Community also saw 23% higher employee sentiment scores as measured by MWI.

“Community is already a big asset to our company. It lets our team connect with each other in ways they haven’t before, but it’s come so naturally for them. Our employees aren’t at desks all day so providing important communications on the mobile device is really big,” says Robyn Klawitter, SVP of Human Resources, Mountainside Fitness.

Recognition is another key way employee experience tools can enhance engagement, considering the lack of recognition is a top reason for voluntary turnover. Among the clients with the highest utilization rates, the number of employees receiving public recognition from their peers increased on average by more than 500% in the first 6 months.

Leadership Best Practices to Improve Employee Engagement

A key takeaway is that impactful executive engagement pays off. Quick and easy activities create noticeable upticks in engagement. Executives can maximize their influence through approachable and accessible efforts:

  1. Showcase your employee-centered culture during recruiting and onboarding.
    Sharing a video message from your executives during these critical early days have lasting impact and reinforce communication and connection. “Our CEO loves the ability to get instant feedback from employees when he puts his own messages out. That’s been a big deal for him. He wants to be heavily involved so giving him that with Community has been really impactful,” said Becky Miratsky, Chief People Officer for Integrated Life Choices.
  2. Every activity counts in making executives approachable and accessible.
    Even a simple thumbs up can make a big difference in the day of one of your frontliners, helping them feel seen and heard. Employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.
  3. Broadcast critical information to employee devices for a consumer-like experience.
    Announcements ensure all employees get the same information at the same time from the same source and, better yet, video ensures better overall information retention. And in a world where today’s employees want to be in the know, executive participation through making announcements can help create the transparency and trust required for better engagement.
  4. Groups offer personal and professional connections across levels.
    Executive leadership have the chance to reinforce the collaboration, approachability, and accessibility of leaders by interacting with employees at all levels and across teams based on common interests, locations, or employee resource groups, for example. These opportunities can be rare even when workforces are primarily in person, particularly for new hires.

Strengthen Employee Engagement With Executive Engagement

Leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves to work (and communicate) with those in the trenches stand to position their organization for success through increased engagement and loyalty. When executives take the time to engage via social collaboration tools, recognize the wins of their employees, and encourage professional growth, it makes a huge difference in the overall employee experience – and employees’ willingness to stick around.

The business impact of employee engagement initiatives is invaluable now, with in-person and remote workers, and together with other tactics like video communication and learning, executive participation is another opportunity for companies to attract and retain.

Increase engagement – and keep it up – by learning how a complete HR and Payroll Solution delivers on employee experience. Download your free copy of The Power of HR-First Tech Plus Employee-First Experience now.

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