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.

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Whether it's rage quitting or quiet quitting, workers in our post-pandemic world are voting with their feet - and putting employers on their heels.

What's the cause of this worker walkout? Some say it's a lack of employee engagement.

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.

With such widespread disengagement, what can organizations do to improve?

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 leadership 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 examine the impact of leadership on employee engagement.

The Impact of Leadership on Employee Engagement

Our Data Science team reviewed client utilization data on Community over a five-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 in Community, their respective employee 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.

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
  • 70% more ROI from their HCM tool

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.

Why Leadership Engagement is Important for Employee Engagement

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. And to do so, they must stay engaged themselves.

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.

Leadership engagement also goes a long way in helping employees feel validated and recognized for their hard work. This is critical, as lack of recognition is a top reason for voluntary turnover.

Leaders can foster a more supportive environment by using employee experience tools to publicly recognize employees. This can catch fire and lead to even a culture of peer recognition. 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 six 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:

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.

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.


Make personal and professional connections across organizational 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.

Don’t forgot that small gestures can make 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. Encourage leaders and executives to regularly engage (online and offline), even if it’s a simple comment or reaction. Check out our article on employee engagement ideas for additional inspiration.


Strengthen Employee Engagement With Leadership 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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