This article was originally published in the October 2019 Issue of “Costco Connection” Magazine.

A business owner who has never asked employees for their brutally honest and candid opinions about their company’s greatest strengths and serious weaknesses is missing out on some priceless information. Companies with engaged workers have a consistent edge over their competitors. High engagement is linked to higher productivity, higher profits and better customer retention, according to a recent Gallup poll of more than 30,600 employees—yet only 34% of workers consider themselves engaged. Employees who are disengaged— overworked, ignored, unheard and demeaned—hurt your bottom line. For one East Coast hospital chain, that hurt carried a $3 million price tag. That was the projected cost to recruit, hire and train new registered nurses to replace those who wanted to quit. In every field, high turnover, absenteeism and low morale indicate a disengaged workforce. The best way to determine whether your employees are engaged is with a short, confidential survey. Workers must feel that they can be candid and won’t face repercussions for their honesty. You can find free generic questionnaires online or create your own. Some responses may make you upset, embarrassed or skeptical. Great! You now have a baseline and a clear idea of which areas need attention. No matter what the results say, share them without identifying anyone. This demonstrates transparency and that you value worker input. Now it’s time to take action. Grab the low-hanging fruit first. If terrible coffee is an often-cited source of aggravation, buy a new machine. It’s that easy.

When possible, involve employees in correcting a problem. At one corporation I advised, workers complained about their drab break room. Management gave them the green light and budget to redo the space. Volunteers painted the walls, replaced furniture and hung artwork. It’s now an appealing gathering place and a reminder that employees’ concerns were taken seriously. It’s tempting to want to fix everything at once, but you’ll have better and more lasting success if you focus on solving one problem well. Some concerns, such as lack of a career path or manager training, can take time to fix and demand sustained effort and collaboration. When you do make headway, publicize those successes. And keep soliciting feedback. A year after your first employee engagement survey, ask those questions again. If you’ve done your homework, you can pat yourself on the back for morale-boosting improvements

When soliciting feedback from your employees, be sure to ask open-ended questions that solicit actionable feedback. Here are some examples.
● If you could make one improvement to your day-to- day work experience, what would it be?
● What one thing could your manager do to better support you in your role?
● What is the one word you would use to describe the company’s culture?
● What should our company be doing to improve customer service? The manufacturing process? Innovation? (The question depends on your business.)