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engaged employee
8 Min Read

How to Prioritize Shared Values to Improve Employee Engagement

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Adam Weber

Research shows that engaged employees are more productive than their disengaged counterparts. But what goes into the special sauce of engagement? If you had to guess, what would you say is one of the most important components?

Passion? Purpose? Paychecks?

How about shared values?

Creating shared values in the workplace can have a surprisingly profound impact on productivity and profits. It’s one of 17 key drivers of employee engagement. However, while many companies are quick to address more prominent factors like fairness and trust, it can be easy to overlook issues that arise from a lack of shared values.

What are shared values, and why are they so important?

Shared values are not the same thing as company values. Company values relate directly to an organization’s overarching approach to its bigger mission and vision. Shared values, on the other hand, have more to do with how employees relate to one another.

This is how “shared values” is defined as an employee engagement driver at 15five:

Having shared values at work means employees share common work attitudes and principles with their colleagues. This can help build a feeling of camaraderie and a shared interest in success. It can also reflect how an employee’s personal values align with the organization and the work they’re performing.

Shared values often go hand-in-hand with friendship — a corresponding driver that influences the degree to which people feel cared for by colleagues. Both friendship and shared values can have a big impact on engagement. They lead to stronger social connections at work, which research has found to boost productivity and passion. Employees who enjoy this type of camaraderie are far more likely to stay at their jobs and feel loyal to the companies they work for.

But within many organizations, connectedness based on shared values is becoming harder to achieve.

When the employee engagement specialists at 15five studied engagement for nearly 13,000 employees, they discovered that friendship and shared values were among the most problematic areas across companies and industries. The issue was most pronounced among longstanding employees: People who have been at the same company for more than 10 years had the lowest engagement scores in these two areas. (In comparison, employees in the two- to three-year bracket scored low on professional development, utilization, and role clarity.)

One theory is that as workforces become increasingly multigenerational, it creates a disconnect between employees who hold different value systems related to age and experience. In some companies, the challenges of managing a distributed workforce are also at play.

Whatever the cause, the absence of shared values is not something to take lightly. The question to ask is: What, if anything, can employers do to help employees create these connections?

3 ways to help employees find shared values

Business leaders can’t force shared values — nor should they try to. Each individual has his or her own set of personal and professional values, and this diversity is key to strong work cultures.

However, leadership can create a culture that helps foster these important connections. Several steps have proven to be particularly effective at helping employees discover and nurture the values that they share.

1. Leverage your company vision

This strategy can be effective in companies where the organizational culture is built around a particularly powerful or persuasive mission. One company that offers a strong example of this method at play is the outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

For more than 50 years, leadership has leaned heavily on lofty company values that include statements such as “use business to protect nature,” “implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” and, most recently, “we’re in business to save our home planet.”

Such bold statements have long attracted like-minded employees who are driven by similar passions. Because so many of Patagonia’s people are drawn to this mission, business leaders are able to make shared values a part of their hiring process. Founder Yvon Chouinard has even specified the type of candidates human resources should seek: “Whenever we have a job opening, all things being equal, hire the person who’s committed to saving the planet no matter what the job is.”

2. Use mentorship to foster connections among coworkers

Revamping your mission statement and hiring process isn’t the only way to help colleagues uncover the values they share. For many organizations, especially those with multigenerational workforces, a more traditional method like mentorship can be equally effective.

Consider the approach taken by executives at Hall Render, the nation’s largest healthcare-focused law firm, after they measured engagement and discovered the need for better training among younger attorneys and paralegals. To meet this need, the company assigned new employees in entry-level roles to mentors who offer hands-on assistance with technical skills, business development, and general company processes.

In addition to providing opportunities for professional development, the program fosters more meaningful connections across generations.

3. Measure employee engagement within your company

When in doubt, collect employee engagement data you can use to identify issues specific to shared values within your organization. Information specific to your workforce is always the most effective since it provides insights you can act on.

For example, when boat part manufacturer T-H Marine measured engagement across departments, leadership discovered some rather serious problems with trust between coworkers and an absence of shared attitudes about the work they were doing. 

In response, employees were invited to share additional feedback on what they needed from management to thrive. The impact of this one move was significant. As one leader described it: “In the months since our survey and implemented changes, I haven’t heard a peep regarding infighting. Not a peep.”

If shared values have flown under the radar at your company, you’re far from alone. Because it stems from how employees relate to one another, this engagement driver can be easy to overlook. That’s why we decided to share the suggestions above — to help employers begin to address issues related to shared values.

9 employee engagement ideas from our HR Superstars community

Each month, we ask members of our HR Superstars Community an icebreaker question, like this one we asked recently:

The most innovative or unique idea my company implemented in the last year that actually improved engagement for our employees is __________?

Here are 9 of the best responses shared by our community:

  1. “Our Organizational Development Program. We brought groups together remotely across the entire business to explore behavior, self-awareness, teamwork, and collaboration. Employees appreciated connecting with others that they don’t work with regularly. People felt that we were investing in them with this exercise, which improved employee engagement and motivation.”
  2. “We have team members from different business units sit in other teams’ sessions with the specific intention that they get a deeper understanding of those team’s challenges, accountabilities, dependencies, and how/if they can contribute meaningfully to this when back in their own teams. They’re also invited to share what their teams do differently that may be meaningful/helpful to the teams they’re visiting. The increase in trust, transparency, communication, innovation, efficiency, effectiveness, and overall engagement has been extremely noticeable.”
  3. “Self Care BINGO! Every employee received a bingo card with ways to relax and reconnect. Winners enjoyed a gift card from Starbucks.”
  1. “Company-wide reset and recharge days! The entire company had a day off to reset and recharge. No internal emails, video calls, or emails piling up in your inbox to worry about. Employees shared fun things they did while they were off, and we celebrated them internally and externally on our social media pages.”
  2. “Not really innovative, but as part of the social unrest that began in May 2020, my organization started ‘Midweek Mindfulness’ sessions which are one-hour discussions that any employee (hourly or salaried) can attend during work time. There is a weekly theme, agenda with guest speakers (internal and external), and small group breakouts where we discuss difficult topics and share our perspectives.”
  3. “Adding an engagement tool gives leadership recommendations on ways to positively impact engagement and extends coaching opportunities to those that need it. This has been, by far, the most innovative step our organization has taken.”
  4. “We are a private-equity-owned pharmaceutical consulting firm that is growing rapidly both organically and through acquisitions. Trying to determine culture fit during due diligence has been a challenge for us in the past. With the most recent acquisition, we conducted an engagement survey during due diligence prior to the acquisition. By doing this, we are better able to assure culture fit — the most important element of a successful acquisition/integration.”
  5. “We implemented regular 1-on-1 check-in meetings and Stay Interviews.”
  6. “Monthly all-company challenges that are totally gamified activities in-app. These are not just step challenges, but community and volunteerism, meditation, gardening, learning, art, etc. Plus, we included a rewards and recognition piece to it, reimbursements like lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs) or a wallet for activities, and a weekly company-wide meeting to discuss nothing related to work. Often times these are employee-led to speak or teach about something they are passionate about. Engagement is over 98%.”

Join our HR Superstars community

What’s your innovative idea for improving employee engagement? Let us know by joining the HR Superstars Community!