Strategies to improve and increase employee engagement

In today's episode, we discuss the top employee engagement strategies for 2021 and the best ways to improve and increase participation. We explore the difference between transactional and transformational employee engagement, using the Power of "AND" and strategies to get your leaders and executives involved in transformational activities.

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Karl Yeh:

Today I'm joined by Janelle St. Omer, Regional Vice President with Benevity. And we're going to talk about transactional and transformational employee engagement.

But before we get there, Janelle, can you define what transactional and transformational employee engagement actually means?

Transactional vs Transformational Employee Engagement

Janelle St. Omer:

Hi Karl. Absolutely.


When we tend to think about transaction, we're really thinking about [00:01:00] an employee getting involved in an activity but not really being connected or understanding the purpose behind it.

It's sort of a one and done, they go out, they do it, but there's no real impact that comes from their involvement.


Whereas, when we think about transformational, you're actually thinking about what it does, not only for the employee in terms of their understanding of the community need, the organization perhaps that they're volunteering with, how they then feel after the opportunity, but also the transformation that can tend to happen with some of the service [00:01:30] recipients, perhaps at an organization.

Karl Yeh:

And when we talk, are we talking like you've mentioned it's not a one-time thing?

Is it more of an ongoing development with employees in that organization?

On-going employee engagement

Janelle St. Omer:

So less so ongoing engagement in that they have to do it over and over and over.

However, hopefully when an employee goes out and has a transformational experience, they then have an affinity towards your program.

They then understand some of the community needs.

They [00:02:00] understand the ability that they have as an agent of change to make a difference in their community and actually impact organizations through their involvement, as opposed to a day of service.

I come out, I wear the t-shirt, I have a great time.

And then I go home and I never get involved again, because there wasn't anything compelling for me in that experience that would actually make me think about it in a broader context, or even doing something from a repeat perspective.

Karl Yeh:

What are some of the strategies that you would employ, or you've experienced, [00:02:30] that help employees get to that point?

Because I don't believe employees just become, they take part in transformational and they're now participating regularly.

It probably, it's a time to get there. What kind of activities or strategies would you get to for employees to actually reach that level that you expect them to?

Strategies to grow employee engagement over time

Janelle St. Omer:

 I think that there's a few things to start. I think the first thing is really thinking about the purpose. [00:03:00]

  • Why do you have your program?
  • And how are you communicating that purpose to your employees?
  • Is there something for them in understanding the purpose of your company program 
  • How you're communicating that?
  • Also for that peer to peer perspective, is the ask always coming from a top down?
  • Do they feel strong armed in terms of their participation?

Or do you have a champion structure, or an ambassador structure, where it becomes, I'm asking you Karl because we're colleagues and I'm an ambassador of this particular organization of opportunity that I think that [00:03:30] you would be interested in, and maybe you should consider participating in.

So those would be the first couple of things that I would suggest.

Understanding your why

And I think too, it's also reinforcing some of the messages around the why.

So I'm understanding your company purpose, and then conveying why, as an organization. 

You're getting involved with this particular nonprofit, you're getting involved with this opportunity, the impact that you hope to have, and actually conveying those messages pre-opportunity, during the opportunity, and post opportunity to close that impact loop, really helping to connect the employee to that purpose.

[00:04:00] I think one of the worst things that can happen is an employee goes out, perhaps they actually do have a really fantastic time volunteering, or even making a donation and getting involved in a campaign.


But they don't understand what they actually did in the broader context.

Did it make a difference? Didn't it make a difference?

How are their dollars actually going to be used?

The time that they spent, what did this mean for the organization?

So really helping to connect employees to that purpose is really important.

Karl Yeh: 

One thing that I've been learning, because [00:04:30] I'm pretty new to this space is, it's important to understand the passions of what the employee.

So it can't just be the organization picking the causes, and be like, "Okay, we as an organization support these five causes and then that's it." I think it's more important to figure out how to find the causes that the employees are passionate about.

But how do you marry that when, from a company perspective, you can't support all the causes.

But how do you marry that between employees and [00:05:00] what the company wants to do?

How to find balance between company and employee causes?

Janelle St. Omer:

We tend to call that the sweet spot of the Power of "AND."

So it's not actually attention in terms of either or, so either company driven initiatives and organizations that the company has chosen, or the organizations that employees want to give to, but really finding that sweet spot in the middle where it's okay to do both.

And it's more so that and.

Because what we found is that over the last 10 years, in particular, a lot of companies who have had very open programs, where they do empower [00:05:30] employee choice, they encourage employees to communicate the organizations that really resonate with them, that they're passionate about, perhaps they've even had some engagement with prior to, they're encouraged to celebrate that and bring that forth within the workplace.

But at the same time, companies do have organizations that align to their brand. Like maybe you're a bank and you really do a lot around financial literacy.

That makes sense from a brand standpoint.

And what we've often found is that

When an employee actually feels supported the company, and their personal passions, they're that much more likely to then get involved in some of the things that are being driven from a company perspective as well.

[00:06:00] So there doesn't have to be that tension of either or.

There really can be embracing both of it.

And a part of the story that the company tells is, we also get behind the things that our employees are most passionate about as well.

And that's a big part of our overarching structure for our program.

Karl Yeh:

Can your program be both transactional and transformational at the same time?

Does it have to be transformational where you want the employees to eventually [00:06:30] continue to do good, versus sometimes maybe it's for the benefit of the cause, or the benefit of the program, maybe it is just transactional?

Can your employee engagement program and strategies be both transactional and transformational?

Janelle St. Omer:

It absolutely can. And I think a lot of companies tend to think about things along a spectrum, which is the best way to think about it.

Because no one employee is the same.

How they engage is not the same, the needs of your community partners are not the same.

So yes, there might absolutely be the need to have a very transactional experience or opportunity with a nonprofit, perhaps [00:07:00] from a volunteer standpoint.

But even in going to an organization and perhaps painting a wall, or going to an organization and serving a lunch, it tends to be very transactional.

It's kind of one and done.

But that doesn't mean that you can't add transformational elements to that opportunity.

And it comes back to connecting it to the employees and their purpose, helping them to really understand the why behind what it is that they're doing.

Helping them to understand the impact of that opportunity, the impact of that donation, to really help them to see themselves as an agent of change and not someone who's simply just coming out for an afternoon to do an activity.

[00:07:30]All that to say, it's also okay to come out one day and do an activity as well. Because we do know that employees sit along a spectrum.

So there might not be the opportunity or the time for somebody to be at that highest level where they're really engaged and want to co-create opportunities with you.

Maybe all somebody can do is come out for your day of service, put on the t-shirt, and get involved from a company standpoint.


And that's perfectly fine.

I think one of the things [00:08:00] that companies really need to think about when you're thinking about employee engagement is that there needs to be something for everybody.

And there's no right or wrong way for an employee to get engaged.

So if all an employee can ever do is transactional, that's okay.

Try and infuse those transactional opportunities with some of those transformational elements.

But you absolutely do want to be thinking about how you're moving your employees along a spectrum, up to the place where they are transformationally engaged in opportunities from a giving and volunteering standpoint.

Karl Yeh:

Now is this applicable to all levels [00:08:30] of employees?

So involvement of leadership from a transactional transformational perspective too? Because sometimes these programs come bottom up.

And I've been reading the importance of executive, not just the executive leadership, not just buy-in, but actual participation.

Is there a different strategies to get your leadership or your executive team to actually take part in being those transformational activities?

Is there a change in strategy to get your leaders and/or executives involved in transformational activities?

Janelle St. Omer:

One of the biggest things that a lot of CSR admins need to think about in [00:09:00] terms of their leader engagement is answering the question around what's in it for them.

So does their involvement help them to meet a goal for their department?

Or does it align to the bottom line of the business?

Is it helping to solve for an organizational challenge, like active employee disengagement or anything like that?

And being able to make the case to your leaders around their involvement, what that means, and how that is connected to a bigger overarching company goal is really where a lot of companies will see some level of success.

[00:09:30] Again, an executive can be involved from a transactional standpoint as well. They can come out.

They can get involved one and done.

But I think it's really important, even if it's going to be a transactional opportunity, more from a volunteer standpoint, both from that executive or from the general employee perspective, to still take the time to kind of do that feedback loop, to connect the dots to the purpose and to the why.

Even allowing employees to take the time to reflect on what that engagement meant for them in terms [00:10:00] of participating in the opportunity.

  • Did they feel connected?
  • Do they now have a better understanding of community needs?
  • Do they feel inspired? Do they feel educated?
  • Do they feel like they're compelled to do something more?

I think even just giving that moment of reflection, and allowing employees at any level to pause on the impact that they just had in participating.

Whether it be in a giving opportunity or a volunteering opportunity, is really where those transformational elements will start to show.

Karl Yeh:

So Janelle, do you have anything else to add, in terms of transactional transformational employee engagement programs?

And any tips that you want to provide to any new CSR professionals?

Janelle St. Omer:

I think the biggest thing is really understanding your why.

So your why, as a CSR professional, your company why, why does your [00:11:00] company offer these opportunities?


Why are they encouraging employees to get involved from a giving or volunteering standpoint? Understanding your community needs.

I think that the purpose and the impact really being at the forefront of everything that you do is the most important piece.

Because if you're able to then ladder back any of your messaging, your communications, and really helping the employees to think about how it connects to that bigger purpose, I think that's what's most important.

Employees right now are craving purpose.

And that's what helps with affinity to their brand. That's what helps them stay longer.

That's what attracts [00:11:30] them to your company.

So if you can really help them to connect to that higher sense of purpose within themselves, that's where you'll see some really great success.

Question of the day

Have you engaged or created a transformational or transactional employee engagement program? And how was your experience? 

Connect with Janelle St. Omer on LinkedIn