Milan Bruchter/

Take This Critical First Step to Boosting Employee Engagement

Leaders should start by offering career development programs.

Is your organization looking for ways to increase employee engagement? If not, it’s time to start prioritizing as new guidelines from the Obama administration require agency leaders to ensure their performance plans include engagement-related strategies and actions. Organizations with engaged employees have been shown to outperform organizations with employees who are not engaged. In fact, according to Gallup, organizations with highly engaged employees have a 51 percent lower turnover rate, 27 percent less absenteeism, and have workforces that are 20 percent more productive. These are all critical factors that can add to the success of your agency’s mission.

Part of the administration’s Cross Agency Priority Goals, the key objective of the People and Culture CAP is to increase employee engagement scores to 67 percent by 2016. This is a big goal given the 2014 scores dropped 1 percent from 2013 to 63 percent in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.  

Improving your organization's employee engagement by 4 percent in the next two years will require a large team effort.  But it can be done. Agency leaders will need to be involved across the organization from start to finish. You will also need a comprehensive strategy that includes a variety of initiatives.

One initiative that is central to any employee engagement improvement strategy is a career development program, and it should be among the first initiatives you implement. A comprehensive career development program that engages employees at all career stages not only equips employees to perform, but also inspires them to perform. It motivates them to make the most of their skills and capabilities.

Providing individuals with career development support and resources allows them to take charge of their personal career paths. This kind of active involvement in the career process is proving beneficial both to employees and their organizations. According to a 2010 Gallup study, employees who can see their career path or know their career trajectory have:

  • More job satisfaction
  • Better physical and mental health
  • Less stress
  • An easier time adapting to change

Career development also allows leaders to send a clear message to employees that they matter. This increases employee engagement and satisfaction, leading to higher productivity, which is important in today’s economy. When business needs to do more with less, experts say engaged employees make the difference between surviving and thriving. 

To implement a successful career development program, here are three actions you will need to take as a leader:

  1. Communicate. The program must be accessible and visible to all employees. Use multiple channels to communicate the importance of it across your agency. You should also engage with managers so they know there is an expectation that employees are informed about the program and are using it.  
  2. Develop a feedback loop. Launching a program with great fanfare and then never mentioning it again will doom it to be forgotten. Develop a feedback loop with managers so you can check in with them to ensure that they have career development plans in place. Find out whether employees are using the resources they need to meet their goals.
  3. Evaluate. A career development plan should be designed to measure program use, perceptions and impact, and return on investment through qualitative and quantitative data, underscoring its long-term value to decision-makers. Review the evaluation data on a regular basis, making changes to the program as needed and reporting any issues to managers. 

To increase employee engagement by 4 percent in the next two years, you will need to implement many initiatives.  Developing and implementing a career development program is not the silver bullet, but it is a great first step. It's one of the easiest ways to build engagement, increase performance and improve dedication among employees. When your employees focus on development, they expand their skills. This allows them to support the agency’s mission more effectively. What’s more, when employees feel they have career-building opportunities, they are more likely to feel engaged and motivated.

Jacob Flinck is a senior consultant at FMP Inc., where he specializes in career development and talent management.  

(Image via Milan Bruchter/