Originally published in CNBC
By David Levin
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Companies must rethink how they connect with staff, or risk unacceptable organizational churn. Managers know their workers – especially millennials – are not engaged at the office, and all too often are more engaged with their own phones than your customers.
Here’s a number that strikes fear in the heart of today’s executives: Only 32.2% of American workers say they are engaged at work and only one in five feel managed in a way that motivates them to do great work, according to Gallup’s annual State of the American Workforce report.
For smart employers, that’s a big wake-up call. One thing we are seeing many companies doing is trying to recapture the attention of young workers — millennials that will make up half the workforce by 2020 and the Gen Z generation born in 1996 or later — by surrounding them with dynamic content on screens to make work more like the social media and video games they love.
In the past, HR professionals always stressed the need to keep home and office life separate, but the best employee engagement today actually blurs the line between personal and professional life. Done correctly, information display panels gamify the work environment, and create new social connections.
Here are eight ways employers are displaying data in an effort to keep employees engaged:
1. Anything that’s social
Dumb companies try to force social media out of the office. Smart companies harness it. And by social content, I don’t mean a static slide. It’s information that is updated regularly just like a LinkedIn or Facebook feed to grab the eyes and attention of staff.
Let employees nominate and vote on the employee of the month, their favorite local lunch spot and like and share comments, for example. Show real time internal social from Microsoft’s Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, Slack and other collaboration tools to drive further collaboration and engagement.
2. Ditch the sales pitch
Some companies try to focus staff on metrics. But unless they are equity owners in the company, millennials and Gen Z employees, in particular, don’t care much about corporate profits or the latest sales campaign. Performance management data has its place, but when it comes to engagement, culture and connection, employees want content they can interact with and react to.
Effective displays push information to employees, allowing them to leave comments that will be displayed or being able to like content. This gives employees the feeling of having friends at work — something that, perhaps more than other factors, boosts employee happiness and their likelihood to stay in their job.
3. Foster competition
Millennials and Gen Z workers love leaderboards, such as displays of who is No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 within a team based on a specific goal or something as simple as a weight-loss competition. Millennials, known as the “hero generation” that wants to compete, and Gen Z, the artists or adaptive generation, live on social media and have little sensitivity to privacy about such things as performance — a dynamic that employers should embrace for their benefit.
4. Promote the good you do
An incredible 76 percent of millennials consider the social and environmental commitments of a company when deciding where to work and 64 percent say they won’t work for an employer without a strong corporate social responsibility profile.
Companies that want to attract and retain young talent will promote their altruistic activities. They should encourage staff to take part, whether that’s showing pictures of a team volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity home-building project, or offering opportunities to do something positive in the world outside the office.
5. Tell them what they need to know
Content should never try to manipulate employees but should be honest and transparent. Millennials and Gen Z can sniff out propaganda from a distance. If the company needs to get out a negative message, don’t sugarcoat it, be forthright. Employees appreciate the no-nonsense honesty.
6. Inject fun into the workplace
The modern workplace shouldn’t be dour. In our personal lives, we love posting silly pictures, whether that’s a dog or cat in action or a picture of “the best-taco-ever that I am eating right now!” That urge doesn’t stop during work hours.
Smart companies should embrace that reality and allow staff to occasionally curate their own silliness from Instagram by using a certain tag to show (appropriate) content on work displays.
7. Encourage healthy habits
Companies want to encourage wellness because it creates happier staff and also reduces time off for health reasons. Displaying these images can promote wellness campaigns such as bike-to-work initiatives or creating a leaderboard based on the step counter of employees’ Fitbits.
8. Eliminate keystrokes whenever possible
By pushing information to employees rather than sending staff to a browser to find it, display panels have a big advantage over other internal methods of communication – they keep employees away from distractions.
For example, the average person already touches their phone more than 2,617 times daily and has 76 separate phones sessions a day, so employees don’t need another reason to pick up their device at work and get distracted by Instagram, Snap, or Facebook, or the latest family drama.
Using screens to share information and boost social interactions at work increases the productivity of workers by offering visual, positive feedback that builds confidence and a sense of community.
According to Gallup, having close work friendships enhances employee satisfaction by 50 percent. So if you want happier, engaged workers, blur those lines to have a little more fun at work. It pays off.
David Levin is president and chief executive of visual communications company Four Winds Interactive.