Truly engaged employees don’t just want free fruit and flexible working. They want to believe that the work they’re doing has purpose and that the people setting the strategy are worthy. But to do that, they need to trust those running the show. That’s why you need to understand the connection between transparency and employee engagement.

Not so long ago, organisations could keep their dirty laundry hidden away from the world, including from their own employees. But it’s the age of transparency and employee engagement now, and the rules have changed.

Before, big brands could silently trample workers’ rights. Corporations could easily cover up data breaches. And fast-food giants could use “secret recipes” that included unethical ingredients without anyone really raising as much as an eyebrow.

In today’s tech-focused world, sites like WikiLeaks and Glassdoor can very quickly and publicly shine a light on any wrongdoing. As a result, organisations are becoming increasingly accountable: to their people and their customers.

With access to greater insights than ever before, employees are more informed about the companies they choose to work for and buy from.

Glassdoor reports that 32% of potential applicants consider employee reviews the most important factor when choosing whether to apply for a job. And the most popular response to this question by far was actually pay transparency at 62%.

The fact is, people are losing patience with corporate ambiguity. That means transparency and employee engagement are becoming more tightly bound than ever.

Gallup reports that 77% of employees worldwide are disengaged at work. Gallup’s past findings have shown engagement to be slowly but steadily climbing over time.

Misinformed business leaders still dismiss employee engagement as an HR initiative, simply there to “keep staff happy”.

But why is transparency so important?

“Engaged employees are in the game for the sake of the game; they believe in the cause of the organisation, so long as you help them see it.”

Paul Marciano, co-founder at Guess? Inc

First, we need to realize that a happy employee need not be an engaged one. Somebody slacking off and spending their days on social media could very well be happy at work. But you wouldn’t exactly call them “engaged.”

It takes a lot more than just keeping your workforce happy and having fun to ensure a high level of engagement, and all the benefits that can bring. Of which there are lots.

A big part of the engagement puzzle is about getting employees to believe in, and stay committed to, the cause of the organisation.

How can we achieve this?

By being honest with them. Answering their queries, letting them know what’s happening across the organisation, and the reasons behind the decisions. You’ll be surprised at how reasonable people can be when you treat them like… well, people.

Put simply, if you don’t want to lose your top talent, you need to be transparent.

Transparency leads to trust

Without trust, it’s difficult to get employees to connect emotionally to your organisation. This means their motivation will be limited to little more than their salary.

If you want to play things close to the vest, that’s up to you. But if you’re tight-lipped about key information like targets and upcoming projects, employees will feel anxious, left out the loop and demotivated.

You can’t build a culture of transparency unless it’s practiced across the entire company. So, it’s up to business leaders and managers to take responsibility and promote a culture of transparency from top to bottom.

The first step to transparency in any organisation is to show your employees the reasons and context behind your company’s vision and objectives. This will make it easier to get buy-in.

Next, align the work staff are doing to values and objectives. Consider using the OKR framework to make visibility a priority when you set targets for your people.

Managers need to build trust within their teams too. High levels of trust encourage employees to feel more confident in raising issues, asking for help, or highlighting their success. These may be small steps, but they go a long way in building employee engagement.

So, transparency for managers is also essential.

Managers can help their people better understand their individual roles, how they relate to organisational objectives, and see the bigger picture.

In this situation, employee feedback tools, frequent 1:1s and goal-setting are all incredibly useful tools to have at your disposal.

Transparency fosters collaboration

Building a collaborative work environment without a shared purpose is almost impossible. Many employees aren’t sure how their peers in their own team are contributing to company goals, let alone those in other departments.

This lack of transparency prevents employees from collaborating effectively and leads to disengagement. One reason people prefer to work with their immediate colleagues is because there’s less ambiguity with someone you know.

That’s why we need to enable and encourage employees to communicate outside of their own silos. But importantly, to be open and honest with that communication. They’ll be more likely to share the mistakes they’ve made, challenges and problems they’re facing, and ideas and initiatives they have in mind.

This will help your company learn, grow, and succeed as a team rather than as individuals.

Using employee communication tools and project management platforms makes it simpler for employees to share knowledge across teams, connect with the right people with the skills or experience they need, and access the right resources they need to succeed and be engaged.

Transparency improves employee autonomy

If you delegate a task to a member of your team but fail to give context, they’ll end up being confused, indecisive and ineffective. You need to explain why you assigned them the task in the first place. But they also need to know how it contributes to the businesses objectives, the resources available to them and expectations (quality, quantity, deadline) you have.

When people don’t feel in control of what they’re doing it becomes much harder to achieve success, care, or be engaged.

Many companies find it hard to get employee buy-in for task delegation, growth and development programs. They merely want to get their day-to-day tasks done and leave. The reasons behind this resistance include fear of change and disengagement.

The best way to overcome this resistance is by being transparent.

Communicate the following points clearly to give clarity to your people and create a more positive and receptive attitude.

  • How is the project relevant to your employee?
  • How does it help both them and the business (align this to objectives)?
  • The amount of resource that will be allotted to them.
  • Any expectations around output (timescales, quality KPIs etc.)

Transparency is key to employee engagement

Employee engagement without transparency isn’t really engagement. It’s a one-way request to deliver without treating your people like adults.

Without transparency, your employees will lack direction and motivation. They will struggle to build any sort of emotional commitment. You’ll find it hard to get your team to push beyond the bare minimum.

Consequently, your performance will stagnate quickly too – after all, engagement and performance are two sides of the same coin.

Transparency requires you to develop a feedback-oriented and collaborative culture. Having the right tech tools will go a long way in helping you achieve it.