Like it or not, employee engagement is a two-way street.

You can’t force anyone to care about your company, even if they work for you. So what do you do about the fact that 70% of employees feel disconnected from their work?

You plug them back in.

Yeah, you may not be able to control how much energy or passion they have, but you can make it easier for employees to connect with their work and the people on their teams.

And no, don’t worry. It doesn’t involve trust falls.

I promise.

Here are four areas where your employees need strong connections—and how you can make those connections happen:

1. Connect Them with Their Work

Do you ever forget why you love to do what you do?

So do your employees.

Scary, right? Engaged employees care about what they do, and if they’re not engaged, well . . .  I know you’re reading this post for a reason.

Here’s how you rekindle their interest:

  • Budget for training. Having a solid skillset is vital to being productive and confident in the workplace—and they’re good for your team. Set aside money so employees can take classes, attend workshops, or participate in  webinars related to their field. Announce any company-covered opportunities as they become available and encourage employees to apply for spots. Actively encourage employees to ask about any opportunities they’ve heard out about, too.
  • Allow time for side projects. Encourage your employees to work on side projects in their field, whether they’re related to their job or not. This gives your employees a bit of a break from work overload, and it encourages them to explore their interests. If you need to, you can always restrict side projects to work-related tasks—or limit them to a certain amount of time each day.
  • Start a book club. Yes, really. Amigo Loans encourages personal growth through optional book clubs where employees discuss a business book and its takeaway value for the company, and it sounds like they’re pretty helpful. Don’t want to read for work? Mix up your media, and hold your weekly discussions on relevant TED Talks or podcasts instead.

2. Connect Them with a Purpose

It’s one thing to care about what you do—it’s another thing to know you aren’t alone.

Employees want to know that they’re making an impact.

It’s pretty easy to forget why you’re doing something if you feel like you aren’t making any progress, like you keep doing the same things every day, and there’s no end in sight.

When you feel like that, it helps to be reminded that there’s a point.

Here’s how to connect your employees with a sense of purpose:

  • Share positive customer service stories. Hearing about good customer experiences can boost engagement, reminding employees that their work has value and can have a positive effect on their customers and community. If you use a peer-recognition app or program, recognize the employees involved in the success story—you’ll encourage them and inspire their co-workers.
  • Give everyone a chance to interact with customers. If it’s doable for your company, rotate employees through the customer service department, à la video hosting company Wistia, which hopes to help all of their employees understand their customers and how they use their product. Alternatively, have employees connect with customers through social media, product demos, or promotional events.
  • Update employees on growth. If things are looking up, let your employees know! Announce successes via your main communication system, post major (and non-confidential, obviously) news on your Twitter and Facebook pages, etc. And be sure to let employees know when they can share something publicly so they don’t feel like they have to zip their lips about exciting news.
  • Set specific goals. Have employees meet with their team leaders to discuss what they’d like to accomplish at work—and then turn that idea into a specific goal, complete with a deadline. No end in sight? Voila! With that goal, you’ve created an end, and a helpful milestone for gauging progress.

3. Connect Them with Co-workers

I’m reluctant to pin employee motivation down to any one little thing.

People are complicated, and we all know that there are lots of factors at play when it comes to employee engagement.

But. . . .

A survey from TINYpulse, the company that provides “ongoing employee engagement pulse surveys,”  showed that “peers and camaraderie are the #1 reason employees go the extra mile.”

And 70% of workers think that having work friends is vital for having a happy work life.

Okay, but how do you encourage employees to make friends?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Get bigger lunch tables. No, really. Simple changes like making room for more people to sit together at meals can raise morale and productivity by 25%. And more legroom is always nice.
  • Make your layout work for you. Are there places where employees can mingle? Are your departments segregated? If you want people to make connections, then have lounge areas that bridge departments—or make changes that direct your employees to one location instead of several (e.g. installing a coffee bar instead of multiple coffee pots.) Warning: you might have to sacrifice some level of convenience to do this. Just do what fits best with your needs and priorities.
  • Make introductions. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking X if he’s met Y. This would be especially helpful if you have some shyer employees who might not go out of their way to make friends on their own. Help them out!
  • Implement employee resource groups. Also known as ERGs, these social groups for employees function as a career resource and source of support for their members. They’re usually known for things like promoting diversity, addressing workplace issues, and community service, but they also bring employees together around a shared interest or background, such as ethnicity, religious affiliation, or gender, creating a good opportunity to make workplace friends.
  • Encourage peer-to-peer recognition. Use a customizable app like Tap My Back, which creates a regular source of feedback and allows employees to “like” or “tap” each other’s actions. This boosts positivity and lets employees show each other how they are each contributing to the team.

4. Connect Them with Others in the Industry

You know what’s really fun?

Talking to someone who gets it.

People who do what you do face the same sorts of challenges and rewards as you do. They can relate, and your common ground means they may be able to give you insight into a particular problem you’ve been facing—or you might even be able to help them.

Sometimes you just need the perspective of someone outside your everyday work life. But before you can do that, you’ll need to create a connection.

Make networking possible by doing these things:

  • Send employees to conferences. You’re killing two birds with one stone here. Conferences are a great way to meet people, and they can also be a great source of information, giving your employees a chance to make industry connections and to deepen (or broaden) their knowledge. Set aside money in the budget to send employees to these events, and encourage them to ask about conferences they would like to attend.
  • Bring the connections to you. Hold a networking event or conference on your company campus and encourage employees to attend. Or, if that’s not doable right now, start small. Invite people in your industry to come in and lead workshops or seminars for your employees. Invite them out to lunch with your team. If some of your employees are interested in picking their brain, be sure to make introductions.
  • Brag on your staff. Get your employees’ names out there! Share their work with people in their field who might be interested. Mention them on company social media, talk them up at conferences, and mention the great work they’ve been doing when you introduce them. If they’ve earned a boost, by all means, give it to them.

You’ve got this.

See? No trust falls.

And I only mentioned them twice.

Anyways, now you’ve got some ideas up your sleeve to help make your half of employee engagement a little bit easier. Change has to start somewhere. Why not with you?

Just plug them in. . . .

Then it’s their turn to power up.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas! How do you encourage employees to connect to each other or to their work? What’s your approach to networking?