Gaining Success Through Employee Engagement
25 Mar 2019
Published in: Member News
In a world where employment levels are and the world is uncertain, getting employees engaged has huge benefits to companies, this article discusses ways of getting positive engagement.
Employee engagement, a philosophy that has certainly grown in stature over the life of my career. What really is it though? Why is it more important than ever to have engaged employees? How does an organisation get employee engagement?
Unemployment in the UK as of mid-March 2019 is at its lowest level (4%) since the 1970’s, as someone in their mid 40’s, I can’t remember it being this low.
By the laws of supply and demand a level of unemployment that low will lead to wage inflation in the areas where there are skill shortages and employees that are in demand can effectively choose where to work.
We live in uncertain times thanks to BREXIT, 9 days to go and I’m as confused as about what is going to happen as I have been since 2016. Politicians seem to be the antithesis of leadership, whichever colour you are at the moment, these must be the worst Government and opposition in a very long time but that is another post entirely. The only certainty is confusion in labour markets and where any shortfall is going to be made up from.
We seem to be hitting a perfect storm as employers. It is certainly an employee’s market at the moment and employers are competing for a relatively small pool of talent when hiring but is also needs to be remembered you need to hold on to the good staff that you have, so you don’t have to replace them.
One definition of employee engagement is ‘a set of positive attitudes and behaviours enabling high job performance of a kind which is in tune with the organisation’s mission’.
Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) suggest that the key behaviours and attitudes that determine the level of individual engagement are:
- vigour (which includes displaying energy and resilience at work)
- dedication (being highly involved in work, feeling that work has significance and having pride in work)
- absorption in the task (being fully focused on work)
Positively engaged employees are those high performing teams that deliver results and enjoy the roles that they have, they are supportive and to them work is a great place to be, it is enjoyable and even fun.
It sounds great but then you look at the Gallup surveys on employee engagement and truly engaged employees might have been as low as 8% of the workforce in the UK in 2016. I have to admit I found that a truly shocking statistic. That was down from 17% in 2012, still not a good figure but a downward trend that needs reversing.
We’ve talked of engaged employees but what about the disengaged? According to Gallup there are two categories, passive disengagement and active disengagement.
You’ve met passively disengaged people, ask someone how work is and get the answer ‘it pays the bills’ or it is just a job and it does for now’. They go to work and probably do the bare minimum to keep their job. They probably are reliable, certainly to clock in on time and out the door on time, but they don’t buy into what the company wants to achieve, in modern parlance everything is a bit meh!
Then there is the group that is actively disengaged, work is so bad for them they will actually sabotage things and actively cause trouble, they will be the thorn in your side a constant battle and will suck morale and performance out of your teams.
Want the bad news? About twice as many staff are actively disengaged as actively engaged and the majority of people are just picking up a wage.
The Benefits of Employee Engagement
If I’ve not convinced you yet that employee engagement is a good thing, these are the benefits of employee engagement:
- Improved customer service
- A more efficient organisation
- Happier staff
- Healthier employees
- Less sick days and presenteism
- Higher turnover
- More profitable
- Lower staff turnover
- Lower recruitment costs
- Higher staff retention
- Less stress
- A great place to work
If you can achieve positive employee engagement the results are immense and so much more preferable to disengagement. It is a no brainer, why would you not want the benefits? Your employees are an asset to your company, by investing in them you get the above Return On Investments (ROI).
So, if you are now convinced it is good, how is this done?
Firstly, it needs buy in from the top. If the most senior people in the organisation do not buy in or think they can just pay lip service to the process it will fail, that isn’t a maybe IT WILL FAIL.
This requires trust, integrity and belief to achieve, it isn’t for the faint hearted and it requires conviction.
You are senior leaders and you buy in? Read on (others can read on by all means, you’ll just need to influence the top bosses.)
Engage for success talk of four enablers, a strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and integrity. Personally though, I break things down into more detail and use eleven ‘pillars’ to build engagement on.
Why does your organisation exist and where is it going? What are the values that underpin the culture? This should be crystal clear and everybody in the organisation should understand it.
If your employee wants to develop and grow as a person professionally and personally, what are you offering to help this? What are the long-term plans for them? Can they see a route to progression? Is it planned out? Is training available?
Are your employees fairly and adequately recompensed for their work? Although money may seem important it is not the be all and end all, there are plenty of benefits that can be offered without it being in the salary line, think things like mentoring schemes.
How important is the employee’s job to the customer? Do they know that? Do they know the impact if they get it wrong? Do they know the benefits when they get it right?
We are social creatures and probably spend about 35% of our waking hours at work, it needs a social element to keep people satisfied. In work and out of work find ways to build relationships and get people engaged with each other.
This is hard, I don’t think I’ve worked in a company yet that got communication perfect, it is obviously easier in smaller teams in one location, but it is vitally important that people are kept up to date.
Crucially employees need a voice and not only need to be heard but actually listened to and responded to. They are a great source of ideas and how to do things better, nothing is more engaging than knowing that you can influence and be a part of things. If employees give ideas that won’t work? Respond with sensitivity and honesty as to why not, you’re not ignoring what they’ve said but giving reasons why not, clarifying their understanding and/or giving them the chance to come up with something better
Build a culture with flexibility in it, whether this is hours, dress, annual holidays, be creative just make sure they are things that will be appreciated and used and that they work for the company, the teams and the individual.
My pet hate is dress down Friday, I’ve seen companies think it is flexible (the latest fad) and then introduce a whole raft of conditions on what can and can’t be worn (no big logos for example). At that point just stick to the normal dress code, why create problems?
What is that literary quote about some ‘being more equal than others’? In my experience nothing kills engagement faster than the injustice that certain people can get away things or get special favours. It breaks trust, I’ve seen different treatment of staff for those that go to the drink on a Friday afternoon compared to those that don’t and it did nothing for morale or engagement.
Deal with everyone openly and honestly, be able to explain all decisions and make sure that they are made within the values of the organisation. That’s the basis of integrity and it helps maintain the trust of the employees.
There is a lot of give and take in the process of forming positive engagement, but people need to be accountable for getting their job done and to the right level. Some organisation’s give unlimited holiday, but this comes with an expectation that the job still needs to be done. This links to equality, everybody needs to be seen to doing their share and performing to the right level.
All actions and decisions need to be consistent to the vision and values. This is very hard and should not be underestimated, it usually fails with the phrase ‘just get it done’ which means someone is breaking the system to get a result, it might work temporarily but long term you will create problems. Step back and fix problems not symptoms.
It is hard work, if it was easy every company would be doing it. The benefits and results though far outweigh the costs and effort to make it work.
Be creative in ideas that can improve engagement but keep them consistent to the vision and values and make sure that employees are involved and the changes that you make are valued.
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