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The market abounds in books, podcasts, and newsletters that profusely narrate leadership and management tips and techniques. Of all the tips and techniques available, one of the most fundamental concepts that have drawn extensively upon the employee-organizational interplay is called employee engagement. The idea was used in the 1990s as a concerted effort to understand and describe the interrelation between an organization and its employees. It refers to engaged employees as those who have their goals aligned with the organization’s interests and reputation. They are fully absorbed and passionate about their work and, so, take suitable steps towards improving the organization while safeguarding its value.
In contrast, disengaged employees are believed to be a hindrance to the company’s productivity and reputation. Spotting their attributes beforehand could help supervisors to ward off damages to the businesses in the long run. Organizations that rank high on employee engagement might, therefore, be expected to outdo those with low engagement levels.
It was during the 2000s that the concept started gaining widespread acceptance in management practice. Employee engagement was brought to the fore as a concept in management theory. The term employee engagement was first coined in Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, a study by psychologist William Kahn in 1990. As a part of the study, Kahn studied two groups of people and defined engagement as “the harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.” Engaged employees take ownership of their work. In addition to this definition, the study also revealed:
The definition of employee engagement has evolved over the years as numerous experiences can alter it. Consequently, the focus has now shifted to the employees’ will to go above and beyond their means to contribute to the organization. Employee engagement practices are deeply rooted in human resources management. Nowadays, the term is synonymously used with employee satisfaction and employee experience. With the rising number of new generation professionals in the working population, it is observed that more employees are getting distracted or feeling alienated with the company. Various marketing research surveys suggest that an overwhelming number of organizations are working towards improving the employee experience.
Employees wish to have meaningful work, expertise in their work, and independence to exercise their creativity. Over the last few decades, the demands and motivations of employees have evolved. Salary is not the be-all and end-all of what employees want. In addition to meaningful work, employees also seek a leader who guides them in the right direction and development opportunities to assist them in excelling at their work.
Even though technology continues to evolve with time, human nature does not. Everyone has basic needs which they aspire to meet to perform up to their potential. It applies to full-time employees, gig-workers, or multi-generational workforce. Since engagement is the fuel for employee motivation, organizations that invest in employee engagement have a competitive advantage over others.
Engaging the workforce enables you to determine their pulse and a chance to identify internal problems that might impede your productivity in the future. Knowing your workforce’s emotional and mental standing allows you to design strategies and implementations that will create a better work environment, allowing the free-flow of ideas, boosting their creativity and productivity, and retaining their love for the job. A skilled employee in an ideal work environment is an excellent addition to any team since he or she will always look forward to work, won’t hesitate to take the extra mile and work on being better. We interviewed industry experts to understand the role of employee engagement in an organization.
The behaviors of highly engaged business units result in 21% greater profitability.
The data indicates that engaged employees strive for excellence in their work. So, if you keep your employees engaged, they tend to stay motivated and hence, more productive. This has a direct impact on the profitability of the company. When employees are engaged, they are more aware, observant, and receptive to the needs of the business as well as clients. Having an employee engagement process has proven to have a positive impact on productivity, efficiency, and profitability.
Ian Kelly, VP Operations, NuaLeaf, believes that the average tenure at a company is getting shorter by the day. People don’t just leave companies because of better opportunities; they leave because they are disengaged from the work or the leadership. The disengagement can emerge from a lack of career growth or non-alignment with the company’s vision. So, providing people with a mission or a vision they can share is essential for a longer-term engagement.
“If you take good care of your employees, they will replicate this feeling to your clients and customers, making your organization stand out in the crowd with a reduced attrition rate,” shares OMNI, INC. Founder & CEO, Manny Hernandez. Those who see their job as worthwhile or interesting are more likely to be fully involved in and enthusiastic about the things they do. Engaging the employees is an interactive process, and the interactivity and resulting pride and sense of having done well are what makes employees feel good. This, in turn, lowers attrition rates as employees are invested in the success of their work, which naturally supports loyalty to their employer and a sense of fulfillment at work
When employees miss work regularly without having concrete reasons, it is more likely that they are becoming less motivated to be there. Typically, engaged employees will attempt to avoid missing work and having to catch up on things later when they come back. They have a sense of responsibility for their work. They feel accountable for the job assigned to them. This is what keeps them engaged and hence regular. TechLoris CEO Shayne Sherman also affirms, “When you are engaged in your work, you feel committed to the same deadlines your managers are committed to.” When you have deadlines that you are committed to, you are less likely to miss work. You also understand the value of the work, feel valued, and want to go to work.
Putting together employee engagement programs helps to generate excitement, passion, and creativity in the workplace, which is also essential for a better decision-making process. As a leader, you have to create the space and encourage the sort of behavior and culture that gives room for employees to come up with ideas. Sharing how Quick Click Offer promotes employee engagement, Co-owner Nicolai Fugl says, “Since we spend a lot of time on our employees and have open conversations, they are not afraid to let us know if they have ideas or want to change something.” During our weekly meetings, we are open to new ideas for making processes simpler and smoother, he adds. So, it is crucial to have an open conversation with your employees. Innovation doesn’t live in the boardroom. The people working with customers each day have insights that will facilitate the growth of organizations.
Employee engagement encompasses two major elements: employee retention and employee feedback. These two components ensure that your engagement efforts are on track.
Engaged employees feel encouraged and motivated to continue working in the same place as their organization values their contribution and puts due efforts in their growth journey. It is when employers align their goals with the individuals’ that employees stick around and contribute to the organization’s growth. William Taylor, Career Development Manager, VelvetJobs shares, “Engaging employees is critical for retaining valuable talent as disengaged employees are more likely to leave their jobs.” Plus, employees who are engaged in their work are more likely to be motivated and remain committed to their employer, he adds.
Employee feedback is essential to an effective employee engagement strategy as it gives you an overview of what it is that your employees need. However, one of the core issues with employee engagement is that you cannot directly approach employees and ask how engaged they are on a scale of 1 to 10. It is precisely because engagement is a complex emotion that is difficult to measure. To get an accurate reading of employee engagement levels at your organization, you can send an occasional, anonymous employee pulse survey. Emphasizing on the importance of such a survey, ResumeLab HR Manager Jagoda Wieczorek says, “The survey will help you in gathering insights via a set of indirect questions like, ‘Do you leave work at the end of the day feeling happy?’, and also show employees that you take steps to create a better workplace and that alone will torpedo disengagement.”
To deep dive into the challenges which organizations are facing globally, we got in touch with a couple of HR professionals. The following excerpt is a compilation of problems and industry insights by experts.
As mentioned earlier, there is a shift in the demands of the modern-day workforce. Employees seek meaningful work to further their careers. Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 highlights how the demands across generations, gender, and the gig economy. While Baby Boomers want stability in their work, Millennials and Gen Z want challenging work. While individual contributors seek job security, managers seek professional development. As men wish for competitive pay, women need flexible working hours to stay in their organization. But organizations falter to understand these diverse needs.
Sharing how most employers can instinctively understand that an engaged employee is an asset to the company, English Blinds HR Head Jake Penny mentions, “Employers are unable to define engagement in tangible terms which makes employee engagement something that is not directly responsible for an increase in productivity or does not have a defined ROI, in the process getting overlooked altogether.”
Employees will not be motivated to work towards receiving rewards if they do not see the value in it. Employers may have a hard time identifying workforce needs if they do not know what effect it would have on the employees. To reiterate this point, DailyPest Founder Andrew Cunningham says, “An employee may slack off even with a good salary, which will confuse the employer who wouldn’t understand what the employee needs or what would motivate him to work. It merely states that other factors are more prioritized by employees other than salaries.
The idea of employee engagement is to keep everyone connected and engaged. One-one-one feedback brings positive results to an individual, but only if proper engagement activities follow it. It is often observed that either there is no structured mechanism, and if there is one, the feedback sessions do not result in targeted engagement plans. Speaking for the initial problem, LetMeBank CMP Morgan Taylor says, “If you are not open to your employees, they will never deliver the feedback you need to take real action. Instead, you will be focused on KPIs and meeting benchmarks.”
Inviting feedback and arranging reviews can be achieved in a short time. But doing anything with the results of this to catalyze change requires resources that many businesses do not have, or at least, are not willing to commit. Another roadblock that comes in getting actionable outcomes is from the employees’ side. Employees may have potentially reached the point of complete withdrawal from work and are now demotivated to make any improvement regardless of any kind of feedback. Hence, the lack of targeted feedback and relevant action plan impede the employee engagement process.
Without the proper technological interventions, HR’s interactions with employees become mere form-filling and questionnaires. Instead of being an open form of conversation, the relationship becomes purely transactional. Lack of knowledge about your employees, their abilities, and interest in the absence of data impedes the process of employee engagement. There seems to be an analysis paralysis that keeps on lingering when HR and management stick to the traditional methods of engagement.
Emphasizing how it can be challenging to keep employees engaged without the proper technology, Wiecrozek says, “Proper employee engagement tools let you not only create a long-term strategy but also engage everyone involved and efficiently monitor the results of all activities.” Sharing how HR technology assists in tracking employee performance, Andrew from DailyPest mentions, “Job accountability monitoring, relevant training recommendations, and ongoing performance reviews through the use of performance management software are essential for large-scale companies as it is difficult for HRs to track the performance of every single employee otherwise.”
HR departments and employers often undermine the importance of employee engagement for several reasons. According to Jake from English Blinds, employers don’t see the value in it or feel it is impossible to achieve, or because the nature of the work in question is very unrewarding. Another reason could be the inability to quantify and measure employee engagement, and without hard data to work with, engagement and its value are often overlooked. Another notion which makes the employers undermine the process is that employees can be replaced easily. GooseChase Head of Marketing Eric Chiang says, “It is difficult to put in the resources to customize their programs to suit each employee accurately. As a result, most employee engagement initiatives, from onboarding to retention, result in mundane, dull events for the majority of workers.”
Even though organizations continue to face various obstacles in their employee engagement process, there is still scope of improvement. Industry experts swear by the following methods to enhance employee engagement in their organization:
As per ProSky CEO Crystal Huang, if employees don’t find meaning in their job, then cognitive dissonance will leave them feeling dissatisfied no matter how good the pay. Employees want to learn and grow as they work. They want their work to have a purpose and place in the bigger picture. Employees wish to create a more significant impact on the world instead of just a paycheck. So, organizations must recognize their contributions and invest in their career growth. This can be achieved by analyzing their career interests and aligning them with broader organizational objectives.
To effectively manage the modern-day workforce, companies need to start revitalizing from the bottom, i.e., the individual. Reassuring that each individual is skilled and motivated makes it easier for teams to reach their maximum potential, which is ideal for any company. Each employee has their reason for joining your company apart from mere financial remuneration. Being valued for more than the task at hand demonstrates that the organization sees them as a human being, not just a worker. Being recognized as a team is great. But, being appreciated as an individual, feeds their inner need for feeling valued. When employees know they are valued, they most often contribute more. It can take as little as a minute to express appreciation that can have a lasting impact beyond that moment. Hence, focusing on individual development and aligning individual goals with that of the organization is the best recipe for achieving all-round success. This is the environment in which people can lead. When they are not aligned, it becomes more management than leadership.
Organizations benefit by increasing the quality of their employees while improving long-term retention as employees learn new skills and strategies to help them do their job better. Training ensures that the skills needed to accomplish the task are well known and practiced by individuals. No one is born knowing how to do the job. They are born, however, with talents and strengths that align well with the role – it is where coaching comes in. Coaching focuses on the individual and their goals or objectives. It supports the individual and teams in moving forward. While training addresses the immediate need for the skill, coaching addresses the future demand of mindset.
For creating an ideal work environment, businesses must first assess their employees’ needs, come up with strategies to maintain them. Knowing what your employees need allows you to focus on the issues that affect your workforce’s dynamics and productivity, rather than being too general. Knowing the specifics creates a quicker and more productive employee engagement program.
Crystal, CEO of ProSky, believes that engagement is a two-way street. Without an understanding of what employees need, implementing an engagement program is ineffective because you are just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. By getting their feedback and knowing their needs, you can focus your strategy to meet those needs directly.
Rewards are a great way to laud employees for their exceptional work. They are a means to recognize and appreciate the sincere efforts put in by your workforce. You wouldn’t want to leave employees unrecognized where they feel like they are stuck in a career rut. Pete Sosnowski, Vice President, Zety raises a potent question. Why would an employee dedicate their energy to a given project if they don’t get to harvest the fruits of their labor?
ProSky has a pathways system in place that lays out training and development goals for employees to learn new skills, as well as milestones and KPIs that employees are working towards each quarter. Attached to those milestones come pay raises, promotions and benefits. This helps employees see what they need to be working on and what goals they need to hit to be eligible for growth within the company.
Setting expectations at the beginning of a working relationship is vital to a thriving, productive team. Sharing his belief on the same, Kristen David, Founder and CEO, Upleveling Your Business LLC says, “It is important that a business owner or organization gets clear on the culture they want to build, so they can create an atmosphere and work environment that is conducive to those core values.”
Setting a clear objective for an employee engagement strategy, in the beginning, is essential. Employee engagement for employee engagement’s sake can lead to unproductive entitlement. Your program must be grounded as per the organizational direction. Uncommon Consulting Founder Julie Lynch explains the difference in approach while encountering different situations. For instance, if the organizational goal is to retain your current employees, seek to measure and address their current levels of involvement, enthusiasm, and commitment.
On the contrary, if the organizational goal is to transform the business model, then your engagement strategy should be different. In this case, the organization would want to know how to keep the workforce involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to a new business model. The two scenarios would require vastly different measurement and strategy. Taking the time to define your objective clearly, steps, and milestones will ensure that you can reap the full benefits of a strategic and considerate employee engagement program.
Every employee has a unique skill set and need; some require more engagement than the others. Rolling out employee engagement activities across verticals can be time-consuming and even costly for the organization. So, before implementing the engagement program, organizations must determine which employees need to be engaged. This will, in turn, assist the HR department in customizing the program and enable them to take a more targeted approach towards engaging specific individuals. While some employees may need more engagement, every employee needs feedback so they can thrive. In their book ‘Thanks for the Feedback,’ Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen outline how employees need appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. Depending on how an employee is performing, they might need more coaching than others. This is where you create an employee improvement plan that will help them reach their goals so that they outperform in every aspect of their job duties. A key to determining who needs what is to hold quarterly evaluation reviews. Hence, each quarter there is an open dialogue to help the person recognize where they need to step up, as well as allow the employee to ask questions and give feedback on their own.
Companies of different sizes have different techniques on how they proceed with a framework. In a start-up, often, one employee is wearing multiple hats, whereas, in a large-scale corporation, roles are rigidly defined. Hence, job descriptions are vital in giving clarity as to what an employee is responsible for doing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Once organizations have clear job descriptions based on the job roles, levels, and functions, you can seek help from experts who can help you define competency frameworks.
Role-based competency frameworks are beneficial in the planning phases. Hence, it is imperative and crucial for organizations to outline frameworks in a manner that encompass job-based skills, behavioral, and cognitive aspects required to fulfill the job at hand. The skill sets and expertise of the people who work in various job functions will have a crucial role in the success of your employee engagement program. In conjunction with this, it is beneficial to define what responsibilities belong to each assistance area.
HR technology has revolutionized the way organizations conduct employee engagement. Corporates can now implement a 360-degree feedback tool to understand the development needs of the employees. The tool gives a holistic view of an employee from multiple lenses, i.e., manager, peer, subordinate, or client. Based on the feedback, the tool rolls out individual and group development reports. Following the development paths can keep the employees engaged in the long run since the report highlights strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, and areas of improvement.
Internal hackathons and ideathons are another means to keep the employees engaged, facilitate teamwork, and promote a culture of creativity and innovation. They enable employers to look at employees from a different entrepreneurial perspective. They are an excellent means to reveal the employees’ potential and bring innovative measures to the table while maintaining data privacy. Ideathons encourage participation across verticals and contribute to the ever-changing world of technology and business. In building a future-ready brand, team, or product, ideathons help in accelerating the process of innovation, thus cutting down the number of days required for the process.
Emphasizing the importance of an individual to business, Uncommon Consulting Founder Julie Lynch says, “Research shows that only 55% of engagement is attributable to external factors (leadership, environment, management. 45% is attributable to the individual’s qualities – which can be developed.” We are missing half the engagement problem if we’re not focusing on the individual, she adds.
Each person has strengths and weaknesses, and it is important to cultivate each person on an individual basis. As much as it is necessary to hone the strengths of individuals, it is also important to recognize the weaknesses and help the person build up their aptitude in that area. A key area in which almost everyone can benefit from increased development is leadership. As each member of the team levels up, the business runs more efficiently and profitably.
Having a shared vision and programs that engage delivers superior performance and allows your teams to gain a competitive advantage. So, take time to define your objectives, steps, and milestones clearly to ensure that you reap the benefits of a strategic and considerate employee engagement program. Employees feel motivated when they have a sense of commitment to their organization’s goals and objectives. These attitudes are known to lead to increased productivity and allow an organization to achieve higher levels of output. Thus, having a roadmap that sets out incremental steps to create an engaged culture is crucial.
Mercer | Mettl understands that employee engagement is crucial to the business. We have a suite of assessments to streamline your employee engagement programs. Mercer | Mettl’s 360-degree feedback gauges employees on various competencies that are mapped to relevant questions. The feedback from multiple stakeholders is then compiled into extensive reports. The reports give an overview of competencies, hidden strengths, areas of improvement, and personal development plan, thus facilitating employee engagement when appropriately followed.
Mercer | Mettl Assessment and Development Centres (ADCs) provide an exhaustive evaluation of an employee’s role fitment. This is achieved by assessing individuals on multiple facets needed to do the job successfully. Our virtual ADCs replicate real-world business problems in a virtual environment to achieve the outcomes as deemed from traditional assessment centers. Additionally, our Blended ADCs provide the best of both virtual and offline. Our pool of expert assessors caters to the employee engagement needs of your workforce.
Concerning employee engagement, it is often the high performing employees whom the organization wants to retain and develop in the long run. To give such employees better learning alternatives, giving more challenging roles, and training them for future leadership roles, we have come up with the High Potential (HiPo) Identification model. It exposes individuals to better growth opportunities by placing them in advanced development programs.
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Originally published April 1 2018, Updated June 15 2020
A writer at heart, Megha has been in the content industry for 4 years. Starting her career from print, her journey spans across IT, legal and consulting industries. She has been associated with Mercer | Mettl as Assistant Manager, Content Marketing for 2 years.