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How to Maximize Employee Engagement

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Is your workforce impassioned, enthusiastic, committed and inspired? Is their morale and level of corporate citizenship high? Employee engagement is the most challenging topic in HR circles today.

Are the employees in your company motivated, committed, enthusiastic and co-operative? Is their level of corporate citizenship high? Of the total company headcount, how many employees are actively and fully involved with their hearts heads and hands in activities that further the company’s goals and interests? Employee engagement is a hot topic in today’s workplace and leading organizations recognize the vested interest they have in actively measuring, monitoring and maximizing the level of engagement amongst their employees and ensuring it is not left to chance.

The Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study, the largest of its kind, conducted in May and June 2007 and released in October showed that just 21% of employees surveyed around the world are engaged in their work while 38% are either disenchanted or disengaged and the remaining 41% are only partly engaged. Clearly employees are not exerting their full discretionary effort to meet their companies’ goals and agendas and there is a significant reservoir of untapped potential, a gap which Towers Perrin has labeled the “engagement gap”.

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee Engagement is loosely defined as the level to which employees are fully involved in their work, committed to their work, care about their organisation and colleagues and are willing to extend themselves and go the extra mile for their company to ensure its success. The Conference Board in the USA in its 2006 publication “Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications”, describes employee engagement as “a heightened emotional connection that a employee feels for his or her organization that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

Employees can be broadly classified into three categories: –

Engaged: Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their jobs, loyal, motivated, committed and productive. They have a strong emotional allegiance to their workplace and are driven to succeed.

Not engaged: Not engaged employees are not totally psychologically connected to their company. They work hard and contribute but are less driven to succeed than their engaged counterparts and are more likely to engage in absentee behaviour and/or leave the company.

Actively disengaged: Actively disengaged employees are emotionally and cognitively divorced from their work, they have in a sense “checked out” although they are physically there. They are disgruntled, unhappy to be there and their negativity is palpable, infectious and disruptive for the organisation.

Why is Employee Engagement important?

Repeated research has shown that there is a direct correlation between the level of employee engagement in a company and the company’s overall financial and operational performance. Specifically, higher levels of engagement are associated with:-

  1. More productivity
  2. Better client servicing and happier customers
  3. Less absenteeism
  4. Lower turnover, more retention
  5. Higher job satisfaction
  6. Higher work morale
  7. Higher levels of motivation
  8. Higher levels of altruism and team spirit
  9. Higher levels of loyalty and commitment to organisation
  10. More pride in role and company
  11. Higher propensity to take risk and innovate
  12. Higher levels of energy and enthusiasm

The research evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the difference between engaged and disengaged employees is not insignificant and that engagement has become the best competitive advantage companies can leverage to propel their businesses forward. This is particularly true as economies shift towards knowledge economies and the workforce increasingly simulates a knowledge workforce vis-a-vis a labour workforce, with the associated shift in the balance of power. According to the 2006 Conference Board report, highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged colleagues by 20-28 percentage points. The benefits of having a workforce who have a high morale, are enthusiastic and love their work and tapping into the full reservoir of employee potential creativity and innovation cannot be overstated.

What Drives Employee Engagement?

Various factors influence employee engagement among them the following:-

  1. Relationship with one’s direct manager
  2. Opportunities for advancement and career development
  3. Pride in the company
  4. Clarity with respect to role and expectations
  5. Clarity with respect to how one’s role is linked to company goals and performance
  6. Culture of fairness and respect
  7. Integrity and ethics of leadership
  8. Availability of adequate coaching, mentoring and feedback
  9. Team culture that nurtures trust and collaboration amongst coworkers
  10. Nature of job and extent to which it is varied, interesting and stimulating
  11. Sense of ownership and control over job and problems and their solutions
  12. Sense of being valued and involved
  13. Ability to participate in decision-making process

The Institute for Employment Studies in its publication: The Drivers of Employee Engagement (Robinson D, Perryman S, Hayday S, April 2004) cites that based on research it undertook “the strongest driver of all is a sense of feeling valued and involved.” The 2006 Conference Board publication which summarized twelve major studies on employee engagement over the past 4 years by top research firms such as Gallup, Towers Perrin, Blessing White, the Corporate Leadership Council and others and came up with 26 key drivers of engagement defined the direct relationship with one’s manager as the strongest of all drivers.

How does a Company Increase Employee Engagement?

There is no shortcut towards creating and maintaining employee engagement, it takes commitment and an investment of time, effort and resources on the part of a company, but the payoff in terms of enhanced productivity, profitability and elevated morale is well worth it. As indicated in a 2003 Towers Perrin Talent Report: Working Today: Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement, “building engagement is a process that never ends. And it rests on the foundation of a meaningful and emotionally enriching work experience.”

The first step toward maximizing the level of engagement in a company is to set in place a mechanism to regularly measure and assess prevailing employee attitudes through comprehensive employee satisfaction surveys. Engagement levels are influenced by individual attitudes, propensities and characteristics so managers need to carefully gauge and consider what is most relevant and important for their own staff.

Management can then put in place the measures that bridge the gaps in employee engagement, in particular when it comes to:-

    1. Giving employees an open forum to voice complaints, suggestions and questions
    2. Adequately responding to employee grievances, issues and queries
    3. Equipping employees with all the resources they need to perform their job well
    4. Including employees in the problem-solving and decision-making process
    5. Frequently enlisting employees opinions in important issues
    6. Setting the highest standards of trust, integrity and ethics that employees can be proud of and emulate
    7. Recognizing employees for their effort and performance publicly and privately
    8. Rewarding employees for their efforts and contributions
    9. Generating in employees a sense of ownership and pride

< li>Providing a stimulating and challenging work environment

  1. Demonstrating that management really values/ cares about employees’ wellbeing
  2. Communicating how individual roles contribute to the organizational future
  3. Providing opportunities for employees to grow and develop their full potential

Clearly an environment where employees are valued, respected, involved, challenged, have opportunities to grow and are clear about their roles and their contributions to the company’s goals and performance, is much more conducive to feelings of commitment and corporate citizenship amongst the workforce.

The 2007 Towers Perrin Study findings highlight three areas of focus for companies to increase engagement and tap the reservoir of employee discretionary effort.

  1. Employees need their senior leaders to demonstrate inspiration, vision and commitment. Only 38% of employees surveyed felt senior management communicates openly and honestly, and just 44% agreed senior management tries to be visible and accessible.
  2. Employees want to give more to their companies and their jobs, but also want a clearer picture of what’s in it for them.
  3. Employees want to work for a company that is seen as a leader. A big part of what’s in it for employees is an organization’s reputation.

“At the end of the day”, said Julie Gebauer, Towers Perrin Managing Director, “our study paints a picture of a workforce that is energetic, ambitious and committed to working hard and giving its best. This lays to rest several persistent stereotypes: that employees are loyal only to themselves and their careers and are looking to do the minimum to get by. But turning people’s energy and ambition into engagement – and ultimately into significant performance lift – demands attention, focus and some very different behaviors from senior leaders, as well as clear follow-through on a number of organizational practices. The challenge for senior management is to recognize the value of employees’ untapped potential and to channel it in ways that yield real improvements in business performance.”

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