Employee Engagement: What makes the difference?

By Ian Heggs Vice President and General Manager, Europe, Middle East & Africa on March 21, 2011

“Employees are an organisation’s greatest asset”, or so we keep getting told, and you’ll probably find it written in some shape or form in the ‘Corporate Responsibility’, ‘Corporate Values’ or ‘Our Employees’ section of most organisation’s websites . . . but why is it that many organisations still fail to fully engage their employees and leverage that ‘asset’. Is it because organisations are still in a process-centric mindset and focused on their key business processes, like ‘order-to-cash’, that drive an organisation to achieve its objectives and deliver shareholder value? Employees know their role and know what is expected of them, which is all well and good, but are they truly engaged and invested in the organisation?

Achieving engagement in the workplace is challenging and there are many studies and treatise and blogs and forums on ‘employee engagement’ to guide organisations as to the most effective approach to realise it, but no-one seems to have found the panacea as there are still many studies and treatise and blogs and forums on the topic! Obviously if it was that easy we would all be doing it; perhaps it is not as straightforward as we think. The 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study reports that only one-fifth of employees are truly engaged in their work, i.e. they are fully engaged and would “go the extra mile” for their employer. The rest ranged from the disengaged (38%) to the indifferent (41%). Clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

According to Management consultant and author Cindy Ventrice, for an employee, engagement comes down to feeling valued in the workplace, that their thoughts and opinions matter, and that there is opportunity for learning and advancement. Clear communication, personal development, respect and recognition from managers and peers alike are all important factors.

A recent Canadian study on employee engagement endorsed this view. When asked what organisation leaders could do more of to improve engagement, the respondents identified the following:

  • Listen to employees’ opinions (71%)
  • Communicate clear expectations (68%)
  • Give recognition and praise (58%)
  • Provide learning and development opportunities (57%)
  • Help find solutions to problems (39%)

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“To keep staff engaged, organizations need to give them the opportunity to use their skills, to be creative and, most of all, to be listened to.” Mark Fitzsimmons, president of Psychometrics Canada, March 2011.

This study also emphasised that it is the work environment and processes that drive engagement, and therefore employee engagement can only really be affected by the people with influence over these element: an organisation’s leaders. Good working relationship with management and an organisation’s leaders are vital to success but this may not be as effective in a process-centric organisation; what is needed to facilitate true employee engagement is a clear people-centric approach.

A people-centric approach will give employees greater control over their work and provide them with a better opportunity to share knowledge and ideas, driving innovation. ‘Management’ should be seen to be recognising their employees’ accomplishments and providing clear communication on the organisation’s strategy. Encouraging greater communication and transparency builds trust between employees and managers. In a people-centric world employees can contribute ideas without fear of being ‘wrong’ making them feel valued and part of something.

So, don’t be afraid, embrace the social nature of your business and initiate your people-centric strategy. Get your employees excited and making meaningful contributions. This will have a positive impact on your business and deliver real, measurable results . . . but that is a topic for another day.