What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is described in HR literature as: the enthusiasm that employees feel with regards to their work (1). Engagement is the degree to which employees are passionate about their work and devote themselves to their work. Engaged employees go the extra mile to contribute to the success of your organization. In short, engagement means that employees work and express themselves in a physical, cognitive and emotional manner (2).

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement also reflects the company as it shows how engaged the company is with their employees. The more a company engages with their employees, the more involved they are.

en-gage-ment (n.)
1 the act of engaging or condition of being engaged
2 a promise, obligation or other condition that binds

 

Throughout the years Employee Engagement has become an important part of both HR and standard management practices. Nowadays, employees want to do more than the bare minimum during their 9-to-5 jobs. They want to be involved with the company. They want to be enthusiastic and committed to their individual roles, the company itself, and the people they work with. They want a reason to come to work, not just a paycheck.

Why is employee engagement so important?

Employee engagement is an important HR variable for the majority of organizations. It helps enable your organization to deliver a superior performance and to gain a competitive advantage.

Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When rating their engagement, employees tend to base that on how they feel. A high satisfaction rate leads to increased engagement. Engaged employees make additional effort, learn more, and faster, and are more creative. In addition, they are your organization's ambassadors, which can lead to positive word of mouth, Glassdoor reviews, referrals and recommendations. Furthermore, engagement is a good predictor of customer satisfaction, personnel retention, productivity and profitability.3, 4 ,5

Engagement takes committed and motivated employees to the next level.6 Engaged employees concentrate on the goals of your organization and on the results that you as an organization expect from them. They have the feeling that they really can contribute to the success of your organization and that all their abilities are being utilized.

On the other side, disgruntled employees can lead to decreased or lack of engagement. In turn, this can lead to negative word of mouth, potential PR fires, recurring sick days or leaves of absence, missed deadlines, and increased workload for the remaining employees who will have to pick up on the slack, which can cause more frustration. This can happen when a company is not engaged to their employees, when their employees do not feel appreciated or lack the opportunity to share their employee experience.

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How do I keep my employees engaged?

Before employee engagement is measured, it is important to know what it is affected by, such as: employee satisfaction, trust, motivation, and commitment. They can be considered individually or as a whole, seeing as they do influence each other. Let’s look at a few examples:

Employee Satisfaction

Employee satisfaction reflects the overall happiness of an employee. The satisfaction rate can depend on many aspects that come with the individual role and/or the company itself, such as the team, the manager, but also growing opportunities, challenges, equality, benefits, and a company culture that offers a healthy work-life balance.

Your company culture determines an employee’s wellbeing. It is important that employees feel secure. They should not want to leave nor are companies able to maintain a continuous staff turnover. In order to do so, you will need an environment that accepts them for their individuality and recognizes their talent. An environment that encourages them to learn and grow, that offers them opportunities and support to explore their career path, and offers equal opportunities for all.

This is where compassion plays an important part. It shows how involved your company is with its employees, i.e. do you offer healthcare packages, reimbursement for childcare, and support for mental health? Are employees covered for over time or are they expected to be on standby outside of their shift? When your company can accept the versatility of humanity and the many surprises that our daily lives may bring, your employees are more inclined to remain loyal, because they feel understood.

Trust

Trust is a two-way street. Your organization should trust its employees to fulfill their tasks as much as they should trust the company to take care of them. Autonomy and communication play a big part in this.

Giving your employees autonomy will produce better results because you trust them to be responsible. This does not exactly mean they get an unlimited amount of time to play fussball in the break room. It just shows that your employees understand how your organization relies on them and that they have the integrity to meet their end of the bargain. Lack of autonomy can consist of many things, such as restricted/assigned break times, limited access to tools and resources, a strict chain of command, and micromanaging. Theoretically, they may seem an inevitable part of management structure that could drive productivity, but they most likely will not yield positive results in practice. The less constricted employees are, the more empowered they will feel.

Transparent communication is important to avoid any doubt. When both parties can setup their goals and expectations at an early stage, it can ease the collaboration. From a company perspective, what you communicate shows how involved you want your employees to be. An employee can then decide what they can bring to the table. Lack of communication or access to resources, however, can cause a feeling of distrust and decrease the employee engagement.

Motivation

Motivation determines the amount of time and effort employees spend on producing positive results. If an employee feels motivated, they are more inclined to be reliable, to produce the best results, and play an active role within the organization. This can happen when an employee feels like their contribution and expertise is valued. The ability to influence the potential outcome will make the employee feel more involved, which can boost their motivation.

For example, sharing results, recognition, and company benefits can boost motivation. Rewarding an employee by recognizing them for consistent performance or taking part of additional projects shows the appreciation of individual contributions.

Commitment

Commitment is important for any relationship. It shows how much you are willing to invest in the people involved. In a professional environment, it can contain of several situations. For instance, an employee can be committed to the role but not the company or vice versa. The most engaged employees are committed to both and the least are committed to neither.

Compassion and empathy have proven to go a long way for both parties. As an organization, you need to commit to your employees, that goes beyond hiring them. You need to actively process the feedback received and apply improvements where needed. It is vital that companies show they are not an “evil” corporation that threatens its employees with their pay checks or expendability. In turn, employees become willing to put in their time and effort to help to company progress.

Lack of employee commitment can lead to negative results, inability to meet targets and deadlines, and potential high turnover within the company. This can be caused due to bad management, team struggles, lack of resources and support, or lack of learning and development opportunities. Without these, employees may not feel like you are willing to invest in them. Then, why should they invest their time and effort into your company?

 

Each of these aspects can be influence one another. For example, an employee that does not feel like it can trust the company on improving their company culture, will most probably feel less committed to stay and less motivated to perform their individual tasks. Their engagement will dwindle as they are not satisfied with their current work environment. Another example is a slightly isolated incident, when a disgruntled manager may struggle to perform their duties, which then also impacts the employee experience for themselves and their team. Their staff may not be dissatisfied with the company, but their experience will suffer a negative impact.

A subtle difference with employee commitment

At Effectory, we’re often asked to explain the difference between engagement and commitment. Engagement is an intrinsic attitude that denotes an employee’s enthusiasm for his or her job. Commitment, on the other hand, denotes an employee’s enthusiasm for the company he or she works for.

What happens when employees are neither engaged nor committed?

To provide insight into the level of employee commitment and employee engagement within an organization, we categorise employees into four types: engaged and committed, engaged, committed and neither engaged nor committed. The four types differ in the following way:

  • Engaged and committed employees are both engaged in their work and committed to the organization. Employees love their work and the company they work for.
  • Engaged employees are engaged in their work, but not committed to the organization.
  • Committed employees are committed to the organization, but not engaged in their work.
  • Employees that are neither engaged nor committed are neither engaged in their work, nor committed to the organization.

We believe that the best case scenario is when an employee is engaged in the job and committed to the organization. If an employee is only engaged, there is the distinct risk that they are not committed to the organization, and vice versa.

How can I measure employee engagement?

The best way to measure employee engagement is through regular Employee Engagement Surveys. Look at them as the equivalent of a customer satisfaction survey that you receive after calling your Internet Service Provider: “were you happy with the service you received today?”

Employee Engagement Surveys are best performed on a regular basis, it is essential to keep check of your organization’s heartbeat. This will allow for both parties to take part of the improvement process in between surveys.

Most employees are not comfortable providing feedback, so anonymity is a must. It also removes the fear of potential consequences like being named and shamed or retaliation for negative feedback. Seeing as an Employee Satisfaction Survey is mostly based on emotions, multiple choice or yes-or-no questions are not encouraged as they may not be accurate. Instead, give them opportunities to rate their engagement and provide feedback. Question the different aspects of the company, such as leadership, resources, relationships, integrity, opportunities, learning and development, and benefits. Afterwards, share the overall scores as a way of keeping communication transparent. This will make the employees feel more involved with the company.

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Employee engagement will increase when voices are heard.

People want to be taken seriously, especially during employee engagement surveys when they are asked to voice their opinions.

As an organization it is important to ask yourself beforehand why you want to research your employee engagement. What are your expectations and goals? Are you able to take accountability and invest in potential improvements? Every organization likes to think they do well, which may differ from the reality. An Employee Engagement survey shows a humane side to the business: it gives your employees a voice and shows you want to listen. Satisfied employees are more likely to be engaged while unsatisfied employees may need the comfort in knowing there is room for change. It can help your organization grow.

As an employee it is important to consider what you want to say and what your expectation of the result is. Are your qualms personal or is it something the company can fix? Employee engagement is not only vital for productivity and outcome, but also for mental health. Nobody wants to fear being expendable or continuously call in sick because they dislike your company. If your organization values their employees as human beings and takes accountability for its flaws, you will create a sense of empowerment and belonging amongst your staff.

Working together to make a better place

Be mindful that not every flaw can be fixed and, most importantly, that there is no quick fix. For example, adding an on-site yoga studio does not heal a toxic work environment. In addition, it is not recommended to assume that higher positions make for the most engaged employees. Being a part of leadership team does not guarantee employee satisfaction.

In an ideal situation every company would rate 10/10 on employee engagement and every employee is 100% engaged. Employee engagement is a collaboration between both the organization as well as the employees. Realistically, nobody will ever be able to be 100% pleased or to fulfill every employees’ wishes and demands. But we can all work together to make it a better place.


References:

  1. Roberts, D.R. and Davenport, T.O. (2002) Job Engagement: Why it's Important and how to Improve it. Employment Relations Today, 21-29 
  2. Kahn, W.A. (1990) Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 33, 692-724
  3. Roberts, D.R. and Davenport, T.O. (2002) Job Engagement: Why it's Important and how to Improve it. Employment Relations Today, 21-29
  4. Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L. and Hayes, T.L. (2002) Business-Unit-Level Relationship between Employee Satisfaction, Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A meta-analysis.Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, 268-279
  5. Frank, F.D., Finnegan, R.P. and Taylor, C.R. (2004) The Race for Talent: Retaining and Engaging Workers in the 21st Century. HR Human Resource Planning, Vol. 27, 12-25
  6. Aktouf, O. (1992) Management and Theories of Organizations in the 1990s: Toward a Critical Radical Humanism. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 17, 407-43

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