Employee Engagement-what does it mean?

What is Employee Engagement?
Any employee who simply turns up for work, whatever they do, and then goes home, having put in minimal effort or enthusiasm, is not engaged and, at worse, may just be showing “presenteeism”: being there but adding little or no value is not engaging with your employer. Employees who do not just turn up but are participative and show enthusiasm and commitment to their work are energized. They are likely to be doing a good job and ultimately their retention is important as they will be one of their organisation’s biggest assets.

Engagement Methods:
I think communication is very important. Employees may have different communication preferences in how they engage with their employer and vice versa but regular two-way input is key for engagement. For more traditional workplaces there are plenty of options – printed materials (such as newsletters), staff briefings on the business updates, regular face to face contact with senior management, Employee Assistance Programme briefings or perhaps employee health fairs and initiatives (non smoking groups, walking club, healthy eating at the staff restaurant etc.). Even annual events, like Christmas parties or team conferences provide a human dimension to interaction and, in any organisation, I believe these communication opportunities should not be overlooked.

Some organisations have augmented these core communication approaches by more recent innovations – Company updates by twitter, Facebook pages to create employee communities, text communications, on-line access for many areas of health information and support. These methods may be attractive to many employees. However, I sometimes wonder if the most overused and possibly destructive forms of communication are organisational emails: at a base level the volume of non-relevant information that permeates means that someone returning after a holiday absence may be left wishing they were still away! Tailoring messages and using relevant distribution lists seems common sense to me, as the volume, tone and quality of many unnecessary emails can really demotivate employees. I think it is worth taking care on every one that is sent.

The key transaction: between line manager and employee
Not all line managers are trained in employee engagement and yet this interaction, being able to manage individuals on a “personal” basis, must form a major part of employee-employer engagement. As well as being able to use the communications model that best suits the needs of their employees, a good line manager will take an interest in each one of their direct reports with the aim of providing them with the tools that are needed to make them a success in their current role. This could be through the provision and funding of training, team building “away days” or offering them more responsibility, empowering them to make their own decisions. These actions can offer the employee a more positive workplace experience, making them feel their contribution valued, even important.

Some organisations may resist training and personal development opportunities but this seems to me a backwards approach: surely employees cannot be engaged until they have the skills to leave but the desire to stay! In some roles, where there is a high level of repetitive, perhaps boring, manual work this engagement may be harder to achieve but there are ways. Simple things like inter-departmental competitions, employee of the month, the provision of radio/TV on site, lunch time competitions etc. may bring an element of fun into the day.

Some organisations seem to have found that flexible working is a major factor. There are some circumstances where it is fair to say that, as long as the work is done, does it matter where and when? Having a 2 hour commute to work 9-5 in a office when it may be possible to offer the same focus delivery working from home seems to me something that it would be foolish not to consider.

One engagement strategy that I think is important is the post recruitment induction. I wonder how many employers summarise the specific benefits of their roles on job advertisements and then forget to follow this up when the new employee arrives. A good recruiter should be “selling” their organisation at every opportunity to get the best talent and then has to reinforce this through a positive induction. This is the new employees first experience of their organisation can set the culture that pervades throughout their time there.

And what about the non-salaried benefits? These are greatly needed, as they provide security in financially unstable times but how are they used? Specifically Group Income Protection, Critical Illness and Cash Plans now come with a range of value services, which can be used on a day to day basis. Examples may include second diagnosis services to gain clinical certainty for both employee and family members when serious changes in health occur in the family and Employee Assistance Programmes which also offer on-line screening tools for stress-worklife balance. The latter can even provide coaching and career development – a good support for managers who are struggling with these areas though it does not abdicate responsibility. What a great message these benefits can send – we look after you and your families when illness strikes, as State Benefit can no longer be considered the “crutch” to lean on. If organisations invest in these benefits, again communication is important to ensure all the benefits are fully utilised and maximise the organisation’s return of investment.

I really believe that, by making the employee experience at work a personal one – through tailored communications, benefit packages and supportive interaction – employers can increase their employee engagement. In turn, this may lead to increased productivity, less absence and less staff attrition. Conversely, non engagement may lead to “active inertia” i.e. busy doing nothing. Issues and discontent should not only to be picked up at appraisal time but on a day to day basis to stop this culture festering.