Search on the term ‘Employee Engagement’ and Google will serve up over 224 million results - a mind-boggling collection of strategies, statistics, trends and expert advice.
If you’re trying to get your head around the concept, it’s a lot to take in.
Maybe you’re even a little skeptical about the whole Employee Engagement thing – wondering if it’s a passing fad.
Or maybe you're on board with the idea but don’t know where to start.
The following lessons will lead you through the labyrinth, pointing out useful resources along the way.
Lesson 1. What is Employee Engagement?
Like the proverbial onion, ‘Employee Engagement’ has many layers.
For senior executives it has to do with culture, values and competitive edge.
For managers, it’s about building trust, facilitating relationships, recognizing accomplishments and empowering people to do their best work.
For individuals, engagement is wrapped-up in the neuroscience of motivation, well-being and happiness. It’s about being switched-on, proactive, enthusiastic, involved and driven by a sense of purpose.
The MacLeod Report provides a useful working definition:
“Employee engagement is a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being."
While this definition, from author Daniel Cable, captures the spirit in a single sentence:
"Encouraging people to bring their best selves to work."
If you want to up-the-ante on Employee Engagement in your organization, you’ll need to create a definition that suits your unique challenges and goals – think of it as an Employee Engagement mission statement.
Lesson 2. What Employee Engagement Is Not
To make sure you’re using the right terminology, it helps to understand how Employee Engagement differs from other closely-related concepts.
For example, it's more than Job Satisfaction which tends to be measure of how employees feel about ‘hygiene factors’ such as pay, hours and flexible working conditions.
It intersects with, but is separate from, Employee Experience – a fairly new approach that involves tracking the employee journey and creating an environment that encourages people to do their best work.
Also, most experts agree that Employee Engagement it is not about ping-pong tables, free muffins or dog-friendly offices (though I don’t see how these could hurt).
Lesson 3. Why Employee Engagement is So Hot Right Now
Why has it taken us this long to realize that a highly motivated workforce is central to success?
It seems so obvious.
Somewhere along the line we lost sight of humans and decided to focus on Gantt charts, performance metrics and sales funnels instead. But the tide is well and truly turning.
Leaders are looking up from their spreadsheets and beginning to understand that people are at the centre of business success – both as customers and as employees.
Need evidence that Employee Engagement is trending?
Last year, the annual Employee Engagement Awards ceremony was held in London's Wembley Stadium (think Beyoncé and FA Cup). It sold out.
If you’re wondering whether your organization needs to get serious about Employee Engagement, here's a snapshot of the main drivers:
Disruption - Uber and Airbnb proved that you could change the world with a great idea and a small team of committed innovators. To compete, the big players need to leverage the creativity and enthusiasm of their people and innovate from the ground up.
Blended Workforce - Different ages, genders, cultures - including a mix of part timers, contractors and remote workers - has made it increasingly difficult to unite and engage employees. Also, many employees (especially those pesky millennials) are beginning to place a higher value on learning, growth and sense of purpose.
Sobering Statistics – From around 2006, Gallup began reporting on the crisis in Employee Engagement. They found (and continue to find) that 85% of employees are disengaged and that this has a catastrophic effect on productivity and profitability.
Economics - Falling levels of unemployment and a changing economic landscape have made it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent.
Lesson 4. Who is responsible for Employee Engagement?
Building an engaged workforce takes a lot of effort.
Whose job is it?
The prevailing consensus is that we are all responsible for Employee Engagement – everyone, from the CEO (Chief Engagement Officer!) to the customer service people on the ground. While this rings true, it takes strong leadership to build a workplace where Employee Engagement is the norm. Here are the main instigators and torchbearers:
Senior Executives need to create a transparent and intentionally-designed culture where employees can easily see the connection between their day-to-day tasks and the vision and aims of the organization.
HR Specialists also have a crucial role to play (many of the websites and white papers dedicated to Employee Engagement have been written by HR consultants). As the custodians of hiring, onboarding and compliance – they are uniquely positioned to introduce and champion Employee Engagement strategies within an organization.
Internal Communication departments are also key to successful Employee Engagement programs. Getting everyone on the same page via a thriving intranet and making sure that communication runs freely between employers and employees.
Current thinking also suggests that we, as individuals, need to take responsibility for our own engagement – understanding what motivates and inspires us and taking the steps to make it happen.
Lesson 5. The Neuroscience of Employee Engagement
So, we are beginning to understand how and why Employee Engagement has captured the corporate imagination.
But how does Employee Engagement feel?
The psychology of human motivation is complex and widely studied – but it’s worth getting familiar with these leading theories.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
A theory of human motivation based on a pyramid of fundamental human needs:
Physiological - water, food, sleep and shelter
Security – personal, emotional, financial and health
Social belonging – friendships, intimacy and family
Ego – recognition, status, importance and respect
Self-actualization – reaching full potential
In this scenario, basic needs must be met before employees can reach their full potential.
A state described by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi back in 1990.
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Think about the last time you were truly engaged in an activity – work or otherwise.
A time when you were totally absorbed – in the zone. When time passed unnoticed and hunger pains went ignored. When your brain was firing on all cylinders and a clear goal was in sight.
Felt pretty good, didn’t it?
This kind of discretionary effort and intrinsic motivation is at the heart of Employee Engagement.
Drive (the surprising truth about what motivates us)
In his paradigm-shattering book, Daniel Pink ignited the discussion around Employee Engagement by suggesting that humans are not motivated by rewards like money.
Instead - based on decades of scientific research - Pink outlines the trifecta of human motivation:
Autonomy – the desire to be self-directed
Mastery – the drive to keep improving at something that’s important to us
Purpose – the sense that what we do produces something meaningful
Lesson 6. Practical strategies for Employee Engagement
The theories are great but how can individuals or organizations put them into practice?
The internet is awash with potential Employee Engagement strategies - here are the top 7:
Encourage employees to play to their strengths, experiment and try new things - Atlassian runs regular ShipIt Days where ad-hoc teams can “drop what they’re doing and make something awesome.”
Take an individualized approach to on-boarding. Ask new hires to articulate their personal view of Employee Engagement – what is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and best performance at work?
Let employees invent alternative job titles to describe their unique values, identities and talents. For example, at the Make-A-Wish foundation, the CEO is known as “Fairy Godmother of Wishes” while the administration assistant is “Goddess of Greetings”.
Adopt the Cultural GAME Plan as described by Christine Comaford - (a template for Growth, Appreciation, Measurement and Engagement).
Run regular Employee Engagement surveys and be sure to act on the results – people soon become cynical when their carefully- considered feedback disappears into a black hole.
Employ mentors to guide employees along their career paths.
Provide a centralized digital workspace and social network where employees can absorb the culture, build relationships and keep up to date with the latest developments.
Discover how your intranet can amplify employee engagement strategies - download the e-book 3 Ways to Make Your Intranet a Launchpad for Success
Lesson 7. Who is getting it right?
According to Glassdoor, these were the top places to work in 2018. The employee reviews give great insight into what it takes to attract and retain engaged employees:
Facebook – “Good work-life balance and flexibility” “An AMPLE amount of free food”.
Bain & Company - "High impact on businesses worldwide, extremely steep learning curve, supportive environment and colleagues you are proud to work with"
Boston Consulting Group - "Great opportunities to grow and shape your career"
In-N-Out Burger – “High paying, good team atmosphere, great management, lots of opportunities for promotion”
Google – “Free food and baristas in every building" “Amazing people, great benefits, interesting work and opportunities galore”.
Anglian Water - "With a clear direction from the top and a friendly working environment."
Bromford – “Empowering environment where you're supported and encouraged to achieve your potential.”
Facebook - "Empowered and Emotionally intelligent engineers."
Salesforce - "I really like the 1-1-1 model that allows us to volunteer up to 7 days per year."
Lookers – “They hire the right people, who are friendly and very proactive”.
Lesson 8. The Risk of Getting it Wrong
The price of a disengaged workforce can be high – it’s important to understand the risks:
Bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor can be a red flag to new talent and can also put off prospective customers.
Poorly treated employees often take their negativity into new positions or onto social media – word travels fast.
Research shows that disengaged employees take more sick days and are less productive.
Being actively disengaged can lead to physical and mental health problems – Gallup reports that an alarming 54% of disengaged employees say that work stress caused them to behave poorly with friends or family members.
Investors are becoming wary of rule-driven cultures that “cause an organization to miss opportunities, miss how to allocate resources and misuse their talent”. (Gary Hamel)
Lesson 9. Tools and technology
What technologies are available to support Employee Engagement?
Online Surveys – these can be used to ‘take the pulse’ of employee sentiment at regular intervals or gather more in-depth feedback over time. You can create your own or choose from a wide range of off-the-shelf offerings like Culture Amp or TinyPulse.
Data Analysis Tools - often, companies do an annual survey and the results (particularly the free form answers) languish in a spreadsheet somewhere. These are the words used by your employees and it's vitally important to "listen" to what this data is telling you. Tools like Interpris can help you organize and make sense of this crucial feedback.
Performance Management Software - helps you to set employee goals, manage one-on-one meetings (aka performance reviews), and give real-time feedback. Again, there is swag of tools to choose from – crewmojo, Bridge Performance Management and Cognology just to name a few.
Digital Workspace solutions – these are Intranets or digital workspaces that bring your people, documents and conversations together in a centralized platform. You can choose from a full-blown customizable solution like SharePoint or with an offering like GreenOrbit with everything you need, built in.
Lesson 10. Follow the influencers
Use Twitter to keep track of the latest thinking around #EmployeeEngagement.
Here are a few of the top influencers to get you started:
Also, you can learn a lot from these Twitter #hashtags
#FoW or #futureofwork
Conclusion: Keep Learning
The concept of Employee Engagement, as workplace approach and cultural revolution, is evolving as we speak.
Hopefully, this crash course gives you a firm foundation for further exploration and inspires you to learn more.
What's your take on Employee Engagement?
Where are you in the journey to workplace enlightenment?
Any articles, tools or influencers you would add to the mix?
Drop us a line in the comments below.