The benefits a more highly engaged employee workforce delivers for an organisation is common knowledge these days and part of the general language of business. More and more companies proudly publish their increased engagement survey results and the good work they are doing around getting their employees more engaged. But here’s an interesting anomaly – 90% of business leaders acknowledge the importance of engagement and its impact on business success, yet 75% have no plan or strategy to do anything about it.
Employee Engagement - All Talk?
It suggests there is a disconnect between talk and action that may be underpinned by a lack of a consistent definition. What does engagement really mean? Why are companies so keen to improve this aspect of their employee survey and are they yielding the overall results they expected if they can’t pin it down?
There are many definitions of employee engagement, no doubt interpreted differently by everyone according to experience and context. To some it may mean engaged employees are more prepared to participate in company surveys, attend training, put more effort and focus into a specific objective or special project that their employer wants them to. To others it’s going above and beyond the required actions and expected achievements detailed in the job description.
In truth it’s all of those things in terms of outcomes but behaviour and emotion has to be at the heart of it, given our behaviours are largely determined by our emotions.
Employee Engagement - Our Definition
Engagement is the degree to which employees are psychologically invested in the organisation and motivated to contribute to its success. Engagement results in discretionary effort toward attaining organisational goals.
One thing is clear – we are talking about discretionary effort, and the decision to exert this is a personal one, it cannot be required. What does that actually mean on a daily basis and what does it look like in employees in order to form a suitable and effective employee engagement strategy?
Understand ‘Psychological Investment’.
Separately they are defined as:
- Psychological- of, affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person
- Investment - an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.
Clearly then how an employee thinks and feels has a direct relationship with how they perform at work and most importantly for what reward. Reward being something given in recognition of services, effort or achievement or a fair return for good behaviour. This though is a whole separate subject – more on a later blog.
HR person specs seek to define the right characteristics of an employee they plan to recruit, though it is often difficult to accurately judge a candidate against these attributes. If you were starting with a blank page, of the ideal employee for a role in your company, other than all the expected performance descriptions, what adjectives would communicate how you want an employee to think and feel about their role and purpose in your company, what level of engagement would you want? Maybe it would it help if you were able specify:
- loyal, caring & trustworthy
- proud of the company
- capable, committed and reliable
- highly proactive and dedicated to achieving company goals
- harmonious with colleagues and generous in sharing knowledge
- helping others in the workplace to achieve the same attitudes and behaviour
But here’s the rub - we’re on to culture now, something no new recruit will have any firsthand experience of. Wasn’t that the list of attributes we used to put on our careers office CV when we had no work experience but were proud of our punctuality and honesty and that recruitment professionals would really like to know about a candidate but is so difficult to evaluate?
Even if you could start with a blank piece of paper and recruit only employees that are likely to be highly engaged, model employees, you still need to influence your existing employees and you can only do that when you start engaging with them regularly and in a way they value.
More on how to do this next time, in the meantime we’ve collated a few facts relating to employee engagement and the likely consequences of being one of the 75% who seem to pay only lip service to it.