Employee engagement

Did you know that positively engaging with your employees will increase productivity in your business and give you a real return on the bottom line? Did you know the number one reason why people leave a company is because of their relationship with their boss? Replacing people is far more costly than taking action to retain them, with the cost of turnover calculated as 1.5 to 3 x base salary.

So, this month, we look at ways to engage your employees for their personal growth and the growth of the company.

Employee engagement

What’s the point of employee engagement?  

You get more discretionary effort from employees if they are engaged. Engaged employees are more proactive, want to give their opinion, and have ideas about ways to make things better. A more productive workforce is more successful in the long term.

  • Engaged employees take an average of 2.7 sick days p.a. while disengaged employees take 6.2
  • Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their organisation than disengaged employees
  • Engaged employees advocate their company – 67% v 3% disengaged employees
  • 70% of engaged employees have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs. Only 17% of disengaged employees say the same
  • Companies with a highly engaged workforce improve operating income by 19.2%. Low engagement scores led to decline of 32.7%
  • 59% of engaged employees say their job brings out their most creative ideas v 3% of disengaged employees

Sources: Gallup and Towers Perrin

What’s in it for you?

In my experience, leaders who focus on their employees find it easier to attract people into their organisation, have a strong reputation within the company, are trusted more, given more opportunities, and are seen as a role model within the business.

Leaders who don’t take employee engagement seriously may not have much staff turnover because of the current economy. However, good people will always find other jobs and leave, and those who stay won’t care so much or put as much effort into their work – they will be thinking more about themselves as individuals rather than as a member of a team or the organisation. This situation often arises when leaders are more task-focused with a controlling and directive style, rather than a facilitative, people-focused approach.

What motivates employees?

No matter how senior you are, you probably still like to feel appreciated by your boss and to know you are having an impact.

You may have heard that pay is a hygiene factor for employees, not a motivator (although it can become a demotivating factor if someone thinks their pay is not right). In research conducted by the Workforce Stability Institute, employees were asked to rank their top ten motivational factors, and supervisors were asked to rank what they thought employees would say. For employees, the number one motivational factor was ‘Full appreciation of the work done’. However, supervisors ranked this 8th with ‘Good salary’ at number one (employees ranked ‘Good salary’ 5th). If you’d like to see both lists in full, please ask.

So, what can you do to work on employee engagement in your area?

A major piece of research commissioned by the UK Government in 2008/9 summarises these 4 factors as being key to employee engagement:

1. Leadership
Ensure a strong, transparent and explicit vision and direct line of sight between the vision and employees’ jobs.

Leaders are often strong at shaping strategy, but not necessarily so skilled at translating this into action plans that mobilise employees. (For more on this, please see my recent newsletter about the Role of the Leader).

Top tip: Show you have a clear vision, explain the rationale behind it and link it so employees can understand how what they do connects to the bigger picture.  Have a clearly expressed story.

2. Engaging managers
Offer clarity, appreciate employees’ efforts and contribution, and show genuine interest and care for employees. Ensure work is organised efficiently so employees are equipped and supported to do their job. Work with employees so they develop their skills and capabilities. Facilitate and empower – don’t control. Balance a people and task focus.

Employees want to know their manager is there to provide day-to-day appreciation, support and care for their wellbeing and personal development. This ’emotional’ aspect links to the article I wrote on Leadership Agility.

Top tip: ‘Check in’ regularly with your direct reports and meet with employees throughout your organisation. Simply have a human conversation about how they are, appreciate what they’ve done, and give some feedback to help develop their skills or career. Listen to employees and act on their feedback.

3. Voice
Enable employees to voice their ideas and listen to them equally. Facilitate a culture that encourages a joint sharing of problems and co-create solutions with them, so they see their input makes a difference. Don’t have favourites.

It’s important to seek the views of employees. It’s really motivating when people see how their opinion links to decision-making.

Top tip: Give equal consideration to what each employee says (even if you have someone or a number two that you may talk to more). Be seen to treat everyone fairly and equally. Do not show favouritism. Deal with under-performers. Develop all staff, not just top talent.  

4. Integrity
Live the company values to build trust and a sense of integrity. Corporate Social Responsibility is also becoming more and more important to employees.

Where an employee feels an alignment between their personal values and the values of the company, they are much more likely to feel engaged and connected. It’s also becoming increasingly important to the current generation of employees that they can give something back to society, and if their company believes in this too, then it will increase their loyalty and engagement.

Top tip: Provide opportunities for employees to learn and grow. Allowing them to take time off to do charitable work makes them feel good and fulfilled, helps develop their skills, increases their sense of perspective and reduces worries. Some companies I work with allow one day per month for this type of activity, which generates significant good will and helps develop the company culture.

Practical steps to measuring & tracking employee engagement

Tracy Hough, HR Interim Director specialising in Employee Engagement, Employee Value Propositions & Employer Branding, shares some tips to maximise your employee engagement initiatives through effective measurement and leadership action:

Many organisations seek to measure and monitor employee engagement, most commonly through periodic or short-term employee pulse surveys and/or through more interactive focus groups for deeper understanding. All too often they are seen as annual HR process initiatives with patchy, short-term leadership focus and support which, unsurprisingly, fail to deliver lasting organisational benefits.

Employee pulse surveys are important – but the most important aspect is what you do about the results. Once you have the survey or focus group results, ensure the Senior Executives strongly sponsor the results and the action planning process with middle managers to ensure they fully understand the strategic importance and focus required.

  • Leaders and managers should run team meetings to enable meaningful two-way dialogue & discussion about the outputs for deeper understanding – don’t just mass communicate results. Given the significant influence of immediate managers on employees it is important that action planning takes place locally as well as centrally
  • Ask and seek your employee views – particularly involve them in establishing your engagement action plans
  • Prioritise a few key actions (not too many or you lose focus) and ensure they become key strategic priorities for the leadership team. Create a clear action plan with target improvement goal
  • Regularly communicate action taken as a result – they will remember if you don’t and nothing breeds disappointment and cynicism like a survey or focus group activity that went nowhere
  • Ensure all leaders and managers fully understand their role in delivering a positive Employee Experience – and the importance of understanding what is important to each employee rather than a formulaic approach

I hope you find this learning useful. Please let me know if you’d like to explore any of these ideas further.

Next month, we look at creating a values-driven organisation.