“Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” – Kevin Kruse, author, Employee Engagement 2.0
We all know it as a ubiquitous buzzword that often gets thrown around, but what is employee engagement? As we can mostly decipher from the context, it seems to do with something about how engaged the modern day knowledge workers are to the work they do. But before we go about defining employee engagement, let us try and understand what it means to be engaged to something. It means to be actively invested in a particular task or activity. Why is it so hard to do it at work? Because, for an employee working in a modern organization, the relationship shared with the company remains transactional. In such an environment, work becomes a burden, and performance becomes a liability. Employees end up shifting to an arrangement where, they feel they are paid for their time, and not to be productive with it. Organizations tend to misconstrue this lack of engagement, as lackadaisical behavior and try to impose more rules that infringe on workforce happiness.
The idea of employee engagement is often misconstrued as satisfaction or happiness, but the actual definition is more rooted in meaning. Employee engagement is stated as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization”. The Trends in Global Employee Engagement study measures employee engagement with a “Say, Stay, Strive” model. Employees are questioned on the following:
- If they have positive things to say about their organization and act as advocates
- If they wish to stay at their organization for a long time
- If they feel motivated to strive to give their best efforts to help the organization succeed
What is employee engagement?
According to business dictionary.com, employee engagement is defined as
Emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organization, which tends to influence his or her behaviors and level of effort in work-related activities.
Why do companies want employees to be engaged? (benefits of employee engagement)
In this HuffPost article, they list the gross annual loss due to employee churn as
For example, let us assume the following
- you are a 100 member company with a yearly turnover of 15%
- you spend around $20k per person on hiring
- $10k on each for turnover a development
- If he churns, you lose $40k on productivity opportunity cost
Then, your annual turnover would be $1.05 million.
Many organizations have already realized the power of motivation and emotional attachment, and the soaring productivity that it brings. The goal of any business is to cut loss and maximize profit, and engagement, if attained, seems to improve satisfaction and loyalty, while improving overall company growth while also contributing to higher turnover. While most organizations have figured this out correctly, they tend to fail in implementing the correct methodologies to nurture such an environment. Employee engagement, like happiness, cannot be forced upon a person with rules and regulations. If companies give attribution to a strong sense of positive values and lead the employees by example, they can successfully nurture an environment that contributes to productive personal and professional growth.
Gallup's employee engagement survey
According to Gallup’s The State of the American workplace report in 2017, the majority of employees are not engaged and haven’t been for a long time. In 2016, only 33% of employees in the United States were engaged, and employee engagement as a whole increased by only 3% from 2012-2016.
The report also disclosed that disengaged employees cost the country somewhere between $450 and $550 billion every year. This shocking loss of revenue is enough to reinstate the prominence of the aforestated problem. However, this long term persisting problem cannot be solved in a day but needs further understanding and meticulous research to address the underlying issues that promote disengagement within an organization. While more than most organization’s face very subjective problems that may lead to a dispassionate workforce. Most of these issues can largely be addressed by understanding the underlying mechanisms, that drive employee engagement and how to improve it.
“Create caring and robust connections between every employee and their work, customers, leaders, managers, and the organization to achieve results that matter to everyone in this sentence.” – David Zinger
Here, we have to understand that employee engagement is a mutually addressable concern by the organization and the employees themselves. When mutual expectations are satisfied, the employer-employee relationship turns from transactional, into a personal acknowledgment of each other’s value, which in turn promotes and nurtures engagement.
How do we improve employee engagement?
For further clarity, let us segregate the following issues as Employee responsibility and Organization responsibility.
“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes.” – Henry Cloud
Any employee agreeing to work has pledged a contract with his employer to devote his time and energy to fullest of capabilities for the agreed upon time. Though this sounds like slavery to think about, every employee should reflect on the commitment and zeal that they bring to work every day. A modern day knowledge worker faces a lot of challenges, both prepared and unprepared. A strong commitment to execute will play a significant role in an individual’s self-confidence and also influences everyone around them to be the same.
A survey on customer satisfaction states that organizations with higher customer satisfaction tend to ensure greater employee happiness. As much as employee engagement is an essential facet of productivity, the customers drive and ROI, with every sector of starting from tech, finance and retail becoming more and more customer-centric, it has become extremely imperative for organizations to cater to the customers' needs. The first and the last line of defense for the organization is its workforce.
Team morale and team spirit cannot be enforced, but can only be instilled through a sense of camaraderie and compassion. To err is human, and as humans, we are prone to make mistakes, but a healthy team spirit and team morale should emphasize learning over repercussions and avoid repetition of mistakes over reprimanding them. Morale is best when lead with example and studies show that higher team morale directly influences organizational productivity, and efficiency. As an employee, each every individual is responsible for building and nurturing healthy team morale.
A bottom line of an organization is to ensure overall productivity and efficiency of its workforce, but it’s the workforce that is responsible for its ownership, accountability, and transparency within an organization. Having and following commonly established values helps not only employees to keep in track of their goals and achievements, but also helps in a healthy overall performance of the organization.
“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” – Doug Conant
A strong culture is the backbone of an organization, for it sets the right example for all the employees to follow through. The culture within an organization plays a significant role in being a strong influence in employee work ethic, morale, and attitude towards the workplace. Modern companies that have a distinct culture give employees a sense of pride, and identity and instills loyalty towards an organization. Clearly defining culture acts as a subsequent and decisive reinstatement of the desired conduct.
With rising healthcare costs and insurance covers, many Gen Z employees who grew up in the year of 2008 recession now have security and stability at the forefront of their career expectation, and insurance and health benefits tend to take the top five spots in the order of preference, if not first.
Employee motivation apart from parks and other benefits go a long way in increasing the majority of the workforce productivity. More than 30% of millennials claim, they would stick longer in a company that provides them with regular feedbacks and clear insights on their performance. Modern employees don’t want active cheerleading to motivate them, but they expect their overseers to let them know that they are being backed with necessary correction when they falter.
Organizations that put employee happiness at the forefront tend to reap more benefits in the longer run, and this invaluable lesson goes as far back as Henry Ford’s strategy to double the wages for his assembly line workers. When a company’s workforce feels validated for their effort, they tend to double down on their contribution and have a greater sense of ownership towards their goals. This positive inspiration also tends to mirror across the organization in the form of a shared sense of pride and accountability.
Pulse surveys, like the name suggests, are short format surveys of 5 - 10 questions, given to the employees to entertain feedback and affect change in a particular focus area of the organization. These quick from studies will provide you with real-time and actionable insights, based on your employee response data. Pulse surveys not only make the employees feel more valued but also help them gauge their stance about different issues when they put it in writing. This not only eliminates the need for closed circle Chinese whispers within the organization but also helps leadership understand the impact of their decisions and plan course correction faster.
According to a study by GALE group, employee empowerment cannot fructify if businesses squander power with managerial hierarchy and leave non-management employees to themselves. To guarantee organizational success businesses should be a step ahead, by helping their workforce take care of their new found responsibilities as members of an autonomous team. The term for such a process is 'enablement', which refers to the system of continually aiding ordinary employees in nurturing the skillsets they need to manage their newly ordained status efficiently. HR departments can help in this 'enablement' process by implementing policies that assist enablement. Moreover, leadership can undertake employee guidance by keeping them informed of how similar programs have fared in other companies.
To learn more about how to better address the latest generation that’s bound to enter your workforce click here.