What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the sum of physical, emotional, psychological, social and professional experiences of an employee at their workplace or in their sphere of work. It affects employees’ happiness, productivity, work friendships, and loyalty towards the company.

Many organizations treat employee engagement as a bunch of pie charts from an annual survey but it’s more than that. It’s a steady and systematic approach to building a happy relationship with employees - it’s relational. 

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Why is employee engagement important?

1. A real and raging talent war 

Unlike 10 years ago, today the job market is candidate-driven.  Employers are finding it hard to attract, hire, retain, engage and inspire talent.

People no more pick jobs simply based on compensations or designations. They don’t see a job offer as a mere career opportunity but a way of life. Consequently, they look for more than what’s on an offer letter - challenges, opportunity for growth and recognition, culture, working space, organizational values, etc,. Employee engagement is a function of these things.

2. It’s official: There is a shortage of skilled labour

The number of open positions in the US is higher than the number of people looking for work and the gap is growing each year. Though all industries and all organizational levels have shortage of employees, companies have a harder time filling in blue-collar positions. Delivery drivers, restaurant workers, hotel staff, health care aides, workers for mining and agriculture etc are becoming more hard-to-entice.

A pay raise alone won’t cut it for them. Employers will have to stretch and think beyond compensations - a promise of a secure future, opportunities for holistic growth and a better everyday experience of life in and out of work.

3. Employees have a voice of their own

Today it’s not only employers who carry a brand. Employees as individuals carry influence and reputation too. The internet and technology have given them power, platform and leverage.

They can and will use their voice on public forums and social platforms to share their views and experiences of the organizations they work with. Sites like Glassdoor allow employees or ex-employees to share their experiences with an employer anonymously for the benefit of others.

During a study by Ranstad,  66% of the managers believed that negative reviews didn’t affect their hiring. On the flip side, 57% of the employees said they wouldn’t even apply to a company with negative reviews.

Reviews not only affect the perception of other job applicants or candidates, but they also affect how customers or other prospects see an organization or feel about it. Nobody wants to have a business relationship with a company that oppresses its employees. On the other hand, when an employee has something nice to say, people want to believe it because nobody experiences your culture, values, leaders or vision first-hand like your employees do.

4. Sustaining workplace productivity is getting difficult

You can cut down on meetings, make thorough to-dos, enforce strict deadlines, and try a hundred other hacks and still lose out on productivity. That’s because there is no match to having completely involved and inspired employees who are pumped up for work on their own.

The most common workplace productivity challenges include: lack of motivation, morale or engagement, absence of social circles, a gap in necessary coaching or training, gaps in communication, uncertain goals and unsettled means, absence of required technology or infrastructure, inconvenient workplace or work hours. 

In other words, employee engagement is one of the most dominant influencers of workplace productivity.

Successful employee engagement ignites passion, improves workplace morale and mutual respect. People turn their authentic selves while also celebrating each other and functioning optimally as a team. It influences people’s everyday moods and motivations, gives them the confidence to bring forth bold ideas and initiatives. It keeps your people inspired and your productivity curve moving upwards.

It also sets the atmosphere up for creativity and innovation

5. Sets the tone for relationships within the company

The relationships employees have with each other, their managers or leaders, or even the management itself is a result of their everyday interactions with the company. Most of the beliefs that influence these relationships are unconsciously picked up by their minds during simple everyday experiences.

The dynamics of an organization's internal relationships ultimately affects what employees radiate to customers in their interactions. For example, if you train a support team to always be polite to your customers, but you are very bitter and unforgiving towards them, it will show up in their moods and stop them from going above and beyond. 

Measuring employee engagement

Since employee engagement is not a mere number, it’s not easy to measure it but if you know where to look for the symptoms, you can get your diagnosis right.

1. Start with an employee Net Promoter Scores (eNPS) - It’s easy, quick-to-fill and helps you check the engagement pulse. Though not a completely revelatory metric, it’s a great one if used alongside other methods. You can pop a quick question “Would you recommend our workplace to your friends and family?”.You may also ask other questions. Trigger custom surveys based on eNPS responses. Ask your promoters why they like you, ask your detractors why they don’t, ask the neutral respondents where you can improve.

Since it's simple, you can do this any time round the year and remove any bias of time. For example, a survey after a performance appraisal cycle can be influenced by it, positively or negatively.

2. Leverage employee engagement surveys - Employee engagement surveys are an effective way to collect feedback from employees. Using a combination of both quantitative and qualitative questions, employers can understand how engaged their employees are.

You can run these surveys among different groups, for instance, among the new hires to understand why they joined you, among long-term employees to find out why they stayed, and during exit interviews to uncover what you could do better. It’s also important that you analyse results across departments, managers, verticals, etc to see if you notice peculiar trends within the company. Your surveys should ideally cover the most important pillars of engagement such as your employees’ perception of the organization’s vision and mission, Leaders and managers, their understanding and alignment to the mission and how it translates in execution.

3. Don’t overlook absenteeism trends  - Truly engaged employees are naturally motivated, show up at work and move the mission forward. A drooping absenteeism trend could imply that employees don’t feel as engaged. By observing these trends at team and manager levels, you can identify and correct any concerns that are specific to certain teams.

If you can grasp what motivates candidates to choose you as their employer, you can ensure that those expectations are met throughout their tenure at the company. Through the employee life cycle, their expectations and needs can evolve, but open communication channels can ensure that you are always hearing them and responding.

4. Observe presenteeism trends too - Presenteeism is when employees show up at work but don’t perform at optimum productivity levels. Some ways to keep a tab on presenteeism:

Best practices for employee engagement success

Even as you strive to be the best, don’t forget to call out and celebrate your small employee engagement wins - It’s healthy to highlight strengths so your employees know you are paying attention and are committed to improving their life and joy at work.

You need your whole organization’s buy-in to make your employee engagement plan a success, starting with the leadership - you can swiftly do that by tying efforts to business outcomes such as sales, customer happiness, business revenue, turnover rates and more.

 Employee engagement efforts should not be confined to  a yearly or half-yearly activity, it should be a competitive strategy that is pursued fiercely and with all might by the organization, otherwise employees will feel unheard and leaders will not act on the feedback at hand.

Measure, iterate and optimize - Every employee engagement program is only as good as your commitment to optimize it! As you do, here are three questions to ask yourself:

  • Who will be accountable for leading or driving the program?

  • Who will be responsible for acting on the results?

  • What is the outcome you expect once desired actions are made?

Employee engagement strategies

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