By Umer Raza Bhutta
The phrase Employee Engagement has taken a firm root within the corporate sector over the last few years. Conferences are held over the subject and HR professionals are, in fact, “engaging” themselves to get to the root of this issue. I have served for over thirteen years in different organizations trying to get the right meaning of this engagement. Though I was not fully aware of what this actually means but somehow or the other the effort was for “engagement” throughout these years. In HR conferences and during HR discourse we try to make our employee engaged and find the well tuned meaning of engagement. However, how often do we, question our own engagement and find the answer to “WHY” we are doing this. As we progress in this piece of article we may find answer to “WHY” as well.
Let us start by looking at what employee engagement is, or what might be the closet meaning of employee engagement. For the benefit of all let us define employee engagement as: “being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to others.” There can be three core facets of employee engagement
Intellectual Engagement, or thinking hard about the job and how to do it better
Affective Engagement, or feeling positively about doing a good job
Social Engagement, or actively taking opportunities to discuss work-related improvements with others at work. Thus, an engaged employee can be someone who thinks hard about their work, feels positive when they do a good job and discusses work-related matters and improvements with those around them.
Does it make sense. If yes then you may look again and observe very closely that all these “closet meanings” and “facets of Employee Engagement” revolve around one basic ingredient and that is “WORK”. And if it doesn’t make sense then the HR’s role or perhaps the need of activating the business process in the organization need to be questioned. Anyhow reasons for sharing this is not to enter into an endless debate of who is right and who is wrong but to look at the perspective of employee engagement and to develop a worthy tool kit, whereby, if not all at least most of us could get something and use any of these tools for enhancing the employee engagement.
The Tool Kit:
The tool kit below has some important drivers of employee engagement that will revolve around the concepts of Meaningfulness of work, Voice – being able to feed your views upwards, Senior management communication and vision, Supportive work environment, Person–job fit and Line management style
One of the most important factors impacting upon the high levels of employee engagement is the extent to which employees participate in meetings and decisions that are directly related to their job and are given a platform to communicate their opinion about work-related topics. Most employees feel highly involved in work-related matters if they are given a chance to participate. Many organizations have developed such forums within their organizations where employees get a chance to speak. However, such forums lose their credibility very quickly if no action is taken upon any voices that are raised. Employees fear, too, that if they raise the voice, it might cost them heavily. However, this is the role of Human Resource Director or head to take the front seat during any such initiatives. The HR can and must do two things
1) To make sure that anyone who raises any voice is listen to, and in particular he/she should be given protection against any work related prejudice.
2) To make sure that when employee voice is raised the employee should see something happening on it, either a logical answer not to do what is said or to immediately change anything that was suggested.
I have personally experienced such things during my career, whereby I with my management carried out a number of such sessions and we immediately performed corrective actions on what was said. The result was a high level of credibility of management and an increased flow of improvement ideas. Employee engagement was of course an outcome as a bonus to such action.
Another great strength an organization can create for employee engagement is the level of support in the working environment. This refers to the level of teamwork. As many employees work in teams, a supportive working environment is important as it enables employees to feel comfortable at work and therefore has a major impact on levels of engagement. Employees become satisfied with the support they get from their colleagues in carrying out their jobs. They feel that colleagues help each other out whenever someone is experiencing a problem, and that generally all team members are committed to achieving common team goals. The team here is not only referred to the colleagues in one department, or in one hall, or around a table, but that includes every one. An employee feels engaged and committed to the work once he/she feels that the CEO of the company will be there to help him when he needs help. When he/she knows that the management will see the process adopted in doing his work and not only bang him/her if that magic figure is not achieved. Let me share two very unique and most in-expensive instances that create a supportive environment in the organization.
One was created by the President an organization (I was at that time Head of HR for that organization). Occasionally he used to call his people and just discussed general issues with him. During such discussions he used to share ideas with them for business improvements. The person on the other side of the call used to remain upbeat for many days, and rightly so, while telling his close associates that President discussed certain issues with me today about company and business.
The other supportive environment initiative was created in the last two organizations where I worked. At both the places the HR department used to send a letter to the spouse or to the father/mother of the employee, wherever the employee achieved some land mark in the organization. Family receiving a thanks letter from the company, feels that they are part of that organization where their loved one works. We have seen families stopping their family members from leaving the company.
One of the biggest strengths within an organization that clearly contributes to the level of engagement is a close match between the content of the individual roles and their level of skills. If the employees feel that they possess the necessary skills to carry out their job at the required standards they feel the motivation, strength and confidence to do the job. Employees appreciate the amount of training they are provided with, and if it is exceptionally high compared to other organisations, especially in a difficult economic climate, it creates a level of mentorship with the organization. The employee feels a sense of gratitude towards the organization that contributes towards his/her growth.
Flexible working opportunities
Flexible working opportunities have been linked to high levels of engagement in many studies conducted for this purpose. Under the current stiff schedules, if the organization provides you with flexible working opportunities while complying with the service and regulatory obligations, the organization stands tall amongst a major stake holder at home. And since the family is a major stake holder at home, it can enhance the employee engagement proposition even healthier. Flexi attendance time, dressing, opportunities to meet and greet guests and pleasant office seating are the most popular working arrangement employers offer to their employees. Other popular working arrangements include home working, shorter working weeks and compressed hours.
The extent to which employees find meaning in their work has a substantial impact on how they feel about their working life in general. Employees who believe that their work is important and that they can make a difference, have much more positive perceptions about their work and their work environment, as compared to those who could not find any meaning or value of their time and work at office. HR has again an important role to play in creating these meaning and looking for opportunities amongst employees where meaningfulness is missing and can be inculcated. During my career so far I have seen many such attrition cases, and these cases should gracefully be asked to part ways or else they could be detrimental for engagement of others in the organization.
Attitudes towards managers
The relationship between management and employees is a very important aspect of an individual’s working experience and it directly impacts upon engagement levels across the workforce. Assessing employees’ perceptions of their line and senior management is a good indicator of this relationship. To get a detailed picture of the dynamics underlying the relations between managers and employees, following areas can be measured. The line management: it encompasses communication, fair and respectful relationships and whether line managers listened to employees’ ideas and suggestions. Additionally, the degree to which employees feel that their senior managers have an effective and fair management style.
I have experienced many such incidences where employees come complaining about the attitude of their immediate or the top boss of the department. I used to have interesting one on one meeting, as well as indirect mentoring sessions with such department heads about attitude issues. Once we achieved a transformation of a head of department, through a consistent play of storytelling within the organization. During our morning briefings, at company level, we started an initiative of telling an inspirational story every week. Once head of departments listened to the story, it was their duty to narrate the story down to each level of the staff. The whole week the story used to travel through all the staff. One of the head of departments, had an acute disconnect with his staff. But once he had to narrate the story and he had to do it every week, he started getting close to his staff and we saw a pleasant transformation of attitude in him. We could see his staff standing with in the corridors laughing, chatting and feeling that they are a part of a great team together on and off the cubicle.
The process of engagement involves a positive cycle of perceptions of work, satisfaction with work, involvement in and engagement with work. Engaged employees perform better than their less engaged counterparts because they are more involved with their work, they think more about their work, which helps them to develop better solutions, and they are socially connected with their work.
Although individual performance would ideally be measured by asking someone else, such as a line manager, about an individual’s performance. However, employees can also be asked to self-rate their perceptions of a range of performance measures. These include job skills (that is, the extent to which employees have the knowledge and ability to carry out their job); social skills (for example leadership and interpersonal skills); willingness to take on extra work; and the rating they received in their most recent performance appraisal.
An employee engagement barometer can be achieved through asking questions such as whether they are willing to take on extra work and go beyond the call of duty. If the employees repeated answer yes and show it happening, your organization can fall in a close proximity of being an employee engaged organization.
Intention to stay
A important outcome of engagement is the intent to remain with the organization. Intent to stay is important for organizations since it ensures that human capital is maintained, morale is good and recruitment costs are reduced. Conversely, people’s intention to leave is a close proxy for actual leaving behavior and gives a good indication of how employees generally feel about their work and their working environment.