Companies are hard at work to identify and implement strategies to maximize existing human capital, and one basking in a renewed focus with a promising room for improvement is employee engagement.
What is it really? And the more important question is this:
Does employee engagement really make a difference? Companies with a highly engaged workforce make a difference in performance, productivity, and profit when they can get more out of their workers in both the quantity and quality of their products or services while reducing costs in the attraction and retention of talent.
It is not a new concept, but as with other corporate terms that have become overly familiar, casually thrown in conversations and pep talks like a common household name, it has become loosely defined and grossly misunderstood.
Employee engagement is a top company priority. While managers are mostly responsible for an employee’s level of engagement, it is a two-way street and relational, and employees should be given the autonomy to actively take part in the process. Managers and employees should work together as they use these strategies to identify specific engagement hindrances and capitalize on ideas and opportunities to nurture a more engaged workforce.
Employee engagement is a popular organizational concept defined as the extent of how much passion and enthusiasm employees feel about their jobs and how much commitment and value they are willing to make for the organization's goals and objectives.
It is an essential element for an organization to survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive market.
Leading performance management consultancy group Gallup defines engaged workers “as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.”
The level of employee engagement can spell the difference between an employee who chooses to stay and the one who chooses to go where the grass is greener. The ship full of job-for-life workers has sailed long ago and top talent retention is more challenging than ever, but a high level of engagement can help ensure that employees stick around long enough and remain invested in doing whatever it takes to succeed in their jobs. Engaged employees think win-win, and when employees win, the company wins as well.
An engaged employee finds delight in the very act of doing his job, and getting to work is in itself a prize. An organization that focuses on keeping their employees engaged can boost employee happiness and satisfaction, which can have a ripple effect to customers who are also happy and satisfied with the excellent customer experience that they will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. It follows that only engaged employees can produce engaged customers.
Even with the recent advancements in industrial automation and artificial intelligence, people remain to be a company's greatest and most important resource.
To date, there are no known replacements for common sense, creativity, and critical thinking - exactly the distinct human traits needed to perform well at high-quality yet cognitively demanding jobs in today’s knowledge economy, not to mention the complex decision-making processes for which intelligent machines can’t be programmed but in which human workers natively excel.
Human capital, however, is complex, its very foundation comprising of unique individuals with diverse backgrounds, behaviors, and motivations that affect essential company bottom-lines like performance, productivity, and profit.
The benefits of employee engagement are real and clear, but there is an obvious and alarming disconnect.
A Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports that while 71% of companies regard employee engagement as very important and even place it as a top-three business priority, only 24% say their employees are highly engaged. Another hard blow is delivered on a separate report. Gallup also confirms that the percentage of engaged full-time workers is a dismal 15% and the estimated global cost of disengagement is at an astonishing $7 trillion of money down the drain.
Now that is a lot of wasted profit and potential and behind are millions of workers who lack the commitment and passion to deliver more than what is expected of them, let alone go the extra mile. Those who just put in the time, but not the energy. Those who exert the minimum effort to keep their jobs and the paycheck coming each month until a better offer comes along.
One hundred percent employee engagement is not achievable but there is hope for a solution, in reclaiming what was lost. A number of factors from the same HBR report like performance recognition and individual goal alignment emerged as the most critical to cultivating better employee engagement, but everything boils down to one thing: clear and effective communication.
How many employees know their company's vision, mission, and values by heart? Only 42% according to the Human Capital League.
Another study by Gallup reveals that only 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what their company does and stands for and what makes them different from their competitors. The numbers may differ slightly by industry, but still, there is much left to be desired due to this disparity between expectation and reality.
Throughout his leadership book Start With Why, bestselling author Simon Sinek mentions that “People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.” This statement is as significant and true with leadership as it is with employee engagement, but then truth, as they say, is often simple yet overlooked. For employees, job descriptions for example only describe WHAT is expected of them, but not WHAT is in it for them. They only inform and equip, but not necessarily engage.
An effective engagement strategy should then start with communicating the why (purpose, cause, or belief) of a company that looks and feels the same to everyone, everywhere in the company and making sure that employees at all levels understand them to their core, regardless if they have customer-facing or back office roles.
Only then can a company start to talk about performance recognition, reviews, and rewards - all equally important in further driving employee engagement.
Lack of engagement is often a symptom of the ignorance of a company's why. It is basic human psychology to only care enough about something a person knows well and connects with deeply.
An employee needs to know it in his head first and then feel it in his heart, before he will do it with his hands.
He wants compelling reasons, and reasons are what reap results. If in the company's why an employee is sold out, he will be all out.
No longer will he harbor the "not-my-job" mentality. He will not only ask "What's in it for me?" but will go beyond that and ask "What's in it for us?"
For him it is not just a job, it is a mission.
He will think of himself as an achiever, co-laborer, partner, a contributor with a voice, and not a mere worker - faceless and dispensable.
Only when a company's why matches its employee's why will employee engagement be finally realized.
Start with why today to end in employee engagement that makes a difference.
What is the difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement? Employee engagement is about commitment and investment - what an employee gives to the company.
An engaged employee is deeply committed and invested in work that matters to him, seeking continuous growth and development that benefit his career and his company.
On the contrary, employee satisfaction is about the fulfillment of desires and needs at work - what an employee gets from the company.
A satisfied employee is happy and contented with his job, but he may not be willing to go out of his way or give more than what his paycheck is worth.
Employee satisfaction does not always translate to employee engagement, but rather it is a precedent to the latter, the minimum price of admission a company has to pay in order for an employee to be fully engaged.
What are the employee engagement activities? Here are 10 effective employee-centered activities that can be started or incorporated in existing programs of a company to keep reaping the benefits of employee engagement.
1. Involve employees in the creation of business policies, procedures, and processes
2. Show the company's financial statements
3. Encourage and provide mentorship for newcomers
4. Build excitement about upcoming opportunities
5. Provide room for personal growth and learning experiences
6. Encourage design and ownership of career paths
7. Encourage charity and volunteerism
8. Remind employees of the company's WHY
9. Recognize and encourage innovation and creativity
10. Give and ask feedback
Employee engagement is beneficial and critical in driving a company forward, but unfortunately, it is not a one-off thing. It comes with a short shelf-life.
How do I improve my engagement at work? Gallup recommends the following five strategies to improve employee engagement:
1. Use the right employee engagement survey.
2. Focus on engagement at the local and organizational levels.
3. Select the right managers.
4. Coach manager and hold them accountable for their employee's engagement.
5. Define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms.
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