A huge amount has been written about employee engagement over the last couple of decades. Type in “employee engagement” to Google and you will find yourself wading through around 21,500,000 search results. There are a plethora of definitions, models and musings on the subject.
For many leaders in voluntary organisations, charities and the social enterprise sector, it can be a daunting topic: Where do we start? What does engagement really mean for our organisation? Why does it matter? For those struggling with the topic or wanting a “top up” here’s a quick refresher on engagement:
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is the connection employees have to your organisation’s purpose:
- How much do they believe in your purpose and what you are trying to achieve as an organisation?
- Are they emotionally connected to your brand?
- Do they feel this is a great place to work?
- Do they feel connection to your stakeholders?
- Do they want to help you perform and improve as an organisation?
Many “off the shelf” approaches to employee engagement remain narrowly focused on a pure-play, HR-oriented version of the topic: is this a great place to work? While this is a necessary element of engagement, it is not a sufficient one to ensure total engagement. As the leader of an organisation, you need to understand how engaged your people are with your purpose, your strategy and your ability to deliver as well as their relationship with you as an employer.
Why does it matter to the organisation?
Numerous research studies have shown that organisations with highly engaged employees:
- Attract and retain superior talent:
Once your current workforce is engaged, it becomes much easier to attract further great talent into the organisation. The experiences employees have while in their roles can provide a strong basis for your employer brand and employee value proposition (or EVP)
- Deliver better service to stakeholders:
Those employees who are truly engaged with your organisation’s purpose and what you are trying to achieve are much more likely to provide great service to the stakeholders that matter. Whether you are talking about funders, beneficiaries, charity bodies or the wider community, they are all likely to have a better experience with your organisation if they are dealing with a fully engaged team member
- Drive stronger performance:
Engaged employees can help organisational performance in many ways: driving growth, helping to control costs, keeping down sickness and absence and enhancing wellbeing are just a few of the tangible benefits of an engaged workforce.
Equally, active dis-engagement can have the opposite impact on these organisational outcomes.
So what drives employee engagement?
What drives engagement will vary between organisations. However, when we look across all the workplaces we have studied across the last 25 years, there are some more common drivers that do emerge:
1. Strong leadership
- Employees tend to be much more strongly engaged when leaders in their organisation are inspiring, communicate openly and honestly, generate confidence about the future of the organisation and are highly visible
- Interestingly, the most engaged organisations are those where leadership is effective at every level: from the CEO right through the senior leadership team, down through middle managers to team leaders and supervisors: the impact of great leadership right through the organisation cannot be over-estimated
2. Effective communication
- Employees are more engaged in environments where three things happen on the communications front:
- The flow of information down the organisation is effective: cascades are good and briefings are regular, relevant, transparent and informative
- Dialogue is effective: leaders and managers are prepared to listen to the opinions of employees and will respond to any views put forward
- Lateral communication works: departments, functions, offices and geographies are good at communicating with each other, sharing information and openly distributing knowledge
3. Focused development
- Engaged employees tend to have a clear view of how they can develop within the organisation. Career paths are evident, development opportunities are openly communicated and people feel supported through role models, mentoring, coaching and training in their efforts to develop their careers
In a nutshell
Employee engagement remains a pivotal driver of organisational success. But some simple things could see organisations tackling it in a much more effective way:
- Make it as much about stakeholders, the brand and organisational outcomes as it is about “HR issues”
- Stay focused on what organisational outcomes you are trying to achieve by improving engagement
- Don’t get distracted: in the main, tackling leadership behaviours, communications effectiveness and career development issues will solve the greater part of your engagement puzzle
- Look for returns: if you aren’t linking your engagement data to your other, critical KPIs, then you really ought to start doing so now
Dr Andy Brown is CEO of Engage, a senior strategist, leadership effectiveness and engagement expert with over 25 years’ experience in organisational consulting and research. Join him to learn more about Employee Engagement at the ‘Learning with Leaders’ lunch on 25 March:
Date: Wednesday 25 March 2015
Location: CCLA – Senator House, 85 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4V 4ET
Price: £20 to ACEVO Members ; £30 to Non-Members
Book your place for the event here.